The Body Series: Being Human, Having a Body

The torso of Christ.

The torso of Christ,

taken at the Cloisters in NYC

One thought I’ll share with you before we head into the weekend is the idea that there’s something fundamentally human about having a body. 

To become like us, Christ had to assume a body. 

This continues to support the idea that our bodies are good, as Christ assumed a body not only willingly but also as an act of love. He does not disdain what we are but rather moves toward — and even becomes — what we are as fully as he possibly can. So much of this had to do with his assuming a human body.

I’m also intrigued by this idea of there being something fundamentally human about having a body because of what I do. I work in the area of spiritual formation. This means I help people grow in their process of spiritual maturity, and this has to do with becoming more fully who we actually are.

It’s a question, ultimately, about being our true human selves. 

I’m learning that our bodies are a part of that. Having a body means something to the human experience and something to what it means to be human. 

What do you think of this idea that being human is, at least in part, about having a human body?

The Body Series: On Matter, Existence, and Goodness

A moment of creation.

The second idea that presented itself to me when I started trying to understand God’s view of the body was matter. 

Mainly, that God encased all that he created in a body of sorts — in matter.

The sun and moon. The earth, sea, and stars. Every animal and plant. Us. 

All these things have a body. Their matter makes them a thing. It gives them literal substance. And God saw fit to not only make that substance but also to call it good.

Somehow, being a thing, having substance, is good.

Why is that? 

I like thinking about it in terms of that word substance. It’s this idea of There is something to you. I can hold something in my hands and it is really there. I can put my hands on your shoulders and look you in the eyes and see and know that you, too, are really there. 

You are there.

Your existence matters

It might ultimately come back to this idea of existence — that it is a good thing to exist. I read once that creation is what happened when the Trinity communed in the perfect love that is their essence, that the natural outflow of such communing perfection of love was creation. (We see this mirrored in humanity, where the communion of love between a man and a woman leads to creation of new life.) 

As such, what God created was good because it was an expression of the perfect love that God shared with God’s self. I can just imagine, upon creation, the Trinity exploding with joy at the beautiful things their perfect love had created. I can just see the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit smiling with ecstasy: Look at what we made!

Seen in this way, all of this known world becomes cause for celebration. Everything, then, is holy. 

What do you think of these ideas? 

The Body Series: Our Embodied Selves

Thoughts on the body I've been holding (for a body series I've been writing on my blog).

One of the first “aha” moments I had when I started diving into this body theology stuff last year was the realization that everything we experience in this life — and everything we experiene of other people — is mediated through our bodies. 

Kirk, smart man that he is, was the one who brought this idea to my attention. 

“Everything I know about you is mediated through your body,” he said.

When we were dating, him in Florida and me in California, we eventually came to know each other at a soul-deep level, but we only learned that could be the case through experiences our bodies first mediated.

We wrote emails to each other by typing letters with our fingers and reading them with our eyes. We talked on the phone by cradling cell phones in our hands and using our mouths to speak and laugh and pray and using our ears to listen. When we spent time together in person, we got to know our compatibility while using our legs to walk together, by making eye contact, by pointing out things we noticed with our hands and our voices, by holding hands. 

It was such pivotal moment for me to realize that everything we know of other people is brought about through the use of our bodies and the use of theirs. Everything we do and experience on earth happens through our embodied selves.

Have you ever thought about this before?

The Body Series: Considering Our Roots

Life abides.

One of the most helpful places to start in a series about the body is an assessment of our relationship with our own — and particularly the earliest roots of that relationship.

What are the early roots of your relationship with your body?

