In an old post, mention was made of the moral exhortations that abound within our culture concerning what to do with one’s body, even as that same culture bleats out the mantra “my body, my choice”.
Mention was also made of the fibres within our bodies acting as deposits of memory, which makes bodies as not just a thing in the here and now, but also a sign and reminder of things long past, in the same way that scars act as physical reminders of memories long since suppressed, if not forgotten.
What has not been mentioned, however, is the notion of the body as an eschatological thing, one that draws our attention towards a future horizon. The experience of encounters with the bodies of others, and seeing them as either potential friends, spouses or enemies, is rich raw material for such consideration. Philosophically, this notion of the body being a sign to a future moment has been hinted at by Martin Heidegger as a symptom of our fundamentally “being in the world”. The body is not just “being” in the present, but also being launched towards a future horizon, and ultimately to one’s death. Theologically, the Epistles of Paul regard the body against a backdrop of struggle, almost to the point of despairing the ablity of “the flesh” to offer anything. Be that as it may, Paul also critiqes “the flesh” against a backdrop of hope in a future reception of real life in our mortal bodies (Rom 8:11).
We have a tendency to ignore this profundity of this future dimension embedded in the body, or adopt a stance of defensiveness in the face of a future unknown, a stance whose ugliness was made manifest by the recent release of the American Senate’s “CIA Torture Report“, an evaluation of the abuse of bodies by on whom the label “potential terrorist” was imprinted.
The explanations for such barbarity, and pessimism pertaining to the kinds of future horizons we associate with the bodies of others, will no doubt be manifold. However, one understanding that Christians cannot avoid is one coming from the theological standpoint, which can be gleaned from the Theology of the Body of Pope St. John Paul II. The “eschatological dimension of the body’s signifcation is unveiled”, says John Paul II, only to the extent that they are revealed by the glorified Body of Christ. Our failure to see a future festivity, and instead perceive a future threat, in the body of the other, is tied to our failure to heed Paul’s exhortation to “put on Christ” and sacramentally augment our dying flesh with the animated flesh of the Incarnate Word, whose logos contains not just all the ideas and reasons that came before, but also contains every idea and reason that can ever come in the times ahead.