Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Spirit and flesh

I say it again: the spirit loves
the flesh, as the hand the glove.
A few lines from the Irish poet Pat Boran. A great truth we have always known but work so hard to deny.

Let us admit that the spirit is flesh, but more than flesh.

The spirit is the brain, of course, that neuronal web of almost infinite complexity. We could explore those tangled corridors for a thousand years and not exhaust their contents. For one thing, the contents change, more quickly than we could possible complete an inventory. The spirit is fleet, a master of metamorphosis.

The spirit is more than flesh. The spirit is flesh in interaction with a universe of even greater complexity. The windows of the flesh are thrown open to the world. The spirit is a wind of awareness, a pool stirred by angels.

The spirit is all this and more.

And some part of the spirit will linger after the flesh is gone, as memories in other flesh, as words, music, science, art -- a fleshless hand that retains the shape of the glove.

But this is the great truth: A self is hand and glove. Spirit and flesh. There is no self without the glove. "We are biological and our souls cannot fly free," writes Harvard biologist E. O. Wilson, summarizing what science has taught us about ourselves. He adds: "This is the essential first hypothesis for any consideration of the human condition."

So let us begin there, hand in glove. Let us learn to think ourselves good, flesh and all. Skin, teeth, tongues, genitals, the soles of the feet -- that supple kidskin glove, the body. And let us learn to love this world, the world outside the windows of the flesh. For in truth there is no other world, no other world for us except the world we inhale like a deep, deep breath and seal into our soul.