Spirit and Body

October 3, 2004 | 13 comments
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I cleaned the church building the other day, with the other High Priests. My job was to vacuum the chapel. As I was doing so, the organist came in to practice. She plays well, and she played hymns that I like, so it was pleasant. But as she began to play “Jesus, Lover of my Soul,� I was almost overcome. There was something about the physical activity combined with the hymn that seemed perfect to me, in spite of what might seem to be the anti-materialist theme of the hymn.

13 Responses to Spirit and Body

  1. Hans Hansen on October 4, 2004 at 1:09 am

    I know what you mean. Several years ago one of my best friends died suddenly. He was a very gifted musician with three children and his wife expecting (indeed she gave birth to his posthumous daughter just two weeks after the funeral). He had been our ward choir director and I was asked to lead our choir in a medley of his favorite hymns, “Jesus, Savior, Pilot Me” and “Jesus, Lover of My Soul”. It was a very emotional moment for me and I had to direct the music through my tears, but I was comforted by the sweet spirit as it came through the music and the words.

  2. Jack on October 4, 2004 at 12:06 pm

    Jim, In recent years I’ve discovered that my view of the gospel has been quite “anti-materialist”. This may be due to a strong “mystical” strain in my upbringing or a self-centeredness typical of an artist’s disposition (nothing outside of oneself is as real as what is within oneself) or any number of other possiblities including a slight mental disorder.

    It’s been quite a trick to overcome my gnostic tendencies (and I fear that I won’t completely overcome them before this life is over), but in those rare momments when I have had a clearer sense of Joseph Smith’s view of the soul, I have experienced an incredible sense of relief.

    I’m not exactly sure why a more materialist view brings such relief. I think it may be connected to the principle of agency. It seems that viewing the universe as physical/tangible/palpable places the individual in a position of better understanding the responsibility of one’s actions within that universe.

    Maybe I’m a little kookey for finding this so liberating, but without a sense of the “tangible” one is left to suffer at the hands of capricious god because one is not a real participant in one’s own mortal experience.

    I think, perhaps, having a sense of our autonomy in this physical world (though it is limited) enables us to better recognize God’s love as sincere. If we were merely an extention of His mind then we would not sense that He loves us for the unique individuals that we are.

    I hope that this hasen’t been too goofy.

  3. Jim Richins on October 4, 2004 at 12:07 pm

    Is it that you are surprised at the connection between Spirit and Body? BTW, I looked up that hymns lyrics and I’m not clear about the anti-materialist theme of that hymn. Are we talking about the same hymn – #102?

    I wonder if there wasn’t some additional catalyst to your spiritual response to the hymn. Was it that your physical motions were somewhat synchronized with the song, almost as if you were inadvertently dancing? What else was on your mind at the time that may have helped you identify with the music? Perhaps it was not even a conscious thought or memory. Do you have the lyrics memorized so you could follow along in your head, or was it purely the music? Does this hymn have special meaning for you – could it have invoked some poignant memory?

    For me, physical activity has one effect of helping me to focus on fewer topics in my mind. Furthermore, the topics that are of most concern to me seem to rise to the top, helping me clarify my emotional state. Sitting still or otherwise being sedentary – or even engaging in only moderate physical activity – has the effect of having many random and different thoughts trying to occupy my mind at once. Thus, physical activity is an organic way for me to achieve a level of focus or “Zen”. Perhaps your mind was similarly cleared of noise and clutter, and thereby also allowed the Spirit in.

  4. Adam Greenwood on October 4, 2004 at 5:20 pm

    I hav found that there is something very non-materialist about light, repetitive work. I get all my best ideas that way.

  5. Jim F. on October 5, 2004 at 12:34 am

    Jack, I don’t think your reflections were at all goofy. I’ll have to think about them more–a good thing.

    Jim Richins, I don’t think I was surprised at the connection between the spirit and the body. That has been one of my intellectual hobby horses for a long time, so “surprise” isn’t quite the right description. But I experienced something like a testimony of the unity of spirit and body and of the sacredness of ordinary things.

    As for what was going on in my head: I was singing along silently. But I don’t think the hymn has special meaning for me, though it is one I like very much.

    Why did I describe “Jesus, Lover of My Soul” as anti-materialist? Good question without a particularly good answer. It seems to me that there is something other-worldly about the hymn, like so many other of Wesley’s hymns. Perhaps I was making an unconscious inference based on other things I know or on my ancient but influential Protestant background.

  6. Jack on October 5, 2004 at 1:03 am

    Jim, I’d be very interested in hearing your thoughts on the “connection between the spirit and the body”.

    However, please don’t let the fact that I’m a hairs breadth away from insanity and constantly clawing the walls of a darkened room as I try to make sense of the paradox of self, obligate you into generating a swift response to my comment. : )

  7. David King Landrith on October 5, 2004 at 9:24 am

    There seems to be a certain strain of Marxism contained within the belief that manual labor is good for the soul.

  8. lyle on October 5, 2004 at 10:12 am

    david:

    perhaps the causal errow (pun intended) works the opposite way? maybe Marx found some of the gospel. or mayhap i misunderstand.

