Tears began to form and roll down my cheeks as she proclaimed over us, “In Jesus Christ, we get our bodies back.” I sat on the edge of my seat at full attention – holding back the impulse to stand and cheer. Cherith Nordling’s words were cutting straight to my core during her plenary talk at the first North American Gathering of Missio Alliance.
Her words registered so deeply and genuinely within me that they became to me Jesus’ gentle touch in my bone-deepest aching. I sensed a holy relief settle throughout the room that afternoon – like we had all been holding our breath for ten years and finally had permission to exhale.
She announced the possibility of something more. It was an announcement of liberation and renewal. We do not have to be stuck in cycles of hiding and compensating and striving. Even though our humanity is a source of so much pain – something we desperately want to escape – our brokenness and hurt, in Christ, could become – has become – will become – the material of our salvation.
In Jesus Christ, we get our bodies back. How does THAT happen?
In Part 1 I made the case that, as we re-imagine how salvation gets real in the lives we actually live, getting back to embodiment is good, but we must keep going. To be truly human is not simply to get back to the body. Proclaiming what it means to be truly human will involve cultivating the redemptive imagination to know what to do next.
If we do not keep going, as I argued in part 1, we might exclude the possibility of transformation in the places where it matters most. Rather than ignoring our humanity, we might seek an embodiment that, unwittingly, does not have the wherewithal to become more than what it already is.
Growing an imagination for “what to do next,” therefore, starts by articulating and owning how our present embodiment is bent toward death. The “old human” fights, schemes, avoids, and masks death at all costs but can only, ever succumb to death.
Left in our bodies to fend for ourselves, misshapen desire will only lead us, ironically, to become less human. This is part of the modern predicament and the hidden pivot around which turns many political battles about whose humanity (i.e. sexuality) counts: the deeply held belief that we are able to find self-fulfillment (that is, become more human) by following our desires.
On some level, it seems to me, many who de-humanize salvation are reacting to the reality of the old humanity, which leads to the pursuit of salvation in some other realm. How and why, then, can it a good thing to return to embodiment?
We can affirm that our bodies matter and matter matters because God’s grace infuses it all in Christ. The stuff of our bodies and the stuff of creation can, in Christ, become a site and avenue of grace – a source of life – truly what it was meant to be but could not be outside Christ.
This means becoming truly human goes beyond discovering who we already are (Oprah stops here) – as if sin merely obscures the ability to see ourselves for who we truly are. It does do that, but it goes beyond that. Sin is bondage to the old human. Death. Inability to share in God’s life.
Becoming truly human is to truly share in God’s life. We can share in God’s life because God, in Christ, shared our life, which means we can inhabit our bodies and the world as if God’s life is exploding into our life. The good news is that becoming truly human is not just a discovery that leads to recovery. It is something totally new: being raised with Christ and participating in the humanity he makes possible – sharing in resurrection life.
So, yes, we get back to the body. But then we keep going by bringing our embodied self to the cross where we surrender to the New Human, in whom we died and are now fellow partakers in his true, resurrection life.
In other words, what we need to become truly human is the possibility of embodied transformation. When we get back to the body, we can move more fully into our true humanity by creating space for transformation in Christ.
Embodied transformation, I’m learning, is all about forfeiting my life (the one I actually live) where I want most to preserve it. This is where becoming truly human gets real. In Christ, the loss of all pseudo-human endeavors is actually gain. Transformation of the body begins, not in the abandonment or management of it. It begins at the end of fleshy striving.
This is counter-intuitive to the tendencies of the old humanity. It doesn’t make sense. Without the possibility of resurrection life and a means of grace, it simply doesn’t make sense to press further into the stuff where death formerly reigned.
But within the logic of the incarnation and resurrection, life springs forth in the places where death formerly reigned. Surrender is no longer a threat to embodied life because, in Christ, it becomes the opportunity for participating in resurrection life.
Bodies, places and materiality, with all the brokenness and suffering inherent in them, are neither neurotically avoided nor cheaply celebrated, but rather surrendered to the One in whom this world becomes a means of grace. This means we get our humanity back (or better, live into our true humanity) by giving it up where we most desire to avoid or control it. Giving it up leads to the transformation – to the renewal.
If we get our bodies back in Christ, then may we cultivate communities that seek not to say, “I’m okay…you’re okay…let’s look inside and celebrate what we find,” but rather, “I’m screwed up…you’re screwed up…let’s go to the cross and be open to becoming truly human in Christ, to receiving the resurrection life God is working in us.”