There are Two Notorious Suspects: Body and Spirit
On a lazy Saturday in June of 2002, I drove my 9-year-old son to the Travel-Team-Try-Outs. He had demonstrated some skills in kicking the soccer ball around, and his sleek musculature showed signs of becoming an athletic specimen. And so, we went, and he performed well and made the squad.
In the midst of the competitive drills, however, something happened to alter my perspective on bodies, on sport and on what I’ve been conditioned to call ‘Spirituality.’
Here’s the play-by-play:
- I had noticed how twine from the goal-posts and cross-bar had fallen from the metallic frame.
- I tried to help by climbing atop the structure and re-attaching the net.
- In the process, my wedding band became lodged between the cross-bar and a steel rod, which ran the length of it.
- I fatigued with the effort, and leapt back down to the turf.
- I heard a ping and felt the sensation of a thorn sticking in the palm of my hand.
This, of course, was no thorn… and no bed of roses!
In the parlance of the nurses and doctors, who would later treat me at hospital, I had been ‘degloved.’ That is, the symbol of marital fidelity and bliss had somehow cut into the flesh of my finger, and ripped it to the metacarpal bone. Blood gushed. I grabbed by left hand with my right, and proceeded to inform the coaches and the bewildered boys, ‘There’s been an emergency, and I have to go.’ One of the adults, I’m still grateful to say, then leapt to my side and we walked to the parking lot at a deliberate, but discreet pace. None of the other parents in the bleachers suspected a thing. Once in the car, I realized that I had left my wallet, with insurance cards, on one of the bleachers—and promptly sent my friend back to retrieve it. In addition, I had the wherewithal and the presumption to ask him to search for my mangled ring-finger, which would surely be there, amid the blades of grass. He did, in fact, find the missing appendage, but only after asking any of the spectators if they happened to have a plastic baggie in which to carry it.
Now—I’m rehearsing (again) this bizarre incident for reasons that have since impressed themselves on that faculty in my brain in which those images rumble, as well as that of my now 25-year-old son, whose soccer-memories have been scarred for life. These reasons include the following paradoxical statements: I am not my body. My body and I are one and the same. I do not like to consider myself an assemblage of parts. And yet, if I am, and cannot avoid the consideration of that fact—that I am an assemblage of parts—any so-called ‘spirituality of the body’ would have to modulate in that modular way.
Are these remarks inconsistent with one another? Contradictory? Perhaps. But correct me if I’m wrong, but wouldn’t the majority of Jews, Muslims and Christians in Spokane subscribe to the notion of the immaterial soul? Again, without delving into the nuances and the nitty-gritty of belief in the bodily resurrection, it stands to reason that neither you nor I reside within vehicles of flesh and bone like occupants of that Dodge Durango, or of that MiniCoop. Indeed, our synapse-connections and our most intimate emotions are intertwined. What happens to our nervous systems happens to us. On the other hand, however, we wouldn’t dare suggest that a relative who suffers from a degenerative form of dementia is being herself. We’d say there’s a difference between what’s occurring in her brain—her body—and who she truly is. And likewise, if there lived a young man who had become a paraplegic, only the most cruel person would say that his spirit had been crippled as well.
Confusion reigns on this topic. And in many respects an easy dualism would be more convenient. There is, in fact, the option of keeping the two realms separated: let’s meditate, close our eyes and fold our hands; and then, let’s take a hike, jump in a lake and toss the frisbee with our dogs… And, to be sure, many days of worship and exercise have been so bifurcated, it’s a wonder we still know how to kneel, or how to lay hands upon a sick person in the E.R., or say a ‘Hail Mary’ without throwing a spiral into the end zone.
It’s a wonder, but I suspect that, given all the pleasures of the flesh, as well as the temptations to excess, we’re might think about bringing the body and the spirit into some mode of healthy tension.