Poetry Corner

by Arthur Mampel

In the most recent chapbook of my poetry, I wrote a poem about THE BODY. I meant to convey the notion that the body is a declining gift. It won’t be around forever. It has so much to teach us. It should not be despised, but cherished! I read once a book of fiction where an angel is jealous of the human life he is sent to help. He, too, wants to taste the juicy flavor of a pear, feel the wind as it passes over the skin, know what humans feel when they are “in love,” what it’s like to be thirsty or hungry, to feel the cold of the snow and the heat of the sun, why sleep is important to the human body and, of course, the many other things that “flesh is heir to.”

The Hebrew word for “flesh” is bashar. The root of the word means “proclaiming or declaring good news” or “to proclaim good tidings.” In the story of creation “God saw everything that God made and, indeed, it was very good!” To the Hebrew, “flesh” or bashar was thought to be very good. When the Apostle Paul writes about “flesh” he uses the Greek word, sarx. Here the meaning is quite different. Most always Paul translates “flesh” to mean unredeemed flesh. The Greek mind looked at the body as a means to transport the soul around. This may be why Socrates could drink the hemlock

wine without fear; it would free his soul of a cumbersome body. Some scholars believed that Paul may have been influenced by this negative, non-Jewish understanding of the flesh. In many references to “flesh” in his letters there is a negative meaning. “For I know that nothing good dwells within me, that is in my flesh.” Or, “Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death…so then, I of myself serve the law of God with my mind, but with my flesh I serve the law of sin.”

The professor and author, James Nelson, wrote in his book Embodiment that “We need to embrace our embodiment – not as curse or affliction, not incidental to our search for meaning, but as the opportunity to learn something of the poetry of our mortal dwelling, and learning something of that poetry – to live differently.” In his book, Nelson asserts that the

The African-American church has got it right. This understanding of “flesh” is very Jewish. Here the whole of life is celebrated, so that there is soul in everything: soul in music, soul in worship, soul in preaching. Food is even described as “soul food.”

In Toni Morrison’s novel, Beloved, she describes an African-American family during the 19th century, who were too poor to go to church, so they would worship in a clearing, near the woods. Every Sunday the grandmother and holy woman of the

family would draw her people around her and she would hold a service. In one of her sermons she told the little gathering, “Here in this place, we flesh – flesh that weeps, laughs, dances on bare feet in the grass – love it, love it hard! Yonder, they do not love your flesh. They despise it. You’ve got to love it. You! This is flesh I’m talking about here, flesh needs to be loved.”

The words of the grandmother in Toni Morrison’s novel surely applies to all the poor, wounded, and downtrodden people: to the “illegal” immigrants, to the unemployed, to sexual minorities, to people of all color and race: “You’ve got to love it. You! This is flesh I’m talking about here, flesh that needs to be loved.”