THE BODY IS THE ANGEL OF THE SOUL
The human body is beautiful. It is such a privilege to be embodied. You have a relationship to a place through the body. It is no wonder that humans have always been fascinated by place. Place offers us a home here; without place we would literally have no where. Landscape is the ultimate where; and in landscape the house that we call home is our intimate place. The home is decorated and personalized; it takes on the soul of the people who live there and becomes the mirror of their spirit. Yet in the deepest sense, the body is the most intimate place. Your body is your clay home; your body is the only home that you have in this universe. It is in and through your body that your soul becomes visible and real for you. Your body is the home of your soul on earth.
Often there seems to be an uncanny appropriateness between the soul and the shape and physical presence of the body. This is not true in all instances, but frequently it yields an insight into the nature of a person’s inner world. There is a secret relationship between our physical being and the rhythm of our soul. The body is the place where the soul shows itself. A friend from Connemara once said to me that the body is the angel of the soul. The body is the angel who expresses and minds the soul, we should always pay loving attention to our bodies. The body has often been a scapegoat for the deceptions and poisons of the mind. A primordial innocence surrounds the body, an incredible brightness and goodness. The body is the angel of the life.
The body can be home to a great range and intensity of presence. Theatre is a striking illustration. An actor has enough internal space available to take in a character and let it inhabit him totally, so that the character’s voice, mind and action find subtle and immediate expression through the actor’s body. The body of the actor becomes the character’ presence. The most exuberant expression of the body is in dance. Dance theatre is wonderful. The dance becomes fluent sculpture. The body shapes the emptiness poignantly and majestically. The exciting example of this in the Irish tradition is sean nós dancing, where the dancer mirrors in his body the wild flow of the traditional music.
The body is much sinned against, even in a religion based on the Incarnation. Religion has often presented the body as the source of evil, ambiguity, lust and seduction. This is utterly false and irreverent. The body is sacred. The origin of much of this negative thinking is in a false interpretation of Greek philosophy. The Greeks were beautiful thinkers precisely because of the emphasis they placed on the divine. The divine haunted them and they endeavoured in language and concept to echo the divine and find some mirror for its presence. They were acutely aware of the gravity in the body, and how it seemed to drag the divine too much towards the earth. They misconceived this attraction to the earth and saw in it a conflict with the world of the divine. They had no conception of the Incarnation, no inkling of the Resurrection.
When the Christian tradition incorporated Greek philosophy, it brought this dualism into its thought world. The soul was understood as beautiful, bright and good. The desire to be with God belonged to the nature of the soul. Were it not for the unfortunate gravity of the body, the soul could constantly inhabit the eternal. In this way, a great suspicion of the body entered the Christian tradition. Coupled with this is the fact that a theology of sensual love never flowered in the Christian tradition. One of the few places the erotic appears is in the beautiful canticle, the Song of Songs. It celebrates the sensuous and sensual with wonderful passion and gentleness. This text is an exception; and it is surprising that it was allowed into the Canon of Scripture. In subsequent Christian tradition, and especially among the Church Fathers, there was a deep suspicion of the body and a negative obsession with sexuality. Sex and sexuality were portrayed as potential danger to one’s eternal salvation. The Christian tradition has often undervalued and mistreated the sacred presence of the body. Artists, however, have been wonderfully inspired by the Christian tradition. A beautiful example is Bernini’s ‘Teresa in Ecstasy’. Teresa’s body is caught in the throes of an ecstasy where the sensuous and the mystical are no longer separable.