The Body Series: Do No Harm


Today I gave myself a pedicure.

It’s something I’ve been telling myself I’d do for weeks — even possibly months! — because I’m hard on my feet and have a tendency to develop callouses easily. But it takes time to care for my feet, so I’ve been putting it off. 

Just after I got started, the phone rang. It was Kirk, checking in while he was grabbing lunch. We talked for a few minutes, but then he needed to hang up and said he’d call back shortly. 

So I decided to wait on the pedicure treatment until he called back.

I sat on the side of the bathtub with wet, soapy feet and checked in on Facebook. 

There, I discovered a trail of status updates by a friend who is attending a conference that includes a panel discussion of pacifism vs. the just war theory. You may or may not know that I began studying nonviolence and peacemaking about four and a half years ago, so I was quite interested in the views my friend had begun sharing about the conference. 

And I dove right into the discussion. 

Thirty minutes later, I still had wet, soapy, un-pedicured feet.

But the dialogue had absolutely lit me up. I love thinking about nonviolence — what it means, what it looks like, how it finds a home inside our daily lives, what it means concerning the broader world, how it interacts with politics and nations and citizenship and humanity.

I sat there on the bathtub edge and connected, once again, with my conviction about the dignity of every human person, about the power of love to overcome and transform violence, about the spark of God in every person that causes me to honor them and seek to never do them harm. 

(I am by no means a guru at this.)

When I picked up the loofah and began sudsing my feet again, I kept thinking about my nonviolence convictions. And then as I rubbed my feet and ankles with my peppermint foot scrub, my thoughts turned toward the care I was demonstrating toward my feet in that very instant.

As I ran the hot water over my feet, washing the suds and pumice granules away, I began to realize something: the two — nonviolence and the body — are actually connected.

I thought: 

If I’m so keen to care for and honor my neighbor, no matter who they are, should I not also honor and care for my own body? 

Perhaps caring for the body has something to do with the “do no harm” principle. 

I’m doing my body harm when I feed it junk food. But conversely, I’m treating it with love when I feed it living foods, when I do yoga, when I take the time to pedicure my feet and them smooth their skin with lotion. 

Can I regard my body the way I seek to regard other human beings? Shouldn’t the nonviolence principle also apply to myself?

What are your thoughts on the “do no harm” principle as applied to your body?

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?

The Body Series: Our Bodies, Sanctified

I love him.

On Friday, I invited us to consider how our participation in the eucharist — ingesting Christ’s body and blood into our own — might shed more light on how we are to view our bodies. 

The word that keeps coming to mind for me is sanctified

When, in the rite of eucharist, I am taking the body and blood of Christ into my own body, his being enters my own and becomes even more a part of me. Christ is in me

The Spirit of Christ is always in me, but perhaps the taking of bread and wine is a moment when Christ’s embodied life dwells more fully within me than before. I become even more of a dwelling place for my Lord. 

It feels like such holiness, to be bearing the body and blood of Christ within me. It is my body made sacred. 

What reflections have come to mind for you concerning the eucharist in connection to your body?

The Body Series: Eucharisteo

This is my body. This is my blood.

This is My body. This is My blood.

This post is coming a bit late in the day, due to a power outage and modem/router meltdown that happened at our house this morning and has taken most of the day to get fixed. So today’s entry will be short, but hopefully it will provide us with something substantial to chew on as we make our way into the weekend. 

How might our understanding of our bodies be influenced by our experience of the eucharist? 

A friend and I were talking about this over coffee last week, and it’s been marinating in my mind ever since.

When we take eucharist, we are taking the elements — bread and wine — into our bodies. We do this as an act of spiritual sustenance, but think also of what those elements represent: 

Christ’s body. Christ’s blood. 

His body and his life source, and we’re taking them into ourselves.

When we do this, we’re saying, in a way, that we want his blood to mingle and flow with ours. His muscles to establish themselves with our own. His eyes and ears and mouth and nose and skin and bones and flesh to meet with ours.

