The Body Series: No Body Now But Yours

Via Dolorosa.

Probably about four years ago now, I came across this poem by Teresa of Avila and was moved deeply by it: 

Christ has no body now but yours,

no hands but yours,

no feet but yours.

Yours are the eyes through which

Christ’s compassion must look out on the world.

Yours are the feet with which

He is to go about doing good.

Yours are the hands with which

He is to bless us now.

—St. Teresa of Avila

At the time I first read these words, they met me in my sense of calling to be identified with the words of Isaiah 61, which speak of the ministry of Jesus to be one of healing the brokenhearted, comforting those who mourn, giving beauty for ashes, bringing good news, and setting captives free. 

I knew Christ’s heart in me had much to do with offering this tenderness, mercy, beauty, goodness, and hope to others. Being called the hands and feet and eyes and touch of Christ through this poem taught me a little bit more of how I embody Christ on this earth in these precious ways. 

Now this poem is meeting me in a new way, particularly as I continue to reflect on the mystery of the eucharist and how it affects my view of my body. 

For instance, I woke up yesterday morning feeling awful in my body. I’d eaten poorly through the weekend, and I was feeling the result.

I found my spirit feeling sincerely grieved by this — that by abusing my body with my poor food choices, I was not tending with care the body of Christ as I bore his body in me.

I drove around town yesterday, running errands, and I couldn’t stop thinking about this idea of bearing the body of Christ inside my own. Of my body being sanctified through taking his body into mine. Of his body living on earth … through me.

I’m coming to realize that the greatest difference in the way I regard and treat my physical body may have everything to do with my love for Jesus. 

I deeply love him.

The years of sitting in the dark on the floor of my life eventually led to moments of illumination that had everything to do with who he is and how he regards me and all humanity. The person I have become since that journey began has everything to do with him. There is nothing about the person I am now, 15 years later, that isn’t connected somehow to who Jesus has revealed himself to be to me. Finding Jesus changed my life and changed me. 

I love him so.

And so this idea of carrying his body inside of me through the mystery of the eucharist, this idea of being and becoming the body of Jesus here on earth … it’s deeply affecting me. It feels so precious. And it is causing me to regard my body in a new way — in a way that has everything to do with my love for Jesus. 

Caring for my body is a way of loving him. And that, I’m realizing, is going to make all the difference.

How does this poem by St. Teresa speak to you?

All That Happens Is ... Perfect?

Patch of light.

I Promise

Has not the Architect, Love, built your heart

in a glorious manner,

with so much care that it is meant to break

if love ever ceases to know all that happens

is perfect?

And where does anything love has ever known

go, when your eye and hand can no longer

be warmed by its body? 

So vast a room your soul, every universe can

fit into it.

Anything you once called beautiful, anything

that ever

gave you comfort waits to unite with your

arms again. I promise.

— Hafiz

dear friend of mine included this poem in the weekly inspiration e-mail she sent out this morning, and thinking on it has gobbled up my morning.

It speaks of the very things I fiercely believe:

  • that our hearts are, indeed, built in a glorious manner
  • that they break when we cease to know the perfection of love
  • that the shattered pieces of the love we once knew inhabit whole universes of secret rooms inside of us
  • that the heart waits, even yearns, to be rediscovered and to heal and to be made whole and connected with our full selves once again

There is a bit of a sticking point in this poem, though. It says that the heart, in the way it was made, “is meant to break if love ever ceases to know all that happens is perfect.”

This implies that everything that happens is, indeed, perfect … even if it doesn’t feel that way. 

I’ve wrestled at various times, for various reasons, with this idea that everything that happens is perfect. I know wounding. I know pain. I know the imperfection of love, for sure. I know this world is pretty fantastically, grievously broken.

So, how can all that happens be, somehow, perfect? Is this poet speaking true?

I think this has to do with believing — trusting — that something greater than the pain is present even in the midst of our being grazed by it. It’s the idea that something holds all things together and has a greater, grander scope than we can see in the midst of our wounded, pain-filled realities.

