Ray Waddle | Special to Nashville Tennessean, USA TODAY NETWORK newsrooms in Tennessee
Last month I was tossing the football with a friend at the neighborhood high school stadium. At some point I took a pitchout and accelerated down field – oh, the wind in my face, the roar of the nonexistent crowd. Then my knee gave out. Pain. Frustration. Ice packs. Aleve. I’ve been hobbled ever since by this latest reminder of mortality.
The New Testament words of Paul echoed: the need to “put away childish things” (the football too?) in this world of shadows and redemption. He was talking about spiritual matters, about facing facts and pursuing the only things that last – faith, hope, love – in a physical world where the body eventually falls apart.
Death and decay insult the human spirit. They also contradict the latest predictions that humans will eventually halt cellular aging and find a kind of immortality through a succession of organ transplants. Or at least some people will, those rich enough to afford a fresh pack of viscera now and again. Similar dreams of death defiance seem to animate the new endeavors of privatized space flight, the urge to escape the poisoned earth and head for the great interstellar beyond. Escape this planetary predicament. Escape ourselves.
The universe apparently isn’t impressed. The laws of life and death, order and entropy, remain noticeably in place. Is God the creator of all this? If so, then God created mortal bodies too. Maybe to do God’s work on earth. Maybe to keep us seriously engaged, keep us in the game – this enterprise of living abundantly. The life of friendship, music, food, compassion, praise and prayer is more urgent when the clock is ticking.
Regardless of belief, everyone is enlisted in the enterprise of making sense of this mysterious condition we find ourselves in – a blazing life between two vast zones of unknown, the period before birth and after death. This plunge into existence, as writer Laszlo Foldenyi puts it, makes philosophers of us all. We are not consulted about arrival time or departure date. We have just these bodies to see us through, bodies protecting heart, mind, soul and spirit.
What does it mean to be human? Religions hold that question in the highest regard. But the question gets drowned out. For 25 years now, the culture has been in a kind of giddy shock, absorbing the accelerating revolutions in technology. The internet, amazing invention, has transformed the world, and we live by its terms – the constant upgrades, the aggressive algorithms, the surveillance capacity, the threat of fraud. Yet the human condition hasn’t changed, and the human body can do only so much. It still needs sleep. And it still has a way of letting us know when it is tired of being stressed out, ignored, discounted, overworked or enslaved. It cries out.
The vulnerable body is somehow a conduit of spiritual witness, exhilaration and ultimate meaning. And faith, hope, and love. And news of final resurrection. I hope to run more of those out-routes on the open field, under the awesome sky, before it’s all said and done.
Columnist Ray Waddle is a former Tennessean staffer.