Faith and the Physical
“The miracle is not to walk on water but on the earth.” – Thich Nhat Hanh
I am still thinking about bodies.
Earlier this week I lead a discussion with several women about the Ashley Judd article that I had blogged about last month. My hope had been that in opening up a conversation on faith and bodies, or faith and our physical selves (yes, the two things are congruent), that we might talk openly about our culture’s obsession with women’s bodies that are accompanied by false standards of perfection, and in turn redirect the conversation toward something more authentic and hopeful grounded in the very God who created each of us in God’s own image, and whose most decisive revelation is not a theory but a physical person.
Hopeful, but maybe a little off the mark. My base level instincts tell me that overall, the conversation did not go well. Perhaps in my enthusiasm for authentic conversation I had forgotten about the painful wounds that we all — men and women — carry about our bodies. I had also forgotten how difficult it is to move a conversation from our insecurities about our appearance to thinking not only about God’s foundational affirmation of each one of us, but also about how our physical lives can be places of spiritual transformation. The issues that surround the hyper-sexualization of girls and women, the degradation of our bodies and our sexuality as we age, the false insistence that our value lies in our physical appearance, are obviously deeply personal.
So I have been thinking more about bodies.
Ironically, Krista Tippett’s podcast and blog has been doing a series this week on spirituality and the physical self, titled “The Body’s Grace.” In a piece written by her managing producer, Kate Moos, she explores the power of yoga to open one up to God’s presence. “I was unable to experience the love of God,” Moos writes, “because I was not putting myself in the way of it. After all, if you want to feel the sun on your back, you have to stand in the sunlight, yes?” Moos reflections are about the spiritual benefits of practicing yoga: of being fully present in your body so as to pay attention to your soul; about slowing down; about feeling the ground beneath your feet.
In her book An Alter in the World, writer and preacher Barbara Brown Taylor writes, “Sometimes we do not know what we know until it comes through the souls of our feet, the embrace of a tender lover, or the kindness of a stranger. Touching the truth with our minds is not enough. We are made to touch it with our bodies.”
I truly believe that the answer to healing the connection we have with our bodies is not just about water and fruits and vegetables, and exercise (although those are all wonderful and powerful) but about learning to love our bodies and thus ourselves because we are created in God’s image, and also about learning to pay attention to our bodies and our physical lives so as to put us in touch with our Creator and with others.
Several years ago my grandfather passed away from Parkinson's disease. He had been sick for many years and had a long-term live-in caregiver named Coffee. Coffee lived with my grandparents so many years he easily became a member of the family. On the day that my grandfather died, peacefully at home in his favorite chair surrounded by his family, Coffee took a damp wash cloth and washed every part of my grandfather's white pale shriveled body with his strong dark hands. And then Coffee closed his eyes and kissed my grandfather's forehead. It was embodied grace.
If the world were as it should be, how might we use our arms as instruments of grace? Our bellies? Our legs? How might our feet, our breasts, our hands be places of transformation instead of places of pain?