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Understanding subtle bodies
Angels, the body of Christ, and ghosts in the machine.
This is a helpful discussion from Jonathan Pageau:
In my experience, the chief problem that we have understanding a subtle body is not the word subtle, but the word body. To us, a body is so fundamentally and innately physical, that no matter how deeply we delve into what subtle means, we just can't relate it back to a body per se. It leads us into confusion, because we are blind to the fact that we are conceptualizing a body wrong in the first place.
To understand the subtlety of angelic bodies, we must break our modern view that a body is a material vessel.
A body is not a material vessel; it is a self-governing nexus of powers.
Self-governing meaning that it manages and regulates itself; it is self-contained; it can rule itself.
Nexus of powers meaning the point at which various capabilities or functions are unified or combined or integrated into one.
So a body is where certain functions and abilities come together and are controlled and ruled from within. If we think of a body in this way, as the point at which various abilities to act are integrated into a self-governing whole, then not only does the concept of subtle bodies start to make sense, but a whole lot more besides.
Consider, for instance, the church as the body of Christ. Understanding a body as a self-governing nexus of powers, you will easily see that the church is not a metaphorical body—as we commonly think today—but rather a symbol.
What is the difference?
A metaphor is a figure of speech; it operates only at the level of language, and it can differ from language to language and culture to culture. A symbol operates at the level of reality. A symbol is a physical expression of a spiritual reality, or heavenly pattern.
A body is a heavenly pattern first—remember, a nexus of powers—and our physical bodies follow that pattern, which is what makes them bodies in the first place. So the church is no less Christ’s “actual” body than his human form is. They are both truly his body. They are just different kinds of bodies. One is what we think of as a normal physical vessel. One is a distributed, mystical body, a body of bodies. But they are both bodies—they both follow the heavenly pattern of a nexus of powers, and the same Spirit, the Spirit of Christ, the Holy Spirit, animates them both. Christ’s human body is a unified nexus for his human powers, his human abilities and faculties; Christ’s mystical or spiritual body, the church, is the unified nexus for his mystical powers, his spiritual abilities and faculties.
This is a fractal pattern that applies at all levels of reality and to all kinds of beings. When you understand bodies in this way, you will understand why the modern conception of humans as spirits piloting bodies is absurd. We’re body all the way up. We’re just not material all the way up.