(Photo by Beth Felice, from the "Praying the Eucharist" workshop, Christ Church Cathedral, September 25, 2010, courtesy Episcopal Diocese of Missouri Flickr Photostream)
"At the heart of asceticism is body-work. Asceticism works the body in order to improve and to perfect it, at least this was the way it was understood in previous generations. Postmodern conceptions of the body, however, demand a different perspective. There are in fact, a number of bodies that interconnect in the life of a person, and each of these bodies has an impact on the ascetical program of an individual and community."
--Richard Valantasis, "Centuries of Holiness: Ancient Spirituality Refracted for a Postmodern Age"
The photo above was from a workshop I attended where the author was one of the presenters and was the celebrant in the Eucharist going on in this photo. (If you're wondering, I am one of the behinds in the picture. Shades of Moses only getting a glimpse of God's backside!)
What I love about this photo when I get to thinking about it, is the wonderful intersection of the infinitely-sized Venn diagram of all the "bodies" in this picture.
First there are the individual bodies circling the altar. Best as I remember, everyone at the workshop was from the Episcopal Diocese of Missouri, representing a body of Christians within a larger body, the Episcopal Church, which is part of another body, the Anglican Communion, which is a part of a body of all Christians, which is a part of a body of religion.
Earlier in the day, we had broken up in small groups, and what was sort of cute was those of us from "outstate" as opposed to St. Louis naturally gravitated into its own small group, and as luck would have it, we were all from the West Convocation in our diocese. Given the fact no one could remember when the last "official" meeting of the West Convocation was, we joked that it was the first meeting of the West Convocation at any time we could remember.
At the conclusion of the workshop, when we celebrated the Eucharist, we had the Body and Blood of Christ at the center of the circle made by our individual bodies. That sacramental Body went inside of our own individual bodies. At the conclusion of the Eucharist, those bodies and that Body went out into the body of the world, the body of our homes and families, the bodies of our workplaces, and the bodies of our individual parishes.
That's a lot of bodies!
Therein lies the paradox.
We tend to think of ourselves at times as these disconnected objects. When we are hungry, hurt, angry, lonely, or tired, we feel isolated--that no one can possibly quite "get" where we are. In my own case, I think often about the challenge I have, being a "thinker" for the most part, having a natural disconnect with "feelers." It simply takes a while for my feelings to come in line with my thoughts. But what I come to realize looking at that picture, is that even in our most lonely moments, we really shouldn't even begin to be deluded that we are "alone."
Okay. I'm going to say that in a slightly different way. When we consider the complexity of the intersections of all these bodies, what it means is this: Even when we might think or feel we are alone, we are not. In fact, it's impossible to be human and, in the strictest sense, truly be alone. Never. We simply cannot escape being part of not just one, but many bodies.
Now, I have to admit something. For a person who tends to crave solitude, the beginnings of this realization were very irritating. I have, for many, many years, retreated into solitude when I needed to "figure things out." I prefer to hurt or grieve in solitude. The people in my life who have been my closest friends have known that when I'm sick, or hurt, or tired, or grieving, I am okay with one-on-one company...as long as the company doesn't interact much with me. I think back to the last time I truly had the flu. It was a perfect "sitting with a sick me" interaction. My friend sat and knitted and watched TV, and her dog and my dogs played, and once in a while she'd ask me if I could handle eating or drinking something. But mostly, I just wanted other noises, other voices in the room, as long as the others in the room didn't bother me much. I just wanted to be quiet and sick, in the middle of obvious life. It was a comfort to just "be by myself," yet hear life around me.
But in recent months, I've come to realize what that delusion of "alone" was all about in actuality.
Once I realized that there really IS no such thing as "truly alone," that even in solitude I am connected to many bodies, I realized what I was actually doing, was I was craving the company of the healing powers of "the company of Heaven." Oh, we say we are having "alone time with God." But really, we are not doing a one-on-one. We are connecting with all the saints and angels and prophets and martyrs, as well as God. They are in the room just as surely as my friend, my dogs, and her dogs were--but leaving the initiative for "interacting" to me.
That's how our relationship to God feels to me. In a perfect God moment, I know God is in the room--but I'm under no pressure to "interact." My mere presence in the "Space where I can hear God puttering around," when I'm in my daily activities, is what I feel when that relational moment takes place. I don't have to strike up a conversation with him if I don't feel up to it. He might simply let me sleep if sleep is what I need. It's all good in the presence of that body, whether I choose to interact in it or not.