In the parish in which I currently serve there is a husband and wife who work in therapeutic massage and they share how the healing arts influence their view of theology and how faith, in turn, influences their work. I have had some interesting discussions with them and a recent conversation has had me thinking in a new way about parish and even the Body of Christ.
After an injury, the couple notes, part of the healing process is helping the injured person to remember and reconnect with his or her body. On the surface this sounds strange because one would think that if there is a part of the body in pain that it would be a primary focus. Initially it is but if the pain persists then the person begins to compensate and “work around” the injured part. A disconnect then occurs, sets in and can even become deeply ingrained. If the healing process is to be effective, this disconnect must be addressed and overcome. The injured person must be helped, encouraged and even challenged sometimes to reconnect and remember his or her body. Once this occurs, then healing and full functioning can advance in earnest.
There are injuries and pains which occur through life which can lead a person to “forget” or disconnect in differing ways from his or her body. Pains and injuries also occur within the Christian community (sometimes minor and annoying, sometimes large and scandalous). Can these injuries lead us to disconnect maybe even subconsciously (even as we sincerely profess our love of Christ and his Church) and forget what it truly means to be the Body of Christ? Is part of the healing process needed in our day to be found in assisting the Church community to remember and re-connect with what it really means to be the Body of Christ?
Before a parish being a series of activities, projects or meetings, before it being a collection of groups and guilds, before it being good and charitable work done in our world, before it being a collection of Masses and prayer offered in this or that liturgical style – a parish is part of the Body of Christ and a manifestation of that Body. A parish may have a lot of things going on but does that necessarily mean it is fully connected to and remembering its core and essential reality – which is being part of the Body of Christ?
Pope Francis has spoken famously of wanting a Church that is a field hospital. The world can certainly bang up a person. The world can also certainly bang up the Church. Can part of the healing offered through the field hospital be healing needed by the Church herself, assisting her in remembering and re-connecting with her own body which is, in fact, the Body of Christ?
Below are some questions (not exhaustive) that I think might help a community reflect on where it is in its own remembering of being part of the Body of Christ. (I approach this reflection in terms of the parish because that is the context in which I am currently ministering and in which the majority of Catholics exercise their faith. At first blush, I do think these thoughts could be applied to other forms of church community.)
Does the parish have room to breathe? In the United States we live in an activity driven society. There is always someplace to be and something that needs to get done! These may be good and honest realities that need to be addressed but can a different rhythm to life be found and maintained? Can a parish witness to this different rhythm to life or is it so chock-full of activities that a person’s breath is taken away by just looking at a calendar of events! Activities and schedules are certainly good but a body needs room and space to breathe. Can a parish be allowed this room and can parishioners be allowed, first and foremost, to just be and know one another as fellow disciples and friends in Christ before anything else?
Does the church have the ability to welcome? If a person is in pain and disconnected from his or her body it is more difficult for that person to welcome and focus on the needs of another person. Energy cannot be spared even if desired. Welcoming the other person runs deep within our faith tradition (think of Abraham welcoming the three strangers) and welcoming another person in faith is a means to new life and new awareness but if energy cannot be spared then this wellspring is cut off.
Can a church maintain a sense of wonder and be able to abide in mystery? We so often want black and white answers and we want everything figured out and settled but often life is not this way. At least this side of heaven, we will never have the full picture nor full understanding. Church ought to be the place that welcomes wonder and mystery over pat phrases and tidy answers but, once again, when there is pain energy and focus can be lacking and it is all the easier to sidestep mystery in favor of what is seen as tried, true and comfortable.
Physically, the pains and traumas of life can lead us to disconnect from our bodies and even “forget” our bodies even as we live within our own skin. In this scenario, we might be able to get by but this is far from the full experience and joy of life. When pain and trauma lead us to forget who we are and disconnect from the reality of being the Body of Christ, we – as Church – might also be able to “get by” in the world but this also is far from the fullness of life that God intends for his people and through his people (his Body) in witness for the world.
For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ. For by one Spirit we were all baptized into one body – Jew or Greeks, slaves or free – and all were made to drink of the one Spirit … Now you are the body of Christ and individually members of it. (1 Cor. 12:12-13, 27)
A tremendous joy is to be found in re-connecting and simply remembering our body. Yes, we are the Body of Christ!