An Embodied Faith

I begin this week with thanks to our curate, Mthr Alice Jolley, for preaching and presiding at both of our morning services this week while I am at St George’s, Swallowbeck, and to Fr Alan Moses, who will be preaching and presiding at our service on Wednesday while I am on leave.

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To judge by the conversations I’ve been having recently, I won’t be the only person taking advantage of this half-term holiday to spend time with family from whom we’ve been physically separated for a long time. (It’s my Mum’s 85th birthday this week, so it’s come at just the right time for us.) I hope that I will never again take for granted the precious gift of being able to sit indoors and chat and greet loved ones with a hug.

Pope Francis reminds us in his recent book ‘Let Us Dream’ that touch is a sense that technology cannot mediate. We can look at pictures and hear voices on our tablets, phones and computers. And the many ways that technology has helped us to keep relationships going, care for each other, pray and worship over the last 15 months are things for which I’m truly grateful. But they are consolations for what we have lost, not adequate substitutes.

One of the most important things about our Christian faith is that our God is embodied. For Christians, God is physically present in the world, most especially in the historical person of Jesus Christ and in the same Christ’s sacramental presence in the Eucharist. We are physical creatures and we worship a God who makes himself physically present to us.

Not everyone warms to this idea. Some are drawn to a disembodied religion because it reassures them (falsely) that they are not falling into the sin of idolatry. Others struggle to reconcile the imperfections of bodily life with the glory of God. People who have strongly negative attitudes towards their own bodies may find it hard to accept the love of an embodied God.

I understand and empathise with all of those reasons for preferring an abstract God, a cognitive God, a shapeless formless God, but I have to be clear that this is not the Christian God. The frailty of the human body is intrinsic to the very nature of that God; as Charles Wesley puts it, ‘those dear tokens of his passion, still his dazzling body bears.’

I hope you are looking forward to getting together with family and friends again. I hope you are able to do so safely, and take good care of one another as you do so. And I hope that in the time that you spend together as whole people, you may find in the encounter something of the grace and love of God.

May God bless you all,