Monday, April 02, 2007

The Physics of the Body of Christ

(This is the paper I submitted to the Craigville Colloquy five years ago, as mentioned in the post, "Love and power".)

Early one Sunday morning a pastor was getting ready for that morning’s worship. As she was readying her Bible and her sermon on the pulpit, her young son asked her about what different events or objects meant in the course of worship. He asked, “Mom, what does it mean when a baby has water poured on its head?” She replied, “It means we welcome that new life into the body of Christ, promising to be its family, and to teach that little one the faith of the church.” He asked another question, “Mom, what does it mean when we eat bread and drink juice in church?” She answered, “It means the bread is Jesus’ body and the juice is his blood. This is how we remember him and God’s love for us.” “Oh, I see. Then what does it mean when the head usher points at his watch when you’re preaching?” Slowly shaking her head back and forth and smiling, she said, “Not a thing, honey, not a thing!”

We could also insert a question about the confession “Christ will come again” and sadly the minister would give the same response as to its meaning: not a thing. Among today’s Christians in the pew, few actually give pause to think about what it would mean to have Christ in our midst once again. For this post-modern age, a dead person, resurrected, ascended into heaven and then coming back to earth again holds little promise and even much less meaning. Especially since so much time and so much violence and bloodshed have washed under the bridge, Christ’s return into human history seems moot at best.

I propose that the return of Christ has more to do with the Body of Christ, namely the Church, than with any supernatural intervention from a theistic Christ. Furthermore, the knowledge that we have about the human mind/body connection gives refreshing inspiration to the image of the Body of Christ in such a way as to invigorate that same Body that is seemingly groping and limping and, at times, severely wounded. The Church, indeed, all of humankind is thirsting for new insight, fresh understanding, honest self-examination, perhaps even reformation. For surely we cannot continue in the same path as the one that has led us here, continuing on the same circumscribed route. As Einstein said, “No problem can be solved from the same consciousness that created it.” (1)

Imagine a vision of the Church, indeed, a vision of humanity where all are of the same mind (Phil. 2:5), this mind being the Spirit of Christ. For I believe that Christ did not come to make us all Christians, but to wake us up from our sleep. Christ showed us what is possible for humankind. Through his life, death, and resurrection he made manifest that our humanity is our divinity, that divinity is our birthright. We cannot be the Body of Christ and still live our lives the same old way. Our redemption depends not only on a leap from God, (2) but also on a leap from God within us. Jesus said, “The kingdom of God is within you” (Luke 17:21, RSV). Mahatma Gandhi said, “You must become the change you wish to see in the world.” Emmanuel can mean not only “God with us” but also “God in us”. We hold dear the prayer that Jesus gave the infant Church:

“...that they may all be one. As you, Father, are in me and I am in you, may they also be in us, (or be one in us), so that the world may believe that you have sent me. The glory that you have given me I have given them, so that they may be one, as we are one, I in them and you in me, that they may become completely one, so that the world may know that you have sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me” (John 17:21-23).
Jesus’ mission was to illustrate in his relationship with God, that humanity, the earth, indeed, the entire cosmos are one: one with God, one with itself. Unity is not only that which will save us, but it is our witness as well.

Paul outlines this image of oneness beautifully in 1 Corinthians 12 in his discussion of the Body of Christ. “For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ...”(1 Cor. 12:12ff). It has been said that the Church as the organic, continuing incarnation of Christ does not accommodate other images of Christ and the Church found in the Bible (3). However, if we take into account recent discoveries about the mind/body connection, we will see how intimately connected the mind is to the body, and thus how intimately Christ is connected to the Church.

Recent studies in the field of quantum theory have been applied to how we think. A quantum unit of light is a photon. It is said that a quantum unit of the mind/body connection is a thought. Neuroscience tells us that our brain communicates with itself through chemicals called neuropeptides. In our brain are receptors to these neuropeptides. This is the chemical manifestation of thought. It is now known that every system, every cell in our body has these receptors and has the ability to manufacture the same neuropeptides as in our brain. We don’t just think in our brains. Our thoughts are not only messengered to, but can be created within any system, any cell in our bodies. The mind is not limited to the brain. We have a thinking body (see Chopra, Magical Mind, Magical Body CD, 1995).

Imagine, then, applying this knowledge to the image of the Body of Christ. Christ is not only the head, Christ flows throughout the entire body. The Body, when it thinks, has the potential of thinking in the same mind of Christ. The Spirit of Christ has been working through the Body, the Church, for millennia. Oh, how hard the struggle has been to raise that mind to consciousness! But when the Body of Christ is able to put its fears aside and allow the mind of Christ to be primary throughout the Body, it is then that we see glimpses of the kingdom. We begin to see what the world would be like if the mind of Christ was brought to consciousness throughout the Body of Christ.

At Princeton, physicists and other scientists who deal with anomalies are studying the idea of global consciousness. Their proposition is that human consciousness and volition can affect the material world, especially with large scale events of deep meaning, such as any New Year’s Eve, earthquakes, a call to national or even global prayer, and September 11, 2001. Events where there is a collective identity and a depth of emotion and focus seem to be able to affect the results of random number generators. Numbers that normally hover around a horizontal line form a sweeping curve during such events. The curve for 9/11 lasted more than two days (4), suggesting a coherence that can affect the physical world.