When we take Christ’s body and blood in the eucharist, how might that impact our bodies and/or our view of them?

The Body Series: What Creates Body Awareness and Body Care?


Aware of her tail

Yesterday, I invited you to share any lingering thoughts or questions you have as we’ve been working our way through this body series, and one of the responses I received came from Valerie Hess. Valerie just so happens to be one of the co-authors of The Life of the Body: Physical Well-Being and Spiritual Formation, which I’ve recommended as a resource companion to this series, and she was also one of the instructors in my graduate degree program in spiritual formation. 

Valerie asked: 

Why do you think some people have such a disconnect from their body and others are hyper in tune with it? Temperament? Training?

I love this question! And I’ve been wondering it myself.

I know a number of people who have always been active and have taken care with the food they put in their bodies, and I’ve wondered, “How did that happen?” Was it their upbringing, that their parents taught them to care for their bodies the way they do? Is it preference, that they simply love healthy food and being active? 

I think about my sister, who was always active outdoors and rough-housed her way around the neighborhood while we were kids, while I stayed nestled inside with my books, and she grew up to play varsity softball in high school. We were raised by the same parents, yet our preferences and temperament were so very different in this regard. 

I think training has something to do with it, too. One family I knew while growing up loved to play tennis together on the weekends. With regular activity and body-mindfulness rooted at the center of their family life, the children couldn’t help but grow up used to keeping their bodies active as a natural part of life and daily routine. 

Sometimes I just want to conduct informal interviews with people who are active and ask them: How did that happen for you? 

What are your thoughts on this? 

And if you’ve always had a sense of body-mindfulness or active care for your body, would you care to share how that happened for you?

The Body Series: Starting With a Root of Love

Leaf heart.

Leaf heart. 

Taken in Nashville, May 2012

A great deal of my journey into the heart had to do with learning the truth of my belovedness. This is one of those things that had me sitting down on the ground, stubborn, unwilling to get up until God taught me what it meant for him to love me unconditionally. 

Once I began to experience my belovedness and value to God, everything changed. 

I’m getting the sense that our body journeys have something to do with love, too. 

I’ve been walking around this last week or so feeling a lot less antagonistic toward my body. There’s even a sense of befriending it, like me and this body are paired up in this life as partners — that God has given us to each other. I’m feeling a greater sense of respect for it. It’s becoming an actual entity that I’m in relationship with. (And maybe at some point it will feel less like an entity I’m getting to know and befriend and respect and more like just, well, me.)

I’m finding that the more I cultivate affection for my body, the easier it becomes to take better care of it. It’s easier for me to say yes to exercise because I know now that my body needs me to move it around. And it’s easier for me and my body to become better partners in our life together as I listen to what it has to say — what it likes and doesn’t like, what makes it come alive, what makes it constrict, what makes it feel dopey and hung over. 

I have by no means “arrived.” I still sat on my mat in my yoga class this morning and felt self-conscious of my flabby arms and rounded shape. I still eat foods I know aren’t good for me. I’ve not dipped into a regular sleeping schedule of late.

But slowly, incrementally, I’m moving in the right direction. And each of those little steps feels like a partnership and an act of love.

What is it like for you to think about starting from a root of love in your relationship with your body?

The Body Series: Be Where You Are

Tending Mary.

Tending Mary.

Taken at the Cloisters in NYC.


This morning I took a yoga class where the instructor encouraged us to set an intention for our day’s practice. She suggested a couple ideas for this, ultimately letting us decide what was best for ourselves, and one of the words she mentioned as a possibility was acceptance

I knew immediately it was the word I wanted to carry with me through that time of exercise. 

I was situated near the front of the room, right in front of the main mirror-lined wall. Every time we undertook a forward-facing pose, I saw myself at the front of the class with wider arms, shoulders, hips, and chest than those around me. Many times throughout the class, I couldn’t twist my body very far into a pose. A couple times, my hips blanched a bit. My foot cramped at one point. My arms and legs shook with fatigue in some of the poses. 

