Dust and Glory

By Emma Vetsch

I’ve been reflecting a lot lately on the experience of living not just with, but in my body. The understanding of the human person as an incarnate spirit is stunning, like a fine cut-glass vase that catches all sorts of light, but what does it mean to live this out? When I pick up that vase, my fingers smudge it with prints, and if I carry it around long enough it will likely slip out of my hands and smash into pieces. How do I hold onto this anthropology without shattering it?

Even as I write this, my body itself reacts uneasily: shoulders clench, chest tightens, that little “gut feeling” spot right under my diaphragm trembles. Imagine a Venn diagram: one circle labeled “Image and Likeness of God” and the other circle “Dust to Dust.” I’m living in the space of overlap between these two circles. To be honest: part of me is more comfortable with the latter, because you can easily brush dust aside when it makes you uncomfortable. The former calls for a sincerity of engagement that demands courage, honesty…and gentleness.

It is our light, not our darkness, that most frightens us
— M. Williamson

I work in health care, with a special interest in chronic disease management. Many of the people I meet live with progressive body changes that limit the ways they can participate in meaningful activities and roles, and ultimately the ways they experience their very selves. How do you help someone reconcile with the goodness of their body in these moments? The answer doesn’t fully lie in trying to fix physical impairments, or even in facilitating acceptance of lost function and abilities. These are both very good components of care, but they’re not enough. What enables someone to truly inhabit their “broken” body, surrender to its sacredness, and identify with the dust and the glory?

The unity of body and spirit is so very beautiful and so very painful.

My own body, in its fragility, often frustrates me. Again and again, my little journey invites a certain surrender to my body’s vulnerability. To the dust, with its limitations. I’m discovering, too, that this abandonment can form my heart, as an act of obedience…and an act of encounter.
Whether I am strong or weak, able or weary, I am here. My body is me. Psalm 129 reminds us to praise the Lord "for the wonder of my being."

I’m learning to simply explore what it’s like to be in my body. It surprises me. As I pay more attention, with gentle curiosity, I can’t help but experience its goodness. I encounter myself. And, I’m more free to encounter others and to encounter God. It’s a goosebumpy, beautiful
thing…and so grounded in the “stuff” of the ordinary.

“Embodied living” is more complex than simply adjusting behavior towards the physical self. Certainly, stewardship of our bodies is essential, but we’re invited to a reality that’s deeply intimate. My body is me. If it was enough to just take care of my body, to properly feed and clothe and rest it, I wouldn’t have to deal with the depth of its dignity. My body is me.