Here are a few of my own answers to that question, and I encourage you to share your answers (if you’d like) in the comments: 

  • Given the choice to be outside or inside, I would choose inside 100 percent of the time. While my siblings rushed to play outdoor games with the neighborhood kids, I preferred to sit in a chair in the living room with a book and read. I was not disposed toward physical activity.
  • In addition, I wasn’t very good at physical activity anyway. Three years of city softball and only hitting the ball once — not to mention getting hit in the nose with a softball during a pre-game practice — didn’t bolster my confidence in my body’s attunement to sports. I felt disqualified from anything having to do with athleticism.
  • My sister, on the other hand, was a natural-born athlete. She loved scraping her knees and making a mess, and she proudly identified as a tomboy. I, on the other hand, preferred to stay clean and tidy, and I certainly wouldn’t go for anything that might lead to scrapes or bruises. I was the bookworm; she was the athlete. Somehow those clear lines comforted me — made it easy for me to keep saying no to exertion.
  • I had a sweet tooth growing up. (I still do.) The kind of sweet tooth that would find me unable to finish my dinner but always save room for dessert. The kind of sweet tooth that had me refusing to finish my dinner, even, unless the dessert option made it worthwhile. The kind of sweet tooth that had me scooping quarters and dimes from my dad’s coin jar so I could walk to the store and buy candy after school. And since I could eat anything and still remain stick-thin, I came to believe that eating junk food in no way impacted my body.
  • What’s more, I seemed to have a different body type than most people in my family — one that followed the small-boned, no-curves pathway of my dad’s mother — which I came to believe would insulate me from body issues the whole of my life. Even though I didn’t “develop” much once I hit puberty, I felt pretty lucky to be as thin as a beanpole, wearing sizes 0, 2, and 4 all the way through college and beyond.

Not believing myself athletic, not enjoying athletics, eating whatever I wanted without consequence, and believing my body type to be immune from weight gain set me up for this: a whacked-out view of my embodied self. As I shared in a post last year on my personal blog, I truly believed my body to be an object that was supposed to serve me — to make me look good and not flinch at anything I gave it to consume. 

It’s a lot to undo, and it’s led to a ton of body confusion in recent years. 

What are the roots of your body image?

The Body Series: In It for the Long Haul

Come. Enter in.

When I began the process of learning my heart, it was helpful to have had two years of introspection in my back pocket.

Certain books had helped me think about myself, my life, and God in significantly new ways over those two years. I’d taken myself to therapy for a spell, where I’d just begun to learn about the inclinations and coping mechanisms and motivations that, underneath the surface, had guided my daily life, thought processes, and beliefs for so long without my knowing it. And, of course, I’d sat in the dark, willfully refusing to move so that God could teach me a new thing I really, truly wanted to understand and believe, instead of just saying I believed it.

As I shared yesterday, I’m in a similar place on this body journey now. 

Here’s what I know: I don’t understand the body. What’s more, I don’t understand my body. 

And after about seven years of living with a body that is completely foreign to the one I grew up with, flailing about in so many random ways in an effort to understand, change, and/or make peace with the body I now have, it’s time to sit down, willfully, and not get up until I get it. 

This could take a long time, but I’m not sure there’s any other way. I seem to be a stubborn sort when it comes to learning something important. I was just remembering this morning, for instance, that I went through a similar process over a very long period of years when I wanted to learn what forgiveness means and how to forgive someone — really learn it, so that I could say I forgave someone and mean it from my heart, rather than saying I forgave them just because the Bible said I should.

It took years, but I got there. And once I got there, it truly changed me.

I seem to have a way of digging in my heels, doggedly, for however long it takes to really learn something I just don’t understand. 

But when I learn it, I learn it.

It really means something then. 

It took me years to learn my heart. It took me years to learn forgiveness. And it may take me years to learn my body.

But I’m deciding right now that I’m OK with that — because it means that when I learn it, I’ll really have learned it, and it will change the way I relate to my body going forward, presumably for the rest of my life.

So, let’s begin. Shall we?

The Body Series: On Being a Beginner

Burn a light.

I remember when I first learned I had a heart — not a physical heart (obviously), but a heart that signified the seat of my self, the entity that comprises my real being. 