There were so many ways I felt tempted to feel less-than. 

Thankfully, the instructor mentioned that word again — acceptance — several different times throughout our time in the class, and I was able to come back to a place of accepting myself where I was in that moment. Taking a class. Stretching my limbs. Challenging myself a bit (and in some ways a lot!). Growing more in tune with my body a little bit every day.

I think our journeys with our bodies need to include a healthy measure of acceptance.

Earlier this week, I mentioned that this can include going gentle with ourselves in our progress — letting every tiny step forward matter and letting the journey take as long as it takes. 

I think it also includes letting ourselves be ready when we’re ready. I’ve known for nearly seven years that my body was changing from the way it used to be and required some level of attention from me because of it. But it wasn’t until last year that I felt a real openness to stepping into that journey, and it wasn’t until now that I’ve been willing to pick up some of those beginning steps from early last year and look at them again. 

We are where we are. And one of the things I love most about Jesus is that he comes to where we are and meets us there. The gospels demonstrate this truth over and over again — that Jesus meets us where we are and is infinitely patient with us there. He waits with us until we’re ready. He converses with us in our current place of being. Then he walks with us, tiny step by tiny step forward, only as we’re ready.

I love that about him. 

How would you describe where you are right now?

The Body Series: Are There Limits to the Body-Spirit Formation Analogy?

Winter in New York.

A few days back, a friend shared that she’d recently gotten caught up on this body series and had a question for me. It had to do with this idea that the formation of our bodies might mimic the formation of our spirits

She said:

“Presumably, over the course of our lives, our spirits are meant to grow stronger and stronger — more vibrant. But our bodies, as we age, are getting less and less so. What do you do with that, in terms of the analogy?”

It’s a good question.

To clarify, here is where I see the overlap between the two: 

  • The good things we put into our bodies — food, exercise, supplements, rest — interact with our bodies’ interior processes at a level we can’t control. We are just one part of the equation, and there’s a point at which we do our part, trusting our bodies to do the rest. This is similar to what happens in our spiritual formation: We participate, and God and God’s grace do the rest.
  • Our bodies are meant to move in the direction of health, just like our spirits. They can certainly move away from health, and our spirits can, too, but we are meant to live with health and vitality at whatever stage of life we’re in, to the extent we are able.

I keep thinking of the older folks I see at my gym — men and women in their 70s and 80s who are fit and trim and limber and alive because they’ve continued to tend to their bodies as their bodies have aged. Many of them are in much better shape than I am at 34 years old! 

As they are moving toward the end of their lives, they serve as an image to me of what vitality and health can look like at an advanced age. In the midst of our decay, we can still be moving toward life.

Ultimately, though, I think my friend has a good point. 

Our bodies, in this life, will die. Our spirits won’t. But on the other side, in some mysterious way I don’t understand, our bodies join our spirits in different form. Even as our bodies progress toward decay in this life, then, that decay is not the end of the road for our bodies. 

Maybe the breakdown of the analogy has something to do with putting things in their proper order. Jesus spoke often of the inward person of the heart being of core importance, more than what our outward bodies do. (I’m thinking of the passage where he tells the Pharisees that they’re more concerned with cleaning the outside of their cups without realizing what’s on the inside of them.) Not to say that what we do with our bodies isn’t important, and not to say that the body isn’t important, either, but our inward reality is where it all begins. Everything else flows from it. 

And perhaps what I’m trying to say is that the process — what happens when growth is happening, whether in body or spirit — looks similar in both.

What are your thoughts on all this?

The Body Series: Learning to Care for the Body

Gnarled life.

What my starting point feels like.

The revelation I shared with you on Friday has been a really big one in my progress to relate to my body in a healthier, more caring way. The idea that I can view my body’s formation in a similar way to how I view my spiritual formation … well, for a girl whose life’s work is enfolded in spiritual formation, I couldn’t ask for a more fitting “click.”

