This morning my Dear Daughter (DD) had an appointment to have a cavity filled at the dentist. What began as nervous reluctance last week at the check up grew into a sharp-toothed, rabid, enormous, ferocious dragon of fear this morning. The anger, tears, and locked doors were ways my poor DD tried to cope with this dragon of hers, but what I couldn’t help but notice was her body. The tired slowness of the morning blossomed into the happy chatter that often accompanies breakfast. And that flower which had turned towards the day and began to open crumpled with the news of this morning’s task.
What I am Trusting
This week I ventured into a place I haven’t been in eight years: the Bikram Yoga studio. Bikram is a style of hatha yoga with a set routine of 26 postures and 2 breathing exercises performed in a 90-minute class where the room is set at 40C and 40% humidity. It is difficult and sweaty and wonderful: one cannot do the class unless fully present – as soon as the mind starts to wander, the postures fall.
I was nervous going in because it had been so long since I had practiced regularly. I attended a couple of classes between pregnancies but haven’t really been committed to it for 10+ years. I surprised myself with the strength and endurance of my body (mind you that class lingered for a few days in the stiff, sore muscles I carried around) and the discipline of my mind not to judge but to try.
Too often the church has falsely separated the body from the spirit – placing the soul in a place of greater ranking than the body. I say falsely because everything we know or believe about God has come first in the flesh. It is the flesh that keeps us honest, the body which upholds our spirits greatest intentions by giving us the ability to actually do something. And it is not our souls that make connections, not even our minds, but rather our body that connects to the body of our neighbour. It is the place of flesh we are wired for empathy. It is the place from which we commune with God.
Years ago, I saw Barbara Brown Taylor give a talk in England and she said something that I haven’t yet forgotten, “Here we sit with our soul tucked away in all this marvellous luggage.” And truly, it is marvellous – it does not lie. It may not always look or function in the way we might want or hope, but our bodies reveal much to us.
What I am Grateful For
I have had a tumultuous relationship with my body, to put it lightly. It has been a source of pride when conformed to social expectations of how a female should look and a source of shame when it didn’t. I have experienced tremendous gratitude for my body – I felt like a warrior after each childbirth – as well as anger at the pain I have experienced in my body due to chronic disease. I have laughed warmly at the raspberries my children have blown into my soft belly, wept at this part or that part that wasn’t what I wanted it to be, and been tenderly held in loving embrace.
It has been in this body of mine that I have experienced life and experienced God. It was in this body that I cracked in the pain that led me into a church for solace at 15 years old. It was in this body that was baptised into the body of Christ, the church. It is this body that has been transformed from the inside out through love and sacraments.
I remember the first time I took Communion once I knew I was pregnant with my DD. I received the bread and juice and I was overwhelmed with the understanding that this teeny person somewhere in there was already held in the love of God AND already had a relationship with God that I could support and nurture but was distinct and different from me.
What Inspires Me
The pushback coming from within the church against this false dichotomy of flesh and spirit. Jesus trusted in the physical reality to change people in ways that their ideas about reality never could. He didn’t point out God at the right section of the library – he directed folks to God in the world. Jesus believed that people had everything they needed to know about God right in front of them and used physical language all the time. YOU are the salt of the earth, YOU are the light of the world, I am sending YOU. He spoke of vines and branches and wheat and shepherds and goats and fish: the physical reality of the world. He spoke of the way we treat one another in the flesh, condemning exclusion and breaking down barriers that kept people physically separate.
Jesus teaches us to hallow the everyday stuff of life, inviting us into this marriage of heaven and earth in our physical bodies.
How I am Practicing My Faith
By staying in my body.
My faith is based on word made flesh: the love of God embodied in human form. And when I get into my head too much, I lose touch with God because I am not in my body. I am somewhere in the past or in the future, but definitely not the present. And the present is where God is. Where peace is. Where love is.
Though I also recognize that honouring the body is not a solitary pursuit. Jesus honoured the bodies around him – leper bodies, prostitute bodies – the bodies that were the most undervalued by those in his culture. He and his ministry were moved and shaped by the flesh and bones he encountered in his lifetime. This leads me to the understanding that Christianity is not a faith of doctrines but rather a faith of flesh. A faith of allowing the body to be transformed by the habits and actions of a first century Palestinian Jew who washed the feet of his friends.
DD eventually did, with much coaxing, make her way into the dentist’s chair, dragon muzzled. And, like most of our dragons, turned out to be louder in imagination than in practice. And the crumpled, withered flower rose up once more and turned toward the light of the day.