“Our memories, our beliefs, our imaginations are all impacted by the emotions we experience on a daily basis. Emotions shape and color our world in truly fantastic and meaningful ways. However, our theologies and ideas about humanity often lack careful attention to our embodied emotional experiences.” Jason Whitehead, PhD Invited Professor for DMin Focus: Science and Theology
Jesus washed feet. Mary anointed with oil. The blind were able to see; the deaf to hear. All these narratives in the biblical text are not possible without the body—the ordinary, necessary human body. It seems we forget this fact—this reality–too much of the time when we are knee-deep in piety without practice, that is a disembodied sense of creatureliness. Theology is heady stuff—easily allowing us to speak only of the mind and the spirit.
Why in theological education do we forget the body? Why do we still too much of the time consider it a necessary evil—an encumbrance to some future without it? It makes no sense to me. My theory is that because the body requires something of us we Protestants want it to metaphorically go away! What does the body require of us: care and feeding, exercise and rest, warmth and touch? More than that—the body requires us to sing and dance, to run and play, to hug and weep, to smile and frown. To feel. To experience. To desire. I am convinced that despite all the visual images of the body—the overexposure of the body—for example, the Super Bowl Halftime Show—and the number of advertisements which exploit, or portray violent trailers for violent movies, as a society we are confused, childish and nonsensical which it comes to the human body.
Too bad. So sad—really. It is a wonder—this human body. Look at a newborn baby, watch dancers on stage—if there is one important corrective to be made in Protestant theology, it is to add the body to the mix of our theological thinking. We are body-mind-and spirit. Jill Johnson offers at Princeton University a certificate of dance for non-dancers offering a form of integration about the body, mind and spirit. Check it out here
It gets one in touch with the body—with the miracle of muscle and bone and flesh in movement. It makes one healthier. I love it—this could an important addition to seminary learning. It ought to be—from a primarily theological point of view too. Not some sort of add on—leftovers for after the really important work of systematics are done as in the one hour presentation at the end of the term. This has everything to do with education and a renewal of educational philosophy. In the ongoing debate of the value of online learning versus traditional learning, two terms pop up: lateral learning and sacred time. That means—persons together in a classroom or space. Clever words which mean we need to be together—next to me is a human body in a classroom. Bodies present around the table. Another term of interest is how in hybrid learning, being present on the campus is considered “sacred time.”
I will make a prediction: being present in a classroom, human bodies will remain important and necessary component of learning, even as we know online learning has its place. After all, as science explores the notion of the brain as being the center of the human body—does this not then have everything to do with the body? When Jesus proclaims, “Take up your bed and walk,” he meant it literally—it serves as a core understanding of a theology of the body. It is with that understanding I work, so that Pittsburgh Theological Seminary’s DMin is about body, mind and spirit—for truly “sacred time.”