This is a hard idea. I know.

And when we are in the midst of pain, this idea is the last thing we want to hear.

But here is something true.

I have come out on the other side of hell — several times, actually —  and have discovered, on the other side of it, a perfect love that casts out the fear that doubt implanted. I have discovered a more perfect love that encompasses and heals those painful, disturbing wounds. I have discovered Someone faithful and capable to hold all things, even the most painful realities I have known, in his hands. 

And incredible as it may sound, I have become thankful for the pain. 

It is only because of encounter with the perfect and intimate love of Jesus that I can say today that I am thankful for it. The perfect love of Jesus makes everything — even seeming darkness — beautiful in its time.

But I won’t pretend. This is a really hard idea to hold. It’s one I still wrestle with, in various forms, today.

Here’s a possibility, though, in the midst of the struggle. Perhaps the more we feel the pain and grope in seeming darkness toward the light of love, the more overwhelming and sweet that light will be once we find ourselves inside of it. 

I know, for myself, that the measure of my love for Jesus is inextricably tied to the very personal ways in which he has met me in my distresses. 

What is your response right now to this idea that everything — perhaps all things — are just as they’re meant to be?

We Are the Chambered Nautilus

This past weekend, I attended a retreat to complete three years of training in the ministry of spiritual direction. For this week s entries on StillForming, I ll be posting reflections gleaned from the retreat that made me think of you and this space throughout the weekend.

During this past retreat weekend, our theme was the chambered nautilus shell. Have you seen one of these? They are sea creatures that are circular in shape, and they keep growing in ever-broader circles around and around their center over the course of their lives.


Image credit: Micro Macro

The nautilus is predicted to have been around for 500 million years — that’s 285 million years longer than the dinosaurs! — and yet this unpretentious but beautiful creature has never changed it’s basic makeup in all that time.

As our retreat leader suggested, there’s a lot to be learned from something that hasn’t changed in 500 million years, isn’t there?

One thing about the chambered nautilus that has stuck with me is the way it keeps growing forward while always remaining attached to its past as a growing little sea creature. As you can see in the photo above, little ridges on each chamber piece, calledsiphuncles, keep the individual chambers attached to one another. As the nautilus grows new chamber pieces, the new pieces attach to the old so that the nautilus always carries its complete story everywhere it goes.

I love that the nautilus keeps growing new chambers, around and around in circles, until the day it dies. In this way, it never knows just how full its nautilus life will ultimately become. It just keeps growing, never finished until its life reaches an end.

Our lives are like that too.

We are always forming. Every moment of our lives is an experience of being formed in some way. And we, too, circle around and around in our growth process, often bumping up against familiar themes, just living through them in new places.

That’s one reason I named this site the way I did: because formation is a foundational part of the human experience, and we will always, so long as we are human, be stillforming.

A poem by Ranier Maria Rilke companioned with us through the retreat weekend, which I found beautiful:

I live my life in growing circles

which move out over the things of the world. 

Perhaps I may not achieve the last

but I will surely try.

I am circling around God, around the ancient tower,

and I have been circling for a thousand years,

and still I do not know

if I am a falcon,

a storm,

or a great song.

— Ranier Maria Rilke

This poem speaks to me about the formational process of our lives. It speaks to how we are ever growing in widening circles, circling ultimately around the truth of God in us and our core identity, and yet we will never fully realize all that we truly are. That knowledge is only in the mind of God. Our job is to simply live.

Do you think of your life this way, as an ever-present process of formation? Does that thought comfort you in any way? Distress you? How might you relate to the speaker in Rilke’s poem above?

I Am Not I

For Christmas, and in honor of this website, a dear friend gave me a collage print she’d created and framed. The collage has the name of this website, “Still Forming,” at the top, formed from letters cut out of magazines, with a huge white gardenia and golden leaf nestled in the center. In the bottom left corner of the collage, she pasted the words of a poem we both recently discovered. It’s a poem that speaks to the spirit of this site, about how we are not yet what we will one day be.


