Daily Meditations

The Search for the ‘Place of the Heart’: The Temple of the Body

July 3rd, 2019

We are both person and nature, and the nature itself is also dual, being a synthesis of visible and invisible, each pervading and containing the other. Through the body, we participate in the material and living world; by means of the body, personal existence belongs to the material universe and particularizes it. Cosmic energy is constantly passing through the body, renewing it materially, with the result that the whole of humanity actually possesses a single body, which is the sensible universe. So even in our fallen state, the mystery of human ‘consubstantiality’, the vocation of each to contain the whole of humanity and contribute to it, is given concrete expression. In our bodies we begin to know the world from within; we have the power to transform it into a living sacrifice or a decaying carcass. Nothing ‘spiritual’ is left except the form of the body, enduring and perceptible amidst the shifting cosmic forces. Matter is by definition invisible, the result of purely mathematical relations arising from the single intelligence. But out of this play of abstractions, the person, what the Bible calls the ‘living soul’, makes solid flesh. As the ancient philosophers aptly put it, ‘the soul is the form of the body’. What you see is, by definition, not matter, but the soul, the person!

The construction and working of the body are determined by its designed purpose, to be the ‘temple of the Spirit’. It is ‘bodily’ that ‘the whole fullness of deity dwells in Christ’ (Col. 2.9). Hence the apostle’s impassioned plea, ‘Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit? …. So glorify God in your body’ (I Cor. 6.19-20).

Two bodily activities in particular exactly symbolize the fulfillment of its purpose, the sign in each case really embodying the thing signified: breathing and the beating of the heart.

The Spirit, the Breath of life, can mingle with the breath of humanity. The offering of our breath releases us into those immense spaces; ‘Jesus’ really means, God sets free, God sets at large.

The pulsing of the blood is the pulsing of the original waters beneath the breath of the same enkindled Spirit, the pulsing that sets time and space in motion. As we breathe, the fire in our blood is continually refueled. The rhythm of the heart is one of drawing in and spreading out, purifying and quickening. The heart is the sun that is still within us, despite the enucleation of the Fall; it is the sun of the body as the Word is the sun of the worlds. Here again the correspondence is exact. The heart is the ‘high place’ become secret; when we scale mountains, we are looking for the meeting point of heaven and earth. When we travel to sun-drenched oceans, it is to seek enlightenment in our lives from the sun of the heart.

The bowels correspond to the ‘bowels of mercy’ that in the Bible are repeatedly, in an almost uterine sense, ascribed to God. The Spirit surrounds, nourishes, and consoles. Appropriately, in Semitic languages the word for it is often feminine.

‘O Lord our God, who hast honoured man with thine image; who hast endowed him with a reasonable soul and a comely body, the body being subject to the soul; who hast placed the head in the highest place and disposed in it the chief part of the senses, so that they are in harmony with each other…’, so reads the Byzantine prayer at the tonsure, during the rite of baptism, which symbolizes, by the cutting of several locks of hair, the offering to God of the human being as possessing reason and conscience. The head being bound to the heart, which itself controls and elevates the eros, is therefore hand in glove with the ‘reasonable soul’ which harmonizes the senses and reflects the divine Reason, the Word or Wisdom of God. ‘Reason, that is man,’ as a Father of the Church said (Basil, The Creation of Man, 7, PG, XXX,17C). All the dimensions that humanism has given to reason – intellectual rigor, clarity, discipline, methodical study – are here confirmed, enlarged and transfigured. By reason, says another Father, humanity ‘crosses the seas, visits the heavens with the eye of the spirit, and contemplates the courses, distances and sizes of the stars… By science and discovery, he is triumphant… Man is master of everything’ (Nemesius of Emesa, On Human Nature, I, PG, XL,533A, B).

By reason humankind is mediator and saviour of the universe, and the means of its self-expression; all humanity’s scientific research and technological mastery belongs to that exalted role. By reason, humankind is king, but the human being must also become priest, for the Greek word logikos, ‘logic’, which we translate as reasonable, also means resembling the Logos, the Word and Wisdom of God. So reason is both scientific investigation and the attainment of Wisdom. Today, for example, as biologists study living organisms, they see at work an Intelligence whose processes human intelligence can do no more than imitate, even in its most sophisticated activities, such as in information technology. And the only possible explanation of the interplay of systems and events which make up the history of the world is that this intelligence is personal.

Heidegger identified a conflict between the analytical study of creation and the impulse to rejoice in it, but this opposition is now abolished in favour of a science inspired by worship, and worship continually enriched by science. It is through all its rational activity as king of creation that humankind must accomplish its offering as priest.

~Olivier Clement, On Human Being:  A Spiritual Anthropology