Sunday, September 17, 2006

Image of a Corpse

His body moved up and down in quick, sudden jerks. His arms were tense, elbows locked, fingers laced. Up and down, up and down, and he pressed, pressed, pressed. I couldn't see the body lying at his knees. I could see the mangled cars, the wide-eyed onlookers, and the ones who were crying. I stared, transfixed, and a man I will never know worked tirelessly to administer CPR to the dying man at his knees. On a median in the middle of a highway. And then the car in front of me accelerated; the show was out of his range of vision and the business of his day called him forth. My car followed suit, leaving the dying behind, and my wife and I in a silence.

I recently went to an exhibit called
Bodyworlds. It featured genuine human bodies that had been completely preserved due to a scientific technique called plastination. The bodies were positioned in a variety of ways, all designed to highlight a different aspect of our anatomy. Or should I say humanity. Most had all or some of their skin removed to allow us a glimpse of what makes us tick. This exhibit has caused a lot of controversy over the years; the Catholic church protested and actually held a requiem for the dead when it first opened (Berlin, 2001). There were also quotes from a host of sources on banners hung throughout the room. Philosophers, scientists, even the Bible were culled for their thoughts on humanity; who are we really? The four main pillars in the room had one solitary word illuminated on each of its four sides. Words like "existence", "awareness", "hope", and "life" gave their silent comment to the proceedings.

It was amazing. Breathtaking. Shocking. Numbing. I've read articles that used words like macabre, sick, sinful, or dark in their descriptions. I saw it a few weeks ago and this is the word I would choose: beautiful.

Beautiful because we are made in the image of God. I've heard a lot of conversations on what exactly this means--what makes us in his image? Which parts of us are a reflection of him, and which ones are not? Our bodies rarely merit mention in this discussion--God is spirit, and we worship him in spirit and truth. How can our physical, human bodies bear the image of our God who is spirit? Perhaps our physical bodies don't bear his image. Perhaps our natural fear of death should make us hesitate before experiencing an exhibit like Bodyworld. Maybe our value of life should lead us to forbid the displaying of our dead like a casual museum piece. None of us want to end up like my nameless friend on the median in the middle of a nameless highway.

And yet...I stood in front of a box that held a face made up solely of human arteries, veins, and capillaries. I saw the form of our muscles as they stretch over our bones. I could have reached out and traced my finger over each of our internal organs, tracing their inter-connectedness. And it was beautiful. And I saw the wonder of God in its beauty. We as humans are not unique in that we display the glory of God in our creation. But I could not get away from the question as I wandered through that room, staring at those bodies, reading the quotes... is it somehow possible? Could God have somehow, as he knit us together, as he imprinted our souls, our spirits, as he formed us in the very image of him...could he have hidden himself in our physical humanity? Can our physical, calloused, dirty, beautiful bodies bear his image, somehow?

I hope so.