Posted October 08, 2010 in Word Made Flesh:
Christian Body Language

by Fr. Pat McNulty

As usual, Fr. Pat has a very unusual reflection on a passage of Scripture. This time the passage is Luke 17:11-19, the curing of the ten lepers, the Gospel for Sunday, October 10th.

I don’t think it happened just because of the belly dancing and blanket episodes, but I’m sure both of them were on his mind when he informed me, methinks with a bit too much passion, of my new assignment to a parish across town.

Belly dancing and blankets?

Well, actually I was just practising and didn’t know Monsignor had gotten back early from his vacation, so I didn’t hear him knock and open my door. The music was a bit, ah, "elevated," I guess.

I tried to explain I had just started taking dance lessons and that this one was called "the twist"—a popular dance of the ‘60’s with lots of emphasis on the belly and the bottom.

Regardless of my feeble explanation, Monsignor was not the least bit tranquil when he left the door ajar and walked off. I only learned later that he told his friends who told their friends and someone finally told the bishop that I had been taking belly dancing lessons!

P.S. Well, bishop, me and some of my priest friends did a lot of superfluous things in the rectory during my time at the cathedral whenever Monsignor was away on holidays, but belly dancing was definitely not one of them!

Good Lord! I think I would have reassigned you on the spot! I hate to ask about the "blanket" part of this episode.

That was just one of those terrible nights where it felt like there was no safe place on earth for me except on the floor in the huge cathedral sanctuary before the Lord.

I just happened to fall asleep; that’s all. So when the twenty nuns from the high school and the grade school came into the church at 6 a.m. that morning, there I was, wrapped up in a blanket sound asleep, snoring on the floor in front of the tabernacle.

After that episode, I got the impression that Monsignor felt it would be better for all concerned if I spent more time alone in my room after all!

These strange "body language" memories came to mind as I mused over the simple gospel story from the 28th Sunday in Ordinary Time: that single leper from among the ten who had been cured and returned to give thanks.

When I read the Gospel this time, I noticed something I hadn’t noticed before: the leper’s powerful body language. St. Luke tells us that, finding himself cured, he turned back praising God at the top of his voice (Lk 17:16).

The Greek words imply that he ran and shouted with loud, mighty body movement—as in dancing. To do what? To throw himself down at the feet of Jesus (Lk 17:16)—soul and body.

When you think about it, there is a lot of "body" in our Christian faith; it is an important part of our whole faith-experience.

Not only has the Spirit inspired us to prostrate before the Lord when we wish, but we have been given the Sign of the Cross, genuflection, bowing, kissing statues, lighting candles, holding the holy Bible in our hands and singing God’s praise so that, like the leper, we can come before our Lord body and soul.

And it’s all there for a reason which is at the heart of the Incarnation, God in our flesh: it is there because something holy in the soul can only be "said" through the body.

True, to get there we don’t have to do silly dances alone in our rooms or sleep in the sanctuary like some weird people I know, but sometimes that’s the only way the Spirit can heal this "disconnect" between our body and soul so they can both worship together as they are meant to worship.

Many of us don’t want to go there "in the body." It feels a bit dimwitted, like we are "twisting" in public at a bus stop or wrapped up in a blanket on the floor in a mall: just a bit too much body.

Well, it might be. But then again, little did the dancing leper know that through all that language of the body he would hear the Lord say those words which were even more powerful than his cure: go, your faith has saved you (Lk 17:19).

Little did I know that a few childish dance lessons would bring my soul and body close enough together so that one day I would feel completely at home, body and soul, lying at the feet of Jesus in the sanctuary all wrapped up in a blanket—sound asleep!

Indeed, we have every reason to be very vigilant about this body language thing, especially in this age where we sometimes come close to worshipping the body like a god and can even come close to the edge of sacrilege and blasphemy through it.

But, as Christians, we dare not forget what happens when we worship soul and body, like the leper in the Gospel.

And, if any of us are too old or too pleasantly plump to "dance" and "throw ourselves down" as some of us are, a profound bow done with faith-filled poise is body enough for this wonderful incarnate Lord of ours.

Remember too, we have the Lord’s own "blanket permission" to spend all the body-time we want with him there before the tabernacle where even if our body falleth asleep, the soul is wide awake.

PS. Being alone before the Blessed Sacrament was actually one of Monsignor’s favorite places to be as well. And, unbeknownst to him, I heard him snoring there in the sanctuary late at night more than once myself. But, have no fear, Monsignor: I won’t tell anybody. Ooooooppppps!


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