Age of Embodiment

I went to bed last night eager to get up this morning to write this post.  I was excited because with the approaching 10 year anniversary of the Sandy Hook shooting, I realized that it would be extremely important for me to put a message about embodiment in the context of gun violence.  Then overnight, this framing became even more close to home and relevant.  I’m here as part of the University of Virginia community unable to approach grounds because last night there was a multiple fatality shooting on campus and as of the time of this writing (the following morning) the shooter is still at large, armed and considered dangerous.

But the immediacy and closer proximity to this violence doesn’t change what I want to say.

For me, guns and the proliferation of firearms is not only the problem.  Guns are also a symptom of a culture that is so removed from its physicality that it values taking life as a defense more highly than understanding that life to begin with.  We are currently living in the “technology age” where machines are becoming “sentient” and where communication doesn’t involve voices or senses other than keyboards and electronic conveyance.  I recently encountered a student who couldn’t even read my cursive writing (a fading and highly tactile art) and it is no longer considered rude to be using a device of some kind pretty much anywhere.

Before writing me off as an old Gen-X fuddy duddy, hear me out.  What has been lost here in all of this technology is the immediacy of interacting with each other’s bodies.  We fear having a tangible sense of each other and seem only to understand the tangible sense of ourselves in terms of trying to achieve physical ideals that are produced by technology.  And we’ve become defensive and territorial.  The assumption that has grown in this culture is that one will be harmed by speaking of, interacting with or acknowledging bodies rather than affirmed.

We must usher in an age of embodiment.  It is not an easy task in a culture that was built on the disembodied dehumanization and eradication of other beings; violence is in the American DNA.

The reaction for some is to turn inward and become totally detached from their bodies.  While others move toward “mindfulness” and breathing exercises and gratitude.  This second option is all well and good, but in our culture, these things are also expensive.  Whether it is the mindfulness class or the time you lose by engaging in mindfulness practice, there is a clear association of monetary value connected to what we do for our bodies.  This commodification of being human feels somehow dirty to me.

What is clear, from both the attempts to counteract the influence and distance created by technology in our lives and by the aggressive commodification of bodies in our values, is that we are currently in a time of extreme dis-embodiment.  We are encouraged to live in a physical amnesia where we ignore even our spontaneous bodily functions to the point of dysfunction and always embarrassment.  The most extreme form of that dysfunction is how we live (in the United States) willing to kill each other for our own supposed “safety”.  This is the grossest physical, emotional and cultural dysfunction of them all.

We must usher in an age of embodiment.  It is not an easy task in a culture that was built on the disembodied dehumanization and eradication of other beings; violence is in the American DNA.   This is a big ask but the approach could be curative even though it is a prescription that may feel utterly foreign or useless or optional to some.  In truth, inaugurating an age of embodiment is essential.  The action we take must be as intentional and deliberate as starting dialysis and like dialysis, it could also be life saving.

Of course, to move to embodiment, we must move away from commodification and commercialization of bodies; away from disposability of bodies and most importantly the fear of bodies.

The reason I went into ministry 10 years ago was because I’m convinced that we are more than the work we do.  The last three years of pandemic did a lot to remind people of this, but we are sliding back.  We discovered during lockdown that the high-flying jobs we had were on a certain level just fidget spinning.  We missed eye contact and the energy of being in the room with other bodies.  We missed being human.  And some of us were confronted with the constant humanity of each other and we couldn’t take it.  We were out of practice.

We also learned as a society that there are many more people who had to continue to put their bodies on the line (bus drivers, cleaners, food prep, nurses, doctors, etc.), regardless of vaccinations or safety measures, in order to keep us all alive.  The disparities of embodiment that our focus on function has created were on full display.  And though the pandemic may be subsiding, those disparities are not.

Do I have the answers?  No…not yet anyhow.  But, I do know that for any change to happen we must first acknowledge that we have a serious embodiment problem.  We must recognize that it is perverting and twisting and convulsing everything about who and what we are.

The time has come for the age of embodiment because dis-embodiment is literally killing us all…one gunshot at a time.

-ALD