Embodiment, Part 2
For every matter has its time and way, although the troubles of mortals lie heavy upon them. Indeed, they do not know what is to be, for who can tell them how it will be? No one has power over the wind, or power over the day of death. Ecclesiastes 8:6-8a
As I began this discussion on earthly embodiment last week, I wrote that things of the earth are temporal, but things of the spirit, i.e., our souls, are eternal. Regarding things of the earth, this is only true of specific earthly forms, like our bodies. As we observe creation in our specific space and time, we see people and things all around us that were once alive that are now dead. In the woods outside my window there is a dead tree that fell into the crook of another tree. I have seen the dead bodies of friends, family, and loved ones. The leaves of the maple trees in my back yard turn red and orange each autumn before they die and fall to the ground. But is any of this really dead?
The answer to the question depends on what we consider to be alive. The specific earthly form that I knew as a loved one, a tree in the forest, or a maple leaf is no more. But the elements making up that body, tree trunk, or leaf are eternal. Bodies, tree trunks, and leaves, once vibrant with life, lose their old form as they go through the natural decomposition and re-formation process. When I was young, we would rake leaves from the yard into a pile and burn them, reducing their forms to a small pile of ashes. Even so, their elements remained, either being released into the air in the smoke or becoming part of the ashes. Nothing of the earth was lost, only transformed. This is the nature of earthly immortality, as it has been for billions of years. Will we live forever in our current form? No, but the elements our bodies are made from will, as will the soul that coalesces and animates the earthly elements.
We see this process of formation, destruction, and reformation all around us, although much of it occurs on a timeline alien to us. There is geological evidence that my home state of Kansas was once a vast ocean, although it is a thousand miles from the nearest ocean today. A small Missouri town that once sat on the eastern banks of the Missouri River is now a small Kansas town on the western banks of the same river. As the floodwaters of decades past receded, the river changed its course and the town changed its resident state. Over the centuries, rocks crumble and mountains erode. Families, corporations, and dynasties come and go. Teacher and author Richard Rohr says the natural course of everything in creation is order, disorder, reorder. Depending on the form, this life-cycle may occur in hours or eons. Resurrection plays out all around us all the time.
We tend to think of our physical bodies as stable and unchanging, which is far from true. Approximately 50 to 70 billion of our cells die and are replaced each day. Every part of our body is replaced every seven years or so. We exchange elements with the world around us with every breath, and our bodies integrate elements from other earthly beings with everything we eat. There is a constant exchange happening between our bodies and the world around us. Over the course of a lifetime, our bodies will have integrated elements from all over the world. The point is that, appearances aside, these bodies that seem so solid are actually fluid and dynamic.
The separation process of soul from body, as occurs at physical death, almost always requires some sort of major trauma to the body, rendering it uninhabitable. This is often the failure of a key bodily organ or some other traumatic event. Despite the advances in medical practice, and in spite of the constant remaking process, physical bodies reach a point where the soul can no longer hold the form together. The earthly elements of the body remain with the earth, and the ethereal elements of the spirit return to the realm of spirit.
This, then, is a view of the nature of our earthly lives and deaths. A portion of God’s spirit – our soul – takes on elements of the earth and embodies itself for a time. When that time is up, the body and soul go their separate ways. Nothing, however, is lost or annihilated. The form is re-form-ulated, and our soul – the true essence of who we are – lives on.
This is the 3rd in the series of Life Notes titled, If I Should Die Before I Wake. I invite your thoughts, insights, and feedback via email at firstname.lastname@example.org, or through my website, www.ContemplatingGrace.com. At the website, you can also sign up to have these reflections delivered to your Inbox every Thursday morning, if you are not receiving them in another manner.
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