In the area of leadership development and organizational structure, this same science is being applied, that there is a group consciousness to be trusted within all living systems. Chaos and order are not opposing forces but two aspects of one reality. Both need each other in order to accomplish the other. This is how we evolve and change. Changing the way we view Jesus, the Body of Christ, and ourselves in light of this new science would indeed be chaotic. But if we want the Church to survive, change we must and we must endure this chaos, trusting that we will organize again, but we will be a new creation. Maybe even a clearer view, a pungent taste, a heady aroma of that long-awaited kingdom.

All of this has profound implications for the whole Body of Christ, indeed, for all of humanity and the whole of creation. That may sound grandiose, even dangerous. Scientists would probably caution against making these leaps of understanding without knowing the math behind the theory. Yet both science and religion are about the pursuit of truth. Sue Monk Kidd once said, “The truth may set you free, but first it will shatter the safe, sweet way you live.” (5) I think it’s high time we exercised some of that dangerous truth in the Church. How we worship and live together as a people of God would change beyond our deepest fears and into our wildest dreams.

In worship there would be longer periods of silence, giving us opportunity to connect with that greater Mind within us and within the community. We would use more of our bodies with creative movement, dance, and drama. We would also use more of our senses, new “smells and bells” to encourage nonlinear thinking. Art, stories, and pictures would help to stimulate creativity. There would be more “testimony” from individuals, how they experience Christ within the community and in solitude. We would worship in a circle, to give witness to that living unity, and so that all present can see the whole community, with the one or ones leading worship as part of that circle.

There would also be witnessing from other corporate bodies, other churches, other denominations, other faith traditions. There would be time for imagining the future of the worshiping community, the Church, and the future of the world. There would be an emphasis on learning of the collective identity of the worshiping community. Who we are illumines personal patterns, how we contribute to the collective identity, and imbues individuals with the responsibility of changing oneself. (6) And most importantly, there would be no time limit to worship. Worship would move seamlessly from sabbath to daily life to sabbath once more.

Our living together and in the world would, therefore, be an extension of our worship. Having been changed by what we had witnessed, imagined, and sensed--having had a God-experience (7)--we would then go into the world, helping where there is no helper, praying without ceasing, witnessing the good news, and telling the truth of the reality of God’s realm on earth. We would live as Jesus lived, that is, live fully. We would love as Jesus loved, that is, love wastefully. We would be as Jesus was, that is, have the courage to be ourselves. (8)

We would take seriously the radical notion of the priesthood of all believers (1 Pet. 2:9). Laity and clergy alike would recognize their own authority and respect the authority of others. Our places of worship would become seminaries to educate and prepare laypeople as ministers in the world. (9) Knowing ourselves to be different from Christ only in degree, knowing ourselves to have that same mind within us and having the practice of it, we could change the world. There would be no distance between Christ and the Body of Christ. The bride and the bridegroom would have union, one body, one Spirit, one God (Eph. 4:4-6). They would be ONE.

Christ will come again. Come, Lord Jesus, come! Amen.

Bible quotations, unless otherwise noted, are from the New Revised Standard Version of the Bible.

1. Margaret Wheatley, Leadership and the New Science (second edition), (San Francisco: Berrett-Koehler Publishers, 1999), 7.

2. Hendrikus Berkhof, Christian Faith, (Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1986), 528.

3. Ibid., 402.

4. Barbara Stahura, “Global Consciousness?”, Spirituality and Health. (Spring 2002): 29.

5. Sue Monk Kidd, The Dance of the Dissident Daughter, (San Francisco: HarperSanFrancisco, 1996), 15.

6. Wheatley, 144.

7. John Shelby Spong, A New Christianity for a New World, (San Francisco: HarperSanFrancisco, 2001), 145.

8. Ibid., 145.

9. Elizabeth O’Connor, Letters to Scattered Pilgrims, (San Francisco: Harper & Row, Publishers, Inc., 1979), xiii.

Berkhof, Hendrikus. Christian Faith. Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1986.

Chopra, Deepak. Magical Mind, Magical Body. Niles, IL: Nightingale Conant, 1995. Compact Disc.

Conzelmann, Hans. History of Primitive Christianity. Translated by John E. Steely. Nashville, TN: Abingdon Press, 1973.

Dawn, Marva J. A Royal “Waste” of Time. Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1999.

Jahn, Robert J. and Dunne, Brenda J. Margins of Reality. Orlando, FL: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1987.

O’Connor, Elizabeth. Letters to Scattered Pilgrims. San Francisco: Harper & Row, Publishers, Inc., 1979.
Spong, John Shelby. A New Christianity for a New World. San Francisco: HarperSanFrancisco, 2001.
Stahura, Barbara. “Global Consciousness?”. Spirituality and Health, Spring 2002, Vol. 5, No. 1.

Taylor, Barbara Brown. The Luminous Web. Boston, MA: Cowley Publications, 2000.

Wheatley, Margaret. Leadership and the New Science (second edition). San Francisco: Berrett-Koehler Publishers, 1999.


Mystical Seeker said...

I think that is a really good paper, and I like the conclusions you drew at the end in the implications for worship and practice.

Cynthia said...

After I wrote this, a brief article about St. Gregory's appeared in The Christian Century. Some of their worship practices were similar to what I described. It was just funny finding out about them after concluding the paper.