God has given us bodies, with which to touch time (including our own aging) and space (which has its own physicality).
So many of the stories Jesus told have to do with bodies. A woman kneading dough, her arms muscular from the repeated action, an action that would have caused those arms to ache quicker when she first began kneading dough than they did now. A merchant travelling widely in search of pearls, feet sore, back sore, weary from his journey and yet driven onwards. A farmer hefting a bag of seed over his shoulder, throwing his arm out wide, again and again. Hired workers labouring under the midday sun in a vineyard, sweat running down the groove between their shoulder-blades, tickling where they can’t quite reach to scratch…
The point of the stories is not to extract some abstract dis-embodied truth from the messiness of life, but, rather, to demonstrate that God is to be found in the very ways in which the body touches time and space.
Again, there are so many accounts of Jesus’ body touching the bodies of other people – a woman with a fever, a dead boy, a leper. Touches that made him ritually unclean – understood by some to contaminate and therefore temporarily exclude from community; but perhaps better understood as gift, time out to reflect on the deep holiness of such connection, to return with refreshed appreciation of our bodies, and those of our neighbours.
This also is why we are given actions: water poured on the head (every time I step under the waterfall of my shower-head, I am reminded of my baptism, an event I cannot remember but am nonetheless shaped by); bread broken and shared; wine drank in company with others. Do this in remembrance of me. Do, not think, not believe – not divorced from our body, at any rate. We participate our way into relationship. We are shaped bodily to God, and neighbour. We can know our creator, and our fellow creatures, no other way.
Last June, I started running the weekly Parkrun – 5 kilometres, run in community at 9.00am on Saturday mornings – as often as I can make it. The run, followed by breakfast in a café, is an activity I have especially done with my son, Noah. Today I ran my 21st Parkrun (I make it, on average, fortnightly rather than weekly). My time has come down from 00.32.47 to 00.23.41.
At the moment, my right thigh aches. Not when I run, but between runs. I can feel my body, in a very particular way. In a way that brings to mind Jacob, wrestling with God all night long, an encounter that left him with a permanent limp. That reminds me that the God who gave me a body took on a body of his own, and gives my body an unfolding story of its own, through which I might know and be known.
My thigh aches. And I am deeply grateful for it.