The Scarecrow and The Body of Christ

Going back to school after time off is difficult, even when it’s just been a three day weekend. No matter how hard we try to plan the night before, it’s always a mad scramble to get out the door in the morning. There’s the litany of questions: “Did you feed the bird?”; “Do you have your clarinet?”; “Did you pack a snack?”; “Do you need us to sign anything else?”; “Do you have your potato peeler?  Remember, bring it right to your teacher.  You shouldn’t be walking in the hall with a potato peeler.” (Yes, potato peeler – don’t ask)!

“Oh my gosh!” I thought to myself. “I feel like a scarecrow! A scarecrow with wildly flapping arms – signing papers, tossing snacks, packing bags – and going nowhere fast.”

“We’re late, you’ve gotta get to school and I’ve gotta get to work!” I said.

Then it dawned on me…the Body of Christ!  “Thanks, St. Teresa!”

Unusual connection. I know. Let me explain.

Last night, in preparation for St. Teresa of Avila’s feast day today, I had been reading her poem,“Christ Has No Body.”

Christ Has No Body
Christ has no body but yours,
No hands, no feet on earth but yours.
Yours are the eyes with which He looks
Compassion on this world.
Yours are the feet,
with which he walks to do good,
Yours are the hands,
with which He blesses all the world.
Yours are the hands,
yours are the feet,
Yours are the eyes,
you are his body.
Christ has no body now but yours.
No hands, no feet on earth but yours.
Yours are the eyes with which he looks
compassion on this world.
Christ has no body now on earth but yours.

So, while I was contemplating her poem, I asked St. Teresa to teach me more about how this “Body of Christ” thing works.

There are the obvious interpretations of her poem – the Corporal Works of Mercy and social justice interpretations.  I knew there was even more though, I just hadn’t quite been able to wrap my head around it.

As I stood there this morning, feeling like a scarecrow, I had another thought. “Stop. Breathe. Breathe in the Holy Spirit.”

Then it came together.

The Holy Spirit animates the Body of Christ. It oxygenates each cell.

We cannot move anywhere without breath.  When we breathe in the Holy Spirit, we shed our dull lifeless husks, our ragged exterior, and we come to life.  We take on a new life – a more vibrant life.  We begin to see in a new way; we see with the eyes of Christ and love with the heart of Christ.  St. Teresa said, “I hold that love, where present cannot possibly be content with remaining always the same.”  It is the Holy Spirit that instills love in our hearts and the Holy Spirit that will move us forward.

Once we accept the Spirit, we begin to move forward not just as one, but as one body.  Without recognizing that we are part of this whole, just like my little family this morning, we can get stuck.  This is why it is not enough for one to simply be a good person and do one’s own thing. Thomas Merton reminded us that “no man is an island.” Why?  As the Body of Christ, we are so interdependent, we can’t exist without the other. If one part feels pain, the rest feels pain.  If one part is hungry, the rest feels the hunger. If one part is afraid, the rest is afraid.  A cell cannot go off alone – it is dependent on the body to live.

So St. Teresa’s words are not only a call to serve, they are actually a statement of a fact –  the fact that we are part of one body already and, as such, we cannot live but as completely interdependent parts.  Attempts to separate from the body will be fultile. We must live in community with all of the other parts, in constant communication with them, and in constant concern for all the other parts.  At the most fundamental level, this poem is her revelation to us that we just won’t be able to manage life alone.

Blessed Mother Teresa once said, “If we have no peace, it is because we have forgotten that we belong to each other.”  As parts of the Body of Christ, we are in more than just a symbiotic relationship. We must, at the nuclear level, hear and respond to the needs of the other parts.  At this fundamental level, the response is automatic and intuitive.  Living in this way presents a special challenge in the modern world since, in most developed countries, independence and individualism are highly prized. While we often hear the term “global community,” it is completely counter-cultural to live as a part of the Body of Christ.

It is our choice. We can choose to remain a lifeless scarecrow, stuck in the mud, or we can choose to breathe in the Holy Spirit and live a life animated by love as a part of The Body of Christ. Which will it be?

St. Teresa of Avila