I think what’s so helpful about this is the idea that I just do my part

My part has to do with what I put into my body, how I move my body around, and how I view my body. The rest is up to God and the way God made my body to function and respond to my input on its own. It really takes the pressure off, even as it hands me responsibility in the matter. 

And so today, I tried a cycling class at the gym. It was hard, but not so hard that I had collapsed by the end of it. I ate an orange and drank water. I had some whole-grain cereal with banana for breakfast. I did our meal planning, went to the grocery store, and then had another orange.

And all the while, I’ve sought to tune into my body. The different leg muscles the cycling class worked at different times, as well as my stomach muscles. The feeling of strength as I pushed a heavy cart of Costco supplies across the parking lot. The sense that I have this body, and this body has me. Again, that everything I experience in the world and that others experience of me is mediated by my body.

This quote from Stephanie Paulsell in Reclaiming the Body in Christian Spirituality says it so well: 

“Such is the mystery of the body. Sometimes we know that we are our bodies, that our capacity for life and death makes us who we are. At other times, we feel that we simply inhabit a vessel that is inadequate to contain all that we are.” 

—p. ix–x

In some ways I am my body, and in other ways, I simply have a body. Either way, this body is a necessary part of who I am and my experience of this life. It will still be with me, in similar but different form, in heaven.

God is asking me to care for this earthen vessel. 

And so the challenge is to do so. To care for my body. To learn to befriend it. To love it, even.

How are you doing in your progress to do the same?

The Body Series: What If Our Cells Mimic the Formation Process?

Light shines through.

Body and spirit, both reaching toward light.

So, here’s the kind of person I am. 

When I tumbled down the Wikipedia rabbit hole in my workaday education about the body and nutrition, my mind started spinning on the possibility that our cells mimic the formation process that happens in our spiritual lives. 

Track with me here a moment on this. 

  • What if the enzymes our cells need in order to experience the chemical reactions that spur them down metabolic pathways mimic the work of the Holy Spirit or God’s grace in our formation process?
  • What if the choices I make every day in my food consumption and exercise mimic my participation in my formation process through the practice of spiritual disciplines? 
  • What if the outcomes of healthy body formation — health, vitality, energy — mimic the outcomes of healthy spiritual formation, which include a strengthened spirit and a greater capacity for love and good deeds?

The possibility that our body’s formation could mimic our spirit’s formation made me smile and shake my head in delight. Of course God would do that. 

Here’s a little bit more of what I mean.

When it comes to spiritual formation, I’ve written quite a bit on the principle of indirection — namely, that it is the process by which God handles our formation but utilizes our participation. We are partners in the process, and our part is to be faithful with undertaking small acts within our power, trusting God to do the parts we cannot do ourselves. (If you’d like to read more on indirection, you can find some more thoughts on this here, here, here, and here.)

I think the body’s formation might work something like that: I put certain things into my body, trusting that the mysterious work of God inside my body through mechanisms he created will bring about my growth and health. I need to do my part, and then let go, trusting that he’ll do his and that the outcome will be a body increasingly like the one he intends me to inhabit.

And so it made me ask myself:

Will I care for the formation of my body as intentionally as I care for the formation of my spirit?

Will you?

The Body Series: In Which Wikipedia Becomes My Teacher


After I had my first-ever wake-up call concerning the caloric value of various foods, I got curious. 

Reaching way back into my memories of high-school chemistry, I tried to remember what I had learned about calories. Didn’t they have something to do with joules, which had something to do with energy? And is the calorie in chemistry the same kind of calorie in food? I didn’t know. 

So I turned to the workaday teacher of all things ever: Wikipedia. 

There, I learned the calories in food are also referred to as food energy — and that when the nutrients in food react with oxygen in our cells, energy is released. 

I learned that our metabolism is what allows us to grow and reproduce, maintain our structure, and respond to our environment. 

I learned that enzymes are essential to our metabolism because without them, certain things that need to happen in our bodies will not happen of their own accord. Enzymes are required to create the reaction that’s needed to make those things happen. 

