“The Practice of Wearing Skin,” a chapter by Barbara Brown Taylor in her book An Altar in the World, has me weeping (as has every chapter in the book).
If God became flesh (as Christians believe) or if God can be found within and among us (as I believe), then God loves the body. Each body. Lovely and irregular.
This idea links directly to a sweet, captivating story I saw yesterday of a father who tells his toddler daughter that she has a beautiful body–two strong legs on which she can walk and run, ears to hear voices and birds, a brain that can think and figure things out, a belly where food is digested to keep her healthy, and so on. [I can’t find the story! Can anyone else find it?]
The tears come because I have rarely loved my body and it never crossed my mind that God did. Taylor points out some reasons why we have a hard time loving our bodies: the Greek division between body and soul; the divide Descartes made between nature and reason; Protestant disdain for matters of the flesh; Freud and his sexual nonsense (my word, not hers); modern science that objectifies bodies and bodily functions; and an overlay of public sex from Victoria’s Secret to twerking.
I was terrified when Daddy made me touch him. I was ashamed of my body and the way it grew. I am embarrassed by the way it looks now. I am slothful when it comes to exercise and nutrition. I don’t like that it’s getting older and gray and sagging. I am loathe to admit these things semi-publicly.
But my body carries me around with some ease. It houses my brain and digests my food and allows my fingers to type. It feels pain, expresses empathy, and gives me access to sight, sound, touch, taste, and sometimes smell. It can do ordinary things like plant bulbs, read An Altar in the World, enjoy a cup of coffee, distract myself with email (stop it!).
God loves all that. God understands the shame, embarrassment, and slothfulness, and loves me anyway. Maybe it pisses God off that I don’t love my body well enough to care for it. New meaning to the prayer excerpt, “There is no health in me.”
My starting place this morning is to love my body as it is. While writing that sentence, I thought and wrote and scratched my head and shifted in my chair. My stomach growled. Then my mind turned toward gratitude. Taylor recommends that we pray in front of a mirror, naked (gulp), and give thanks for our bodies instead of rushing to cover them up. [Don’t children love to run around naked and sometimes even run outside that way?]
It is time now for me to change from comfy pj’s to comfy clothes to go get my package delivered yesterday to the apartment office. Naturally I will be properly clothed. But first I shall pause before the mirror and give thanks. Look how it can bend and stretch. Admire the shapes and scars. Wriggle fingers and toes and count them all like our parents did.
Isn’t that a good way to start the day?
Thank you for your courage and honesty. You are an inspiration.
Thank you, Clay.
I second Clay’s comments. American culture is saturated with cheap sexuality that disrespects and exploits women, children, and men. We need voices like Kathleen’s that promote reverence for the body and self-compassion for the ways we have ignored it as the visible container for our spirits.
Nice image, Susan–“the visible container for our spirits.” Thanks for your encouragement.