I Am Not I by Juan Ramon Jimenez

I am not I.
          I am this one
walking beside me whom I do not see,
whom at times I manage to visit,
and whom at other times I forget;
who remains calm and silent while I talk,
and forgives, gently, when I hate,
who walks where I am not,
who will remain standing when I die.


When I read this poem, I tend to think that the one “walking beside me whom I do not see” is Jesus. It is, after all, his image we are being conformed into, his image we will one day be. And I think it is true that he walks beside us, remaining calm and silent while we talk, forgiving us gently when we hate, and will remain standing for us when we die.

And sometimes when I read this poem, the one “walking beside me whom I do not see” is the person I will one day really be, the person I am slowly becoming in this life, the Christianne that is the truest manifestation of herself, the purified and holy and fully loving me, the Christianne God intended me to be when he spoke me into existence. That “I,” the true “I,” is slowly becoming more and more like Jesus, someone who is calm and gentle and forgiving and loving, who is brave and willing to walk where I am currently afraid to walk, who will stand before God in the end, unblinking and full of love.

Lord, Why Did You Tell Me to Love?

My instructor for a class at Spring Arbor shared a poem with us this week that has hit me really hard. It is a poem that speaks of opening our hearts to love those around us with the love God has given us, only to find that every single person in the world is in need of this love from God. As we grow in love for others, the territory of that love expands continually, until we cannot see any person without seeing the need to love.

If we attempt to love each person we meet in our own strength, we will fail because it is too overwhelming for us to handle ourselves; the need is just too great. But if we seek the face of Jesus in each encounter, if we invite him deeper into these experiences, then we will be loving Jesus when we love each one of these, and we will find his presence and love available for us to receive and then pour out.


Lord, Why Did You Tell Me to Love? by Michael Quoist

Lord, why did you tell me to love all people?
I have tried, but I come back to you, frightened.

Lord, I was so peaceful at home, I was so comfortably settled.
It was well-furnished, and I felt cozy.
I was alone, I was at peace,
Sheltered from the wind and the rain, kept clean.
I would have stayed unsullied in my ivory tower.

But, Lord, you have discovered a breach in my defenses.
You have forced me to open my door.
Like a squall of rain in the face, the cry of others has awakened me;
Like a gale of wind, a friendship has shaken me;
Stealing in like a shaft of light, your grace has disturbed me.
Rashly enough, I left my door ajar. Now, Lord, I am lost!
Outside, they were lying in wait for me.
I did not know they were so near; in this house, in this street, in this office; my neighbor, my
colleague, my friend.
As soon as I started to open the door I saw them, with out-stretched hands, anxious eyes, longing
hearts, like beggars on church steps.

The first came in, Lord. There was, after all, a bit of space in my heart.
I welcomed them. I would have cared for them and fondled them, my very own little lambs, my
little flock.
You would have been pleased, Lord; I would have served and honored you in a proper,
respectable way.
Until then, it was sensible.
But the next ones, Lord, the others - I had not seen them;
they were hidden behind the first ones.
There were more of them. They were wretched; they overpowered me without warning.
We had to crowd in; I had to find room for them.

Now they have come from all over in successive waves, pushing one another, jostling one
They have come from all over town, from all parts of the country, of the world; numberless,
They don’t come alone any longer but in groups, bound one to another.
They come bending under heavy loads; loads of injustice, of resentment and hate, of suffering
and sin.
They drag the world behind them, with everything rusted, twisted, and badly adjusted.

Lord, they hurt me! They are in the way, they are all over.
They are too hungry; they are consuming me!
I can’t do anything any more; as they come in, they push the door, and the door opens wider.
Ah, Lord! My door is wide open!
I can’t stand it any more! It’s too much! It’s no kind of a life!
What about my job?
My family?
My peace?
My liberty?
And me?
Ah, Lord! I have lost everything; I don’t belong to myself any longer;
There’s no more room for me at home.

And Lord, You answered —
“Don’t worry, be happy! You have gained all.
While others came in to you,
I, your God,
Slipped in among them.”