I was oblivious to it for 20 years. 

But then, at age 19, God turned everything upside-down. Everything I thought I knew went suspect. I realized I was pretty clueless about grace and Jesus, and God gave me the ability to see that truth and to say yes to a long journey that changed everything.

About two years into that journey, I picked up my Bible and began to read the four books of the Gospels straight through.

One thing I noticed was that the heart was everywhere.

Jesus, walking around inside those pages, was laser-focused on this thing he called the heart. It mattered to him more than anything, and he wanted it to matter to everyone else, too. 

That’s when I realized I had no clue what he was talking about. 

But, gathering up all I’d experienced the previous two years of the journey, I set out to learn. 

It felt a bit like stumbling in the dark, arms outstretched, feeling for walls and chairs. Eventually, a tiny glow of light entered the room, illuminating dim shapes and casting shadows. As my eyes adjusted, the space eventually took on a bit of familiarity. And then, eyes adjusted to what I could dimly see, the light turned up a little bit more — until eventually, the outlay of the room was known to me, even as so much was left to be explored. 

That’s how this body journey feels. Like I’m way back at the beginning, stumbling in darkness, arms outstretched in front of me, unsure what’s there to be found. 

But you know what? I was patient with myself in learning my heart, allowing myself to be a beginner at it, even as it took many years. And I hope to be patient with myself in this body journey, too. 

Will you be a beginner with me?

The Body Series: The Connection Between Body and Soul


Usually when I run a series here on Still Forming, I have a strong sense of where it will go before it even starts — an outline already exists in my head, or a list of post ideas has been scribbled in my journal, to be used as a guide along the way. 

But this time? No such outline or list exists. 

Yes, there are the seven posts I wrote last year on this topic, some of which we’ll revisit here. And there are the three books I’ve read or am currently reading that will spark conversation and serve as additional voices for us in this series. 

But right now I have no list. I have no outline. 

And so today, I simply want to share what I’m noticing in this present moment: the connection between body and spirit. 

This isn’t new information.

Most are no doubt familiar with the concept that the body and soul are related and affect each other. There’s the prevalence of yoga as a form of exercise and an opportunity for meditation. There’s the sense of overall well being that results after having exercised the body. And there’s the evidence of psychosomatic illnesses, where mental or emotional factors create physical results in the body, such as migraines or ulcers or back pain.

But since this series is, for me, an attempt to take head knowledge deeper — for it to become real knowledge, not just head knowledge — I’m sharing today what I noticed this morning that is helping this concept become more real.

It happened when I sat down at my desk to enjoy my usual morning routine of coffee and prayer. Before I got started, I checked in on my usual online haunts. And there, I learned some news that startled me. Grieved me. Panicked me. Confused me. 

And then I couldn’t concentrate. 

There I sat, the psalms open before me on the desk, but my mind and heart couldn’t translate the words. Instead, my knee shook up and down. I sat with my elbow on the desk and my hand covering my mouth. My eyes glazed over. My mind shot elsewhere. I stared out the window. I checked my email. I texted. 

Every few minutes, I would return to what was meant to be the central focus — prayer and quiet — but my focus continued to be anything but those things. 

Eventually, as I paid attention to what was happening, I experienced my body speaking to me.

My shaking leg told me I was nervous. My inability to read the psalms said that my mind and heart had other things taking their notice. My glazed-over eyes said I’d gone someplace else. 

Listening to my body — noticing what it was telling me — became an opportunity for my time of prayer to go a different direction. Rather than the psalms being a launching point for prayer, as they usually are, my body instructed my prayers instead. I talked to God about what bothered me. I prayed for those concerned. I sat with questions, letting God be with me in my holding of them.

Have you ever had a similar experience, where your body “spoke” the state of your soul?

The Body Series: An Introduction

Alive and well.

