taking the words of Jesus seriously

What does it mean to be disembodied? Is it disconnection from community? From true friendship? From purpose in life? Is it the endless cycle of diet culture that demands we shrink our flesh, cut ourselves down to size, make ourselves worthy in someone else’s eyes? 

Is it what happens when we are traumatized and victimized, forced to disassociate, to live compartmentalized lives in order to survive? 

Do we know when we’re disembodied or are we ghosts before our time? Like the people I pass on the greenway trails who leave chemtrails of artificial scent in their wake, embalming themselves because someone told them they had to do this to smell fresh, walking corpses for all the good the fresh air and smell of the creek, and the soil, and the wind does them, sealed in their bubble of profane imitation of flowers, having been sold the artificial as superior to the genuine. 

Or is disembodiment something we do to others when we see them only as a diagnosis, as their limitations and not their possibilities—when we segment and dissect them and refuse to see them as a whole?

When we reduce a person to a single facet based on their race, or their job, or their age, or their health, or their sex, or their orientation, and we declare them to be less. 

When we tell women they’re worth less, and men they’re worth more, but only if they don’t ever, ever act like women, meaning don’t feel, don’t connect, don’t be weak. Only be strong, only be angry, only want sex and not hugs, don’t talk about your feelings, punch it out instead—boys don’t cry, boys will be boys, shut the rest of it down, and never show the world. 

READ: Disabilities and the Body of Christ

When we take Paul’s view of flesh versus spirit too literally and try to divide our lives and our needs into flesh and spirit as though we could live a spirit-filled life in despised and demonized bodies, as though we could ever be whole and holy with our nature cleaved in two. 

As though it didn’t mean something when God came in the flesh, that Jesus shows us the most perfect picture of God and that God is in human form, real flesh, flesh that was born in blood and water and a mother’s cries. Flesh that grew; flesh that was touchable, breakable, pierceable, killable.

All of us have been disembodied, by ourselves, by our culture, by others, by abusers, by well-meaning loved ones who’ve lived such fragmented lives themselves they never knew this wasn’t the way it was meant to be, passing down life in shattered bits and pieces because no one taught them there was a way to be whole. 

So then, those of us who’ve seen the pieces we live in and know there must be more, how do we become reembodied? And how do we reembody others? 

Can we see all their pieces? Pick them up from the various places they’ve been scattered and hand them back? Sit with them while they grab needle and thread and suture the pieces of their heart back together, wait while the deep wounds heal, and the connections re-form, and the child-like light re-appears in their eyes when they know they’ve found it, they’ve found themselves again. 

And then as reembodied people, we stay in reembodied relationships, embracing the parts under construction and glorying in the growth of both ourselves and the other. If we can do that, we can expand this growth-focus outward, embracing a community, a congregation, a city, a country. 

Reembodied people reembody others: they help give back all the pieces of life that get boxed, cut-off, disintegrated, scorned. Reembodied people can hear the stories of others so profoundly that the story becomes whole in the mouth of the story-teller as they speak, reintegrating the lost and forgotten pieces of their lives, their words the shuttlecock on the loom creating a whole tapestry where once there were just threads. 

Reembodiment is a journey, not a destination, an undertaking we achieve better together, a commitment to a way of life. It is saying we will resist all efforts at disembodiment in ourselves, resist them for others when they can’t resist by themselves; we will stand together, as a body, working out wholeness and holiness together.

About The Author


Anna Elisabeth Howard writes highly caffeinated takes on shalom as a lens for everything from her front porch in Hendersonville, TN where she lives with her husband and two sons. She is a community organizer and movement chaplain with a background in youth and family ministry and is a graduate of Fuller Theological Seminary. You can find her at @aehowardwrites on Twitter and at aehowardwrites.com

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