  9. Jim Richins on October 5, 2004 at 11:07 am

    On the connection between spirit and body, I don’t think I have a very original or creative understanding. However, I do generally reject ideas that can be described as “mystical” or “metaphysical” in favor of a more scientific approach. As a scientist and engineer, I appreciate things that can be proven or measured. Perhaps my background contrasts sharply with Jack’s, who describes himself as having an artist’s disposition.

    That is not to say that a scientist does not believe in things that can not be seen – quite the contrary, there are phenomena undetectable by our natural senses, which nevertheless affect our physical environment. Traditionally, we understand the 5 human senses to be sight, sound, touch, smell, and taste. Personally, I don’t like this list, as it describes the range of human senses based on discrete specialized organs, but it practically works.

    If human beings possessed, say, a magnetic-sense (like I think birds and turtles have he capability to detect the earths magnetic field – don’t quote me on that, I’m not a zoologist), it would surely affect how people conceptualize their place in the world, and would have influenced human civilization over time. I can imagine streets laid out in orthogonal directions, in a nice grid pattern in virtually every city throughout the world (a Utah tongue in cheek).

    Who knows what other effects would arise from having an innate magentic-sense? Human beings now use metaphors for travel/navigation to describe life challenges (e.g. “…follow a difficult road”, “…take the high road”, “…the death of my friend put me on a different path”). If humans possessed a magnetic-sense, and if society consistently built towns and cities with orthogonal streets, how might these metaphors be changed? With a change in metaphor, how would human beings approach challenges in life differently?

    Humanity defines itself collectively and individually in ways fundamentally linked to our natural senses. Because this link is so fundamental, it is not immediately obvious.

    Sensory perception forms the basis for self-conceptualization, which moves us into a consideration of consciousness. Human beings interact with the physical world via their bodily senses, but they understand the world in their mind. Based on these sensory inputs, each individual constructs mentally a virtual world in which his/her identity exists. It is a mental map that mimics the “real” inputs of our senses, but this map is not isotropic and co-terminal with the physical world. All the phenomena that human beings can not naturally detect start out having absolutely no place in our mental maps.

    Now, we know that spirit is matter – only finer and more pure. There is nothing magical about it, only that it is part of the large set of phenomena that we can not detect with our current senses. I suppose that one of the characteristics of temporal mortality is the attenuation of full sensory perception. Surely a God can detect magnetic fields, or the sub-nuclear strong force, or gravity. When these senses are finally bestowed (restored?) upon us, I believe we will be on the verge of a massive step forward in our eternal progression, as we learn to understand these new senses and integrate them with our mental maps.

    The difference between spirit and body may be analogous to that of bone and muscle. As with magnetic fields, we are not able to detect spirit directly at this time. This does not justify treating spirit mystically, any more than we do so with magnetism or gravity. We can measure the effects of magnetism and gravity, but not the actual force. It is difficult to measure the effects of spirit, because we know there is more at work than just a physical principle (e.g. the effects of spirit depend on the will or action of God).

    This post is way too long. I apologize for taking too much time indulging my own “kooky” theories. Nevertheless, I will post this tome without anymore editing, hoping that someone who reads it may offer comments and help me to better understand these things.

  10. David King Landrith on October 5, 2004 at 12:36 pm

    Lyle:

    You’ll notice that I purposefully restrained from offering any normative judgment about this aspect of Marxism. After all, even according to the harshest analysis, Marx is really only mostly incorrect.

  11. Jack on October 5, 2004 at 12:54 pm

    Great comment Jim Richins.

    Some folks (those that are as insane as I am) seem to run head long into the brick wall of mid-life crisis (for lack of a better term) because all at once eveything that has been experienced up to that point in life becomes purely metaphorical. The reeling that occurs after such a shock is in my view (in part at least) a groping for a foot-hold on a tangible universe. As I’ve pressed through this ordeal it seems that I have found a couple of “notches” in the face of that terrifying cliff which looms over the abyss. The most important one is the increased love that I have for my family. I cannot escape it’s tangible quality, though words do not express that quality very well. As it is something that is built upon a connection between myself and another intelligent being, it therefore has the quality of living between the two of us thereby having the effect of manifesting itself beyond the confines of self.

    Now I’m really getting goofy. I guess I’m trying to convey (and all but succeeding) the idea that this love cannot be experienced as methaphor. It is the real deal and a source of inexpressible comfort when nothing else makes sense.

  12. David King Landrith on October 6, 2004 at 8:11 am

    Am I the only one who is baffled by the use of the word addiction to describe any habitual behavior whatever?

    I remember a day when addiction was reserved for behaviors that resulted in a temporary biological breakdown when discontinued; e.g., heroin withdrawal. It’s not soft-pedaling to say that smoking, by comparison is habit forming — however much discomfort is caused when someone quits.

    For my part, I do not believe that when one ceases to look at p0rn, it causes a biological breakdown.

    I do, however, believe that it is habit forming, and it’s entirely understandable that it is a particularly persistent habit. Let’s be perfectly clear: “looking at p0rn” is a euphemism for “m@sturbating with p0rn.” Also, (as previously mentioned) it is done in private and it is typically the case that nobody knows it’s going on; i.e., there’s no accountability to others for this behavior.

  13. David King Landrith on October 6, 2004 at 8:11 am

    oops. That was meant for another thread.

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