Soma refers to the complete human soul, embodied.[i] Since antiquity, there have been philosophical ideals which cast the material body and immaterial soul as separate entities that are in some sense opposed to one another. St. Thomas Aquinas maintained that a body and soul must be united to be a complete human person, and following this line of thought, the soul or spirit cannot be superior to the body.[ii] The embodied soul displays our transience: we are not as autonomous as we would like to be. In this present state, the soma is subject to the laws of matter, over which we have no meaningful control, and it changes and fluctuates according to health, sickness, life, and death. Paul urges the church in Romans 12:1 to “present your bodies (somata) as a living sacrifice.” Viewing the human body not just as matter but also as soul also explains why what we do with our bodies has implications for our future. We are doing things not just to the transient body but to an embodied, eternal soul.
As I made this work, I thought of the soma as physical, tangible, and in a constant process of becoming. We are on the one hand forced to become through aging and experience in the world. On the other hand, we also become through the exercise of free will. There is a tension in every soma which I think of as a battle of becoming. I have the option to embrace my innate strength and to forge my own path and truth (to build my own tower of Babel, so to speak), and I also have the option to humble myself as a creature of the living God, to be filled with his Spirit, will, and transformation.
And what you sow is not the body that is to be, but a bare kernel, perhaps of wheat or of some other grain. But God gives it a body as he has chosen, and to each kind of seed its own body. For not all flesh is the same, but there is one kind for humans, another for animals, another for birds, and another for fish. There are heavenly bodies and earthly bodies, but the glory of the heavenly is of one kind, and the glory of the earthly is of another. There is one glory of the sun, and another glory of the moon, and another glory of the stars; for star differs from star in glory. So is it with the resurrection of the dead. What is sown is perishable; what is raised is imperishable. It is sown in dishonor; it is raised in glory. It is sown in weakness; it is raised in power. It is sown a natural body; it is raised a spiritual body. If there is a natural body, there is also a spiritual body. -I Corinthians 15: 37-44
[i]Soma is “the body as a whole, the instrument of life,” whether of man living or dead; in resurrection; or of beasts, of grain; of the heavenly hosts. Vine, W.E., Vine’s Complete Expository Dictionary, (Thomas Nelson, 1996), 72.
[ii] Eberl, Jason T., Aquinas on the Nature of Human Beings, The Review of Metaphysics, Vol. 58, No. 2 (Dec., 2004), 345.