I learned that pretty much our whole body is made up of either amino acids (proteins), carbohydrates, and lipids (fats) — that they are vital for life — and so this is why we need to take these materials into our bodies: so that our bodies can be sustained. 

I learned that most proteins are enzymes which, as I had just learned, are essential for our metabolism because they create reactions our bodies need in order to keep functioning. This is why, I realized, proteins are so important to the diet. 

I learned that a vitamin is something our bodies need but our cells can’t make themselves. This is why consuming foods with essential vitamins or taking vitamins directly as supplements is so helpful to our bodies. 

I learned that proteins play other helpful roles in our bodies besides serving as enzyme catalysts in our metabolism. They also replicate our DNA, help us respond to stimuli, and transport our molecules from one location to another. These things won’t happen in our bodies if we don’t take in protein. What’s more, proteins participate in pretty much every function within our cells. 

I learned that carbohydrates do not help build other molecules in our bodies and that our bodies can obtain all their needed energy from protein and fats — although, of course, the body does use carbohydrates, when they’re present, to burn fuel for the body. Also, no carbohydrate provides an essential nutrient to the body, and our bodies cannot metabolize all forms of carbohydrates. 

I learned that nutrients are chemicals that organisms (like us) need to live and grow. 

In other words, I learned a few things:  

  • If I want to live and grow, I need nutrients. 
  • Some nutrients won’t be produced by my body all on its own, so I need outside sources (like certain foods and vitamins) to get them.
  • Protein is especially important to my diet because it is involved in pretty much everything my body needs to do, not the least of which are the chemical reactions that make up my metabolism.
  • I need to care about my metabolism because it’s what allows me to keep functioning in all the ways I’m meant to function in the world (growing, reproducing, maintaining a bodily structure, responding to my environment). 
  • Carbohydrates are the least essential part of the human diet (at least, from what I can tell).  

All of this led me to think some more about formation, which I’ll share more about with you tomorrow … 

The Body Series: To Each, a Unique Shape

Dusky beauty.

One of our readers here, Ree Ann, shared some thoughts in response to yesterday’s post that I’m finding helpful and encouraging, and maybe you will too. 

She said: 

Because we are born into sin and because we each have our sins to deal with, there are (because this word will carry my point) deformities in our souls that need even more of God’s grace and our best attempts to learn what we are able to do to cooperate with Him so that our souls become as perfected as possible before it is our time to cross to the other side.

So it is with our bodies, as far as I can tell. One of the reasons that best portrays this, for me, is the differences that are in each body when it is born. There is the incrdible range of what we would describe as “perfect” bodies to deformities that make it nearly impssible to live at all and the whole range between.

What I see because of this is that as we become cognizent of the states of our bodies, we need to educate ourselves about the best care for them and ways of maintaining them and making them as healthy as possible.

God provides us each with a body. There is much to learn about how to relate to them. We must pay attention to our body language…pains, imperfections, conditions, diseases.

What I gather from Ree Ann’s comment here is the idea that every body is unique, just as every soul is unique, and that we need to “learn” our unique body, just as we “learn” our unique soul in our process of formation. 

When it comes to soul-level formation, each person has glory and, well, fallenness. It is the original glory God is seeking to restore in us in ever-greater measure, and it is the fallenness in us that God is seeking to burn away. What those look like for each one of us is unique, even as there are general truths to be known about each that apply to everyone.

So, perhaps, it is with our bodies. 

There’s a natural truth to the way the body works, but the way that nature plays out in each individual body is different. Due to genetics and environment, some have a faster metabolism and some have a slower one. Some are disposed toward exercise, having been trained in it from an early age, and some aren’t. Some are lactose-intolerant, and some aren’t. Some have a gluten allergy, and some don’t. And on and on and on.

Part of this process is learning our unique bodies — as well as the natural order of things — as we grow in relationship to our bodies and the way God intends us to live inside them. 

What do you think of this idea?

The Body Series: Its Formation

He hangs for you.

