The Body Remembers – Ulysses Cabayao, SJ

John 6:51-58, Solemnity of Corpus Christi


The body remembers.

The mouth waters at the sight of green mangoes dipped in bagoong. Cravings are triggered by barbecue smoke and the scent of grilled liempo and chicken inasal. Palms feel empty and neglected without being held by our lovers. The skin longs to be affectionately touched by people who make us feel that everything will be fine.

The body remembers. This is what a Jesuit friend told me when we were just a few months old into religious life. This lifestyle we’ve just embraced will be difficult, he said, because the body remembers. It will make you long for intimacy. It will make you long for security.

It will make you long for affirmation. It will make you desire someone. It will make you want to be desired. It will make you feel what it means to be lonely. It will make you feel what it means to be rejected.

This is what our bodies do. Not only do they introduce us to the pleasures of being human, but they also introduce us to the diverse pains of being alive.

The body remembers, even those that we wish that we could easily forget.

The infidelity of a lover. The pressure coming from a dysfunctional family. The demands of a stressful job. The obligation to the children we left behind for greener pastures. The guilt of doing or not doing something which only you would know about. The goodbye you’ve been postponing for years. The deadlines that you could not never meet. The calls that were never returned. The chat messages that have ended with “seen”.

How easy life would be; if only we could conveniently forget, if only the body can learn how to forget. Behind all the things we would rather not think about are memories of a relationship gone sour, a friendship grown distant, a love lost, a promise broken, a commitment unfulfilled, a trust betrayed, a dream shattered. All these things the body reminds us of, through foreheads that throb, shoulders that feel heavy, arms that go numb, palms that go sweaty, eye bags that resist sleep, and numerous pains that make it difficult to breathe or wake up in the morning.

The body never lies. It always speaks the truth. It tells you exactly where you are. It shows you exactly what you are doing with your life. Mirrors may distort our image, but the body shows the naked reality of who you really are – scars, flabs, birthmarks, bruises, and blemishes.

While the mind can confuse us, the body brings us back to clarity.

Before my late father’s body was cremated, we were ushered into a room to say our last goodbyes. My mother ran her fingers through my father’s hair; my sister silently sobbed as she flattened the creases in the “white duck” uniform my father wore; my sister’s husband whispered something in my father’s ear. I kept a safe distance at first, afraid of touching a corpse. When it was time to take him away, I mustered enough courage to step closer to where he laid and reached out with my right hand for his left arm. As I tried to gently squeeze his arm, I recoiled in mild horror over what felt solid, heavy, wooden. It didn’t feel like my father’s arm. I brushed my fingers across his forehead and was shocked at how leathery his skin felt to the touch. This wasn’t my father’s face, I thought. It was alien and unfamiliar, like death. While my mind kept resisting the thought that he was actually dead, his leaden arm against my supple hand cleared all doubt that my father was indeed gone.

Yet something, something stirred in the back that he had patted several times, in the forehead he would massage when I got sick, in the face whose beard he had affectionately shaved once, reminded me that while he may have been dead, he stays alive in and with me.

Because the body always remembers everything. Not only the pain but also that love that it once felt and continues to feel.

Today, we remember a body that keeps remembering.

The same body that bore the weight of the wood, the insulting slaps, the cowardly blows, the spit and the soil, the gash from the lash, the puncturing nails, the thorny crown, the pierced side—

That battered body remembers not only what it had endured for our sake, but what we are continuously afflicted with: the anger, the insult, the abuse, the hurt, the sin.

The same body that enjoyed the company of friends, that reached for the hands of those he healed, that touched the eyes of those he has given back sight, that filled the stomachs of those he had fed—

That compassionate body remembers.

And we, whose broken bodies and lives, are embraced by that same body—made holy by the unholy, turned sacred by the profane—are made whole again and again. All because that divine body continues to remember. All because the body of Christ continues to give us life.

*image from the Internet

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