The analogy doesn’t quite hold. Screens aren’t cigarettes. And even now, I, who am — to put it mildly — skeptical of our digital revolution, appreciate screens in a new way. Now someone in my house is on a Zoom call at any given time. Mo Willems, a children’s author who has been live-streaming daily drawing lessons, is the hero our family needs right now. Netflix (with junk food) on Friday nights is a moment of normalcy in this crazy, anxious time. And vital health and public-safety information comes to me now entirely through screens. That said, I think we all feel the glut of way too much of this good thing lately.
For Christians, the most holy thing on earth — more than communion, the Sistine Chapel, the Holy Grail or the Rocky Mountains — is the human body. This is, in part, why a vast majority of churches in America are setting aside our sacred vessels, bread and wine, and our gathering together to protect vulnerable human bodies. The church itself is called — what else? — the body of Christ.
The story of creation in the Bible reminds us that we humans are bodies. We are not simply brains on a stick or souls trapped in a mortal prison. We believe bodies and souls are inseparably entwined (which is why Christians and other religious groups care so much about eating, drinking and sex, not because we think the body is bad or dirty, but because we think it is mysteriously connected to our very soul, but that may be for another essay).
And we believe that God came not as a book or a codex of laws or as a hologram or a creed or an idea, but as a person in a body, Jesus. In assuming a body, God redeems embodiment itself. Therefore, we believe in the resurrection not merely of the soul, floating away to some ephemeral mist, but also of the body.
Before two weeks ago, it was pretty easy to ignore the brute fact of our embodiment. We can habituate ourselves to noticing our bodies only when we are counting up their flaws or trying to improve them, as though they are a beast to tame or marble to sculpt. Or we can be tempted to embrace the digital revolution so wholeheartedly that we prefer the company of an avatar on a screen over the ordinary goodness of being a body with other bodies. Or we can ignore bodies altogether, focusing completely on the life of the mind. Or more often, on the bottom line.
This virus has exposed that we have whole segments of society that do not have paid sick leave, and human resource policies and cultures that depend upon overlooking the pesky reality that any worker has a limited and needy body that deserves care.
We must embrace social distancing, for as long is as needed, to protect our health care system and the very real, fleshy bodies of millions of people. But we also need to collectively notice that something profound is lost by having to interact with the world and our neighbors in mostly disembodied, digital ways. This is something to lament and to grieve. And like all grief, it exposes the value and glory of the thing that was lost.
When social distancing is over, however many weeks or months that may take, I hope we each go get a strong coffee with a friend, go on a walk together and notice what a complete gift it is to do so — the remarkable grace of having a body alongside other bodies, on an ordinary day. What a quotidian, overlooked wonder we find in the textured tangibility of the physical world. And I hope that I, for one, never again take these ordinary gifts for granted.
Tish Harrison Warren (@Tish_H_Warren) is a priest in the Anglican Church in North America, writer in residence at the Church of the Ascension in Pittsburgh and author of “Liturgy of the Ordinary: Sacred Practices in Everyday Life.” She is a contributor to the forthcoming book Uncommon Ground: Living Faithfully in a World of Difference.
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