We Inhabit the World (an Excerpt from Traces of the Trinity by Peter J. Leithart)

The following is an excerpt from Chapter 1 of Traces of the Trinity: Signs of God in Creation and Human Experience by Peter J. Leithart.


I am different from the things around me, yet I’m also inseparably intertwined with them. The world isn’t just outside; it’s also inside. I’m not only outside the rest of the world; I’m in it. My connection with the world is a Celtic knot. Inside and outside form a Möbius strip that folds back on itself.

That may sound strange and mystical, but it’s not hard to see. Let’s start simply. Consider the obvious fact that you have a body. Descartes knew he had a body, but he believed his body was part of the external world that lay outside his real self, his thinking mind. His body was the closest bit of that extension he called space. It was the machine nearest to his mind.

But this doesn’t describe how we actually experience our bodies. If my hand got mangled in an industrial accident, it would be absurd for me to tell sympathetic friends, “Oh, it’s fine. After all, the accident only happened to my hand, not to me.” If I said that, my friends would wonder if my brain had also gotten mangled in the process.

What the apostle Paul said about the church as the body of Christ is a truism for all bodies: when one member suffers, all suffer; when one member rejoices, all rejoice. Each member is a member for and of the whole. You can’t detach one part of you from the other and identify one or the other as the “real me.” We are mind-body unities, and my body is as much me as my mind is. Pain would be concentrated in my hand, but my entire body, including of course my brain, would be entirely involved in the event.

Once we recognize that—and we have to be trained not to recognize it—we can see that we aren’t sitting outside the world peering in. We inhabit the world. Since we have bodies and are bodies, we occupy space in the world. We bump into things, rest our elbows on the table, tap on the keyboard with our fingers. The world bumps us back, taps us in turn, and our life takes shape in the sometimes clumsy dance that goes on between me and my environment. The French philosopher Maurice MerleauPonty put it well: “The body is the vehicle of being in the world, and to have a body is, for a living creature, to be involved in a definite environment, to identify oneself with certain projects and be continually committed to them.”


©2015 by Peter J. Leithart. Published by Brazos Press. Unauthorized use of this material without express written permission is strictly prohibited.