From a three part Commencement address at New College Franklin.
Man as Thinker–Dr. Jonathan Rogers;
Man as Maker–Brandon Spun;
Man as Maker
I want to talk focus on the sacramental character of the human person, and in particular of our bodies. In doing so, I hope to clarify the destiny of our graduates; though, what I say applies no more to them than it does to us.
Here I will be following John Paul II’s Theology of the Body.
Our bodies are sacramental. They are a visible sign of an invisible reality.
Standing between thought and worship, the bookends of our talk today, is our humanity—the incorporation of something which takes us beyond sheer angelic intelligence.
It is our bodies which place us in the realm of making and doing as we understand it. Not that I am excluding those interior acts, that which goes on inside us. In fact, our interior life is the principle of our human action.
It is our spiritual interior which marks all we do with our bodies with significance. It is only, after all, because we have spiritual souls that our bodies have a unique power to signify or embody that which we intend.
When I gesture with my hand or face, I gesture because there is something I known, something I love. My gesture is the communication of that which is inside me. By my body, I make know something invisible and interior to my person.
We can only do this because we have a power of intellect. Man as thinker!
Now, when we hear thought, we may think merely of a mind alone, of concepts and reasoning.
The mind, or to use the biblical term, the heart, is, however, at its core, an intelligence infused by love, a love illuminated by what it knows.
But the intelligence or the heart as such is invisible.
Nevertheless, because human actions are moved by the heart, because our bodies are animated by a spiritual life, they manifest that which is invisible. Our bodies express and are impressed by the spiritual-intentional life which animates them.
As Walker Percy puts it, we are the signifying creature. We signify not just with words, but with our very bodies.
To make, to do, is therefore express in the body and through the body that which we have in our heart. It is to impress all the world with a stamp or pattern of intentionality. So that in all our actions, in all that we fashion and touch, we express something of that intelligence within us.
For good or for ill, we impress upon ourselves and the world, that which we love and value.
To cook, to write, to manufacture, to sing, to smile, to speak with someone is, to act is to do something very special for this reason. It is to communicate and cause a certain kind of order.
The human body, as the body of an intellectual or spiritual soul, exists intrinsically and always as a sign of God.
As a visible sign of a spiritual reality man is, from the beginning, sacramental. He is made in the image of God.
So God created man in his own image,Genesis 1:27-28
in the image of God he created him;
male and female he created them.
And God blessed them. And God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it, and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over every living thing that moves on the earth”
Man was in the beginning to direct all things by a gracious intelligence. By his knowledge and love of God, he was to impress all that he did and the whole world by the pattern of divine love–realizing the perfections latent in himself and the world.
He would thus signify the praise of God in all that God had made, insofar as it passed through his heart and hands, returning its first Maker.
This is the significance of man as maker—one who makes known the spiritual order upon earth. And this is in fact what Christ recovers and accomplishes, what Christ does.
In the beginning and now, the true meaning of human action, its true end, is to make know, to signify the knowledge and love of God, that it may fill all things.
The human body is therefore the sacramental center of God’s action. It is the created reality through which God has chosen to make himself known most profoundly.
Right now, some of you look me in the eye, or smile; others look rather thoughtful.
Right now and always, your bodies signify who and what you are with gestures, words, with our posture, with all that we make and do, with all that we express because of our intelligence. Perhaps we do so most of all with our hands and eyes. We signify with them an unseen reality.
For this reason, implicit in every encounter between us, in every encounter with the human face, we bring a certain longing and hope.
There is a kind of promise in every meeting between us, one which may be falsified or authenticated.
What is it we hope for when we look in one another’s faces? Why is it sometimes a terrible thing to meet face to face? Why also wonderful…too wonderful?
Carl Anderson and Jose Granados describe the meaning of the imago dei this way:
“The words ‘image’ and ‘likeness’…tell us that from the beginning man is the one to whom God addresses his Word and whose special status lies in his capacity to answer this divine call.”1
Man is the creature to whom God speaks.
We are creatures in whom the Word can dwell, not hidden away as an intellectual artifact or as a concept, but as a light, as a seed.
And this seed bears fruit…directing our very bodies as it transforms our heart.
What does it mean that we make and do then…that our bodies are expressive of an interior word?
What does it mean as Luke tells us, that all flesh shall see the salvation of God (Luke 3:6)?
I will suggest one place in Scripture that this is addressed. Just before the crucifixion, in the transfiguration, we glimpse something of the destiny of the human body and the human person.
Our bodies can be so filled with and directed by the Spirit, by the light of an intelligible Word of Love that they become virtually one with the Spirit, that they become spiritual bodies.
This is perhaps some of the significance of the transfiguration, where the disciples meet with Moses and Elijah and hear a pronouncement over our Lord, as his very body, even his clothing shines with a light too bright to bear. There they gaze upon the very end of all revelation. They gaze upon the end of all revelation and upon the destiny of the human person.
It is in that hope, in light of that joy set before us (by means of what God has signified in the human body of Jesus Christ) that we are to set our course, as Pastor Nate Shurden said.
And it is in that strength we find the courage to follow our Master, our Maker, so that he might bring his work, his poiema or making, to completion.
It the hope of being made like Jesus that we place ourselves under, when we place ourselves under the sign of the cross. May you continually place yourselves under the sign of our maker, until you signify fully the love he has made known in you.
1 Carl A. Anderson and José Granados, Called to Love: Approaching John Paul II’s Theology of the Body, 1st ed. (New York: Doubleday, 2009), 22.