Last year, I wrote a series of posts on my (now defunct) personal blog that I referred to as “The Body Posts.” These posts were a repository for my thoughts on a relatively new exploration about the relationship God wants me to have with my body. 

About halfway through the year, however, I reached a decision to focus my complete attention on the work I do here at Still Forming, and so I shut down my personal blog. One result of that decision is that I never finished writing that series of posts on the body.

And so I’ve decided to revive it here. 

Here’s the thing about my relationship with my body that I want you to know up front: I don’t have a very good one. I grew up, well into my mid-twenties, never having to worry about what I put into my body to feed it or having to exercise my body to stay trim — and this worked great, since I had terrible eating habits from the get-go and nary an athletic bone in my body. 

I was stick-thin for a quarter of a century. Until, suddenly, I wasn’t. 

And I was completely unprepared for my new non-thin existence.

I flailed about for a number of years because of this.

For starters, I was certainly familiar with the Sunday school answers you can throw at issues of the body: that the body is the temple of the Holy Spirit, that God cares about the human body because he created it, that Jesus also inhabited a body, that we’ll have bodies in heaven. Those answers meant nothing to me, though.

I was familiar, too, with the math and science of it all: that the body needs a certain degree of fat and protein and carbohydrates for optimum existence, that we burn energy in calories, that there are ways to raise and lower our metabolism. All that felt like reading Greek.

The truth of it is, I had no framework for a healthy relationship with my body. I was at ground zero in my understanding.

And it took me a really, really long time to care.

And so I’m starting this series from here: a place of (now) caring but (still) not understanding.

I have some thoughts and questions in my back pocket, left over from that initial exploration that began last year, which I’ll pull out to get us started. And I’ve got three great resources that I’ll use along the way to help guide our conversation: 

But other than that, I’m entering into this new series still very much a beginner on all these things. And the series will reflect that. 

Will you be a beginner with me? 

Do you have struggles or questions about your relationship with your body, too?

Prayer Can Be ... Exercise

Cute new Vans for me. (I needed some new casual deck shoes.)

When I was six years old, my mom took my younger sister and me to join a soccer team. I remember walking toward the group of kids on the field that first day of practice and being truly petrified. I was shy, so meeting a group of strangers filled me with great anxiety. And besides that, I didn’t know the first thing about soccer. 

The soccer attempt was short-lived. (I don’t recall that I ever went back after that first day’s experience.)

But my sister and I joined a girls’ city softball league shortly after that. And the extent of my native athletic talent should be made plain to you with this fun fact: 

I played girls’ softball for three years and only hit the ball once. 

My freshman year in high school, I tried out for the volleyball team and was surprised to discover I liked it. I was also surprised to discover I made first cuts at tryouts. The coach thought I was quick and disciplined at the conditioning drills. Also, I hit a pretty mean serve, and I could bump the ball with the best of them.

Spiking and setting? Not so much. I was cut from the team in the second round.

I did, however, excel at swimming. My older brother and I went out for the team my sophomore year and were both moved to varsity within a few swim meets. But as much as I loved the conditioning experience of swimming laps and following drills, I hit a plateau and never grew beyond a certain point. Plus, anxiety crippled me at the swim meets. I swam for one year and then quit. 

All this to say, exercise has never really been my friend.

And yet I’m experiencing the way exercise can be a form of prayer these days. 

Earlier this year, due to a couple of events, I began to explore the importance of the body in our lives — especially our spiritual lives — and have been experimenting in different small ways with what I’m learning. I have such a long way to go in truly understanding all this, and especially in integrating it into my daily life and behavior, but there is one thing I’ve noticed.

When I think of my body as part of the whole of who I am, exercise becomes a form of prayer.

I push and pull against resistance with the weights. I expand and contract my muscles with stretches and reps. 

And all along, as it’s hard, I’m thinking, This body is yours, God. You gave it to me to steward. It houses my heart, mind, and soul. I’m doing this for you.

Do you ever experience exercise as prayer?