I was recently reminded of a time a handful of years ago while living in New York City, my best friend and I went to see the Body Exhibit. If you don’t know, the Body Exhibit is a touring museum exhibit in which cadavers have been put through a polymer process that turns them into a sort of plastic mannequin.
These bodies are out in open, displayed in a variety poses. You can stand inches away from them and view all the intricacies of the human body; veins, tissues, blood vessels, and more. Some of the polymered bodies have no flesh, some are just muscles. In some sections, all that remains are the blood vessels or the nervous system. And other bodies are fully dissected laid out to view in detail.
Some people love that sort of thing. Then, there’s me.
I had to give myself a little pep talk before entering the exhibit. I had all these thoughts racing through my head. I started playing the ‘what if’ game. Do you know that game? What if I throw up in there? What if I faint in there?
And of course, the ‘what if’ game always spirals out of control: What if I throw up in there? What if I faint in there? What if the bodies come back to life? What if a random nervous system starts chasing me? What if the bodies come back to life, start attacking me, making me throw up and faint? AH!
No joke, there were multiple times while looking at bodies that I made sure to casually lean against a wall, you know - playing it cool- but also using that wall as my contingency plan in case I was going to blackout.
So, here we are going around this exhibit and my best buddy, Jeff and I were standing in front of this polymered plasticized fleshless body. I was trying not to be grossed out. Jeff, on the other hand, starts whispering: “Good One, God.”
He was bouncing around that place like a kid at Disneyland, body after body, exhibit after exhibit, “Good One, God. Oh, Good One.” He’d look at me with the ‘Isn’t this amazing?’ smile. I looked back at him with the ‘I might pass out, this is weird, I’m gonna fake it like I’m loving it’ smile.
But slowly, perhaps because I was under Jeff’s influence, I started to see the exhibits in a new way. I moved from looking at creepy polymered bodies who would attack me, to seeing the beauty of humanity and witnessing the miracle of creation. Body after Body, creation after creation, Good One, Oh, Good One, God.
Then, by the time we left, since my mind was full of meditating on a miraculous creation, everything around me I saw in a new light. We walked out of that museum to the streets of New York and everything made me say, “Good One.” The sky, people, sunlight, trees, parking spots, pigeons, traffic, the trash on the streets. Good One. Good One, God.
This trip to the Body Exhibit taught me a couple of simple truths:
First, it taught me that prayer is simple and to pray simply. The novelist Anne Lammot entitled one of her books, Help, Thanks, Wow: The Three Essential Prayers. For her, simple words (help, thanks, wow) are profound prayers. And that day in the museum, “Good One” became a simple prayer that had a profound impact on how I looked at the world.
Second, it taught me to see humanity as walking miracles. In the exhibit, I moved from fearing bodies to standing in awe of them.
In a day and age when it is so easy to dehumanize people, when we fear strangers rather than view them as our neighbor, and when race or class or gender or politics or religion become barriers that divide us rather than unite us, and when entire people groups feel as if their lives do not matter, I think it’s time we remember that humanity is much more majestic than we have been trained to think.
In fact, I’ve come to believe by seeing humanity we can see a glimpse of the Divine. I’ve come to believe that when I look upon humanity, I can see the Divine’s fingerprint everywhere. I love Fr. Richard Rohr’s definition of a Christian: “to see Christ in every one and every thing.” This experienced allowed me to see the Christ in every one and truly every thing.
So, regardless of where you find yourself on the spiritual journey, perhaps you’re devout or simply burnt out, perhaps you’re looking for something new or holding onto the roots of your tradition, or perhaps the religious life is no longer for you…
May you remember the spiritual life is profoundly simple and simply profound; it’s mysterious and often includes paradoxes. The spiritual life is easier than we think. And so is prayer. Good one, God. Help. Thanks. Wow. Simple words that are a profound avenue to connect our souls with the Divine.
May you remember that every human you see today is more majestic and miraculous than you realize. Each of us is a walking masterpiece; a one of a kind creation.
And may we all, at some point today, be able to pause, look around our lives, stand in awe, and simply pray, “Good one, God.”