Jones’ remarks address how physical actions and rituals bring individuals closer to Christ
“Be Ye Therefore Perfect” is a commandment that weighs heavily on the minds of BYU students and can become overwhelming when in the context of where we are now and where we are trying to go. Theatre professor Megan Sanborn Jones suggested that the weight we feel is manifested in very real ways through our bodies.
Jones cited statistics ranging from the high rates of diagnosed depression and anxiety in Utah County to the growing opioid crisis. The data BYU Counseling and Psychological Services (CAPS) provides for BYU students and faculty indicates that there has been a 45 percent increase in unique annual clients in the last four years alone.
“Clearly the weight of what we are asked to do and our perceived ability to do it is hard on our bodies, hard on our hearts and hard on our spirits,” Jones said. “Particularly when we try to sum up everything we have to do with one commandment—be ye therefore perfect. That’s a commandment! We have to do something that we actually can’t. I am not surprised by the weight we feel, but I want to talk about how we can take that commandment and use our bodies to find a way through in a way that is healthy and helpful.”
Bodies as a Tool for Reaching Perfection
Members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints have a unique view within Christianity that the body is not something corrupt that has to be overcome, but rather a tool given by God to be a support to the spirit. Jones said, “Bodies are a gift; honoring and respecting the body is key to the plan of salvation and a key to becoming perfect. We have a body and a spirit equally powerful and equally divine.”
“We need to look at the life of Jesus Christ to understand what he did,” Jones said. “If we are meant to be perfect as our Heavenly Father is perfect, then we should probably look to somebody else who is perfect who we have records of—Christ.”
It is impossible to know what Christ was thinking or feeling while he was on the earth, but there is a record of his actions. According to Jones, Christ gave a perfect example for what the body can and should be doing on the earth.
“I believe in the power of embodied, encoded ritualistic movement,” Jones said. “The word ‘ritual’ might sound strange, but we do them all the time—how we take the sacrament or how we pray in certain ways. That embedded performative gesture in praying matters because it has become a part of who we are, even when we don’t think about it. In the doing and the repetition of the doing, the thing you are doing becomes powerful and important.”
Jones believes that people can train their bodies to become more perfect, much as actors train their bodies to achieve certain personas or emotions on stage. Jones said, “The more you could train to do things with your body and your voice, the better chance you will have of having consistent good performances. When you are in tune with your body and your physiological reactions, you can actually start to feel the things you are trying to act.”
She relates this idea to the rituals that people can create for themselves. “Sometimes we feel like ‘I have to be converted, I have to always feel the spirit.’ I have to confess that I am not always in that spiritual place, but I can always kneel down. I focus on what Christ did when he was on the earth. I know I can’t replicate Christ’s connection to the divine, but I can do some of the things he did.”
Christ’s Body and Example
There are numerous examples in the scriptures where Christ heals others. Jones specifically highlights instances where Christ reached out to others, such as with the daughter of Jairus, the multitudes of people he fed, the apostles whose feet he washed and the deaf man he healed. “There is one thing these accounts all have in common. In every single miracle that the Lord performed he was one-on-one, he touched them physically, and then he blessed them. We have the example of the one perfect person who has ever lived on this earth, and we are told to do what he did. What he did was he reached out his hand, he held, he touched and had one-on-one encounters.”
“Even if you don’t feel like it, you should literally physically reach out your hand to someone,” Jones said. “Even if it is so much easier to type out a text. You should be there when someone needs it. Even when you are in a large crowd you can look around and find the one person who needs to be taken aside and to have that one-on-one experience with you. That is how I believe we can better be perfect even as our Father in Heaven is perfect.”
“These actions start to become part of our bodies. It is clear that encoded actions are powerful. As we do these repetitive actions, they become particularly effective. Simple things such as washing a foot have power in their simplicity. I am not suggesting anything fancy; they come from a specific place and the more you do them the more powerful they become,” Jones said.
“I know the connection between the body and the spirit is real and powerful. We need to do what Christ did—we need to reach out. That is how we will heal, that is how we will help, that is how we will become perfect and when that happens, that is when we will kneel before our God and know that He loves us and we love Him.”
Photos courtesy of Alyssa Lyman.