Body and Soul-A Meditation for Lent, Day 22


You know I’m yours for just the taking
I would gladly surrender myself to you, body and soul.—Body and Soul, lyrics by Edward Heyman, Robert Sour and Frank Eyton, music by Johnny Green

It was her last record before she joined the 27 Club: that impossibly tragic group of talented young musicians who managed to end their careers by dying just before their 28th birthday. As wonderful as it was, Amy Winehouse’s duet with Tony Bennett was not the definitive version. John Coltrane, Frank Sinatra, Billie Holliday, Etta James and Sarah Vaughn (and pretty much everybody who ever sang the Great American Songbook) also recorded it. But it was Coleman Hawkins’ haunting 1939 version that is the standard by which every other version of Body and Soul will be measured. It might just be the best jazz record ever.

Body and Soul is a jazz poem to unity of human existence: the way you feel in the deepest part of you when you are in love with someone who doesn’t love you back. It hints at something profound: we are not made up of two distinct parts: a body and a soul, but rather, we are a unitary being with both a physical and spiritual dimension.

The Western philosophical tradition since Plato is dualistic: there is a reality that lies beneath that which we perceive with our senses. What we see is only a shadow, the morphe—the form—of the “real” cosmos. Early Christianity, especially following St. Paul, picked up on Greek dualism and created the notion that while we have a body, there exists within it a soul, which is our true self. Bodies die, but souls are immortal, and go on after death to live forever in either eternal bliss (heaven) or eternal darkness (hell).

We now know, and we have always known, in both body and soul, that is bunk. Our bodies can grow sick and even die, from lack of love and nurture—or from a failure to thrive after severe trauma. We call it Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. PTSD may seem to be soulical, that is psychological, but, because we are not just bodies inhabited by souls, rather a body-soul unity, soul-sickness is body sickness. And healthy bodies require an inner health.

Reasearch with people suffering from PTSD and other trauma-based disorders demonstrates the links between bodily health and spiritual health. It’s why kids who are hungry have a hard time in school. It’s why poor people have a hard time making good life decisions. It’s why people who have been abused by those they trusted the most relive the experience over and over: their trauma has taken up residence in their body, and they become sick. The body and the soul are one.

31694100022_e1f5ab2153Breathing correctly, eating correctly, moving correctly: all these things affect whether or not we are thinking and feeling correctly. Mindfulness is a way of being that integrates our senses with our bodies. We notice the way things are, not the way we imagine them to be. We don’t create reality when we develop a spiritual practice that truly mindful, we accept what is, and work to make it better. Human suffering is real, but it is not all that there is. We can change it, by first changing ourselves.

As The Prayer of St. Francis says:
where there is hatred, let me sow love;
where there is injury, pardon;
where there is doubt, faith;
where there is despair, hope;
where there is darkness, light;
where there is sadness, joy

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