Perhaps the most arresting question I encountered when I began exploring how God intends for me to view my body is this: 

Are our bodies meant to experience formation, just as our souls are?

It’s the question I’ve been holding in the back of my mind ever since, and I’m going to put it forward as a tentative thesis for this series as we explore its possibilities the rest of this week.

So, here’s the back story.

The question came to mind as I was reading the introduction to Reclaiming the Body in Christian Spirituality. One single, obscure line — half a line, really — brought it about. The line read: 

“There is every indication that salvation does not mean getting out of this skin, but being transfigured and glorified in it.”

— p. xi

The line made me think of what will happen in heaven. 

As a spiritual formation practitioner, I believe our interior being is meant to form over time, conforming in greater and greater measure into the image and likeness of Christ. Our “work” here on earth is to attend to that formation that God is about in us. We’re meant to participate as God does what God wants to do. 

And then, in an instant in heaven, we will be transfigured into something more. Scripture speaks of creation groaning for the full restoration of that day (Romans 8:18-25). It speaks of the substance of our lives being refined in fire on that day so that only what is pure remains (1 Corinthians 3:10-15; 1 Peter 1:3-9). It speaks of seeing in a mirror but dimly now, but someday we shall see face to face (1 Corinthians 13:12). 

Clearly, something happens to us in heaven that is more than what we experienced on earth and has something to with the people we became while we were here — and the intent is for us to become, while we’re here, all that God intends for us. 

Could it be the same for the body?

I think about Jesus and how, upon his resurrection, he inhabited the same body he carried while a mere human. It was a body that could eat fish (Luke 24:41-43). It was a body that still bore the scars of the wounds he sustained on his hands, side, and feet (Luke 24:40; John 20:24-29).

Yes, it was a body that could walk through walls (John 20:19) and even, at times, appeared different than the body his disciples knew when he was alive (Luke 24:13-35; John 20:11-18; John 21:4). But it was also, clearly, a real body, and it was in some measure the same body as the one he had before. 

Perhaps in just the same way that who we become in heaven will be different — more full — than who we were on earth but also tied in some way to who we were while here. 

And so I am pondering the formation of the body: 

What shape are our bodies meant to take? 

What might growing in the likeness and image of Christ — in our bodies — mean?

I look forward to exploring these questions here with you the rest of this week.

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?

Pieces of Formation: School Life

Let's learn a bit.

What was learning like for you while growing up? Was it something you loved? Something you dreaded? Something that felt like wrestling with a huge and slimy sea creature? 

I know someone who slumped through school, garnering Cs and Ds at regular intervals, but it turns out he’s a genius. The traditional school setting and pace bored him. He didn’t see the point, and he needed much greater challenge. It wasn’t until a sixth-grade teacher saw him for who he was and gave him room to be himself and get creative that he began to gather a greater sense of self and confidence when it came to learning. 

I’ve already shared with you that athletics were a bust for me and that I learned to read at quite a young age. The schoolroom and books became a haven. I loved to excel at my studies, and I was the kind of kid who felt (mostly) safe in a classroom, sitting at a desk with my notebook and school supplies, learning from the teacher at the front of the room. 

Since this was the place I excelled, it eventually became quite tied to my identity. I thought being solid in academics meant I ought to be in an academic setting the rest of my life. I eventually made plans for doctoral studies and expected to live my days in the halls of universities as a professor.

It’s all I thought I was good at: books. 

It turns out there’s more to me than that. Part of my container analysis had to do with examining this part of my life, then deconstructing, then reconstructing my identity as it concerned these things. 

What about you? What was your school life like? How did it affect the way you came to see yourself?

Pieces of Formation: Your Family Credo

I just love her.

Just some cuteness for you.

Yesterday we talked about the individual roles we’ve played in our families and how they affect the people we became. Today, let’s talk about the family creeds that existed while we were growing up (and may still exist today).

These can vary widely from family to family. Some examples would be:

  • We don’t talk about our feelings.
  • We always talk about our feelings.
  • When we’re angry or sad, we don’t show it. 
  