Looking beyond the body

SHE kept daubing at her face, aided by a lighted magnifying mirror, and then carefully painted on another coat of nail polish. She spoke ruefully, this seatmate of mine, of the rigors of the diet that had already enabled her to lose twenty pounds, and offered me her roll from our airline lunch. She was meeting an old friend and obviously wanted him to think well of her. I wondered if she had thought about what her identity really was, the qualities she expressed that transcend physicality. As she talked, I could see that there was much substance in her life. She had taught school, had reared children, and now she was active in the business world. But what she kept coming back to was her diet, her clothes, her makeup--her body. And obviously she was afraid of it. Should I disturb her universe, I wondered, with any attempt to go deeper? And what would I say? After all, that morning I had rolled up my hair, put on makeup, chided myself for being somewhat overweight. But that morning I had also read Christ Jesus' words ``Take no thought for your life, what ye shall eat, or what ye shall drink; nor yet for your body, what ye shall put on.'' I had been interested that this admonition in no way invalidated the fact that Jesus healed bodies of their blindness, their lameness, their deformities and uncontrollable convulsions.

I had been thinking about that and had been greatly encouraged by the answer implied by Jesus' question ``Is not the life more than meat, and the body than raiment?''1 I longed to share these thoughts with the woman beside me. Our lives involve much more than what is embraced in physicality, I yearned to say.

The Discoverer and Founder of Christian Science, Mary Baker Eddy, poses this question in Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures: ``What are body and Soul?'' The first sentence of the answer reads, ``Identity is the reflection of Spirit, the reflection in multifarious forms of the living Principle, Love.''2

The multifarious forms of Love--what a sense of identity! Might it not indicate that the proper attention to true, spiritual identity would be good for the physical body? Though Jesus asked that marvelous question ``Is not the life more than meat, and the body than raiment?'' he did nothing to harm the body but much to help it. Mrs. Eddy writes, ``He who gains the God-crowned summit of Christian Science never abuses the corporeal personality, but uplifts it.''3

Far from advocating an absorption of identity or a neglect of it, she saw that transcending a merely material view of man, through spiritual growth and prayer, improved the body. She wrote, ``The body improves under the same regimen which spiritualizes the thought; and if health is not made manifest under this regimen, this proves that fear is governing the body.''4

As my fellow passenger spoke of her diet and the various things her doctor had found wrong with her, her fear of her body was obvious. Her story echoed television warnings. I was tempted to be cynical about the great overconcern for the physical body that issues from all media today. Yet I knew this was no time for cynicism. Certainly I was in need of learning more about how not to be afraid of my body, how best to care for it.

Over several decades as I, from time to time, went through various exercises, I would hear an inner voice saying, ``Exercise lovingkindness; that's the exercise you need.'' This is not to belittle exercise but to recognize a deeper need.

The real me, I'm convinced, is what is exercising lovingkindness. My real identity is the reflection of the ``living Principle, Love.'' And oh, what a need there is for cultivating this spiritual fitness!

During the remainder of the flight, I prayerfully sought to understand better my own, and everyone's, spiritual identity. When I was leaving the airport I saw her with her friend. As he hailed a cab, she looked back at me. For the first time I saw her face straight on and undistorted by that analyzing stare people sometimes get when they look into mirrors. She smiled, as if we shared a secret. It was a beautiful smile, and I knew she hadn't painted that on. Maybe we both were more concerned about our spiritual identity than our surface conversation would have indicated.

As I've thought about it since, I'm sure we each ``saw'' more than a physical body in the adjoining seat.

1Matthew 6:25. 2Science and Health, p. 477. 3Retrospection and Introspection, p. 76. 4Science and Health, p. 370. You can find more articles like this one in the Christian Science Sentinel, a weekly magazine. DAILY BIBLE VERSE Bodily exercise profiteth little: but godliness is profitable unto all things 1 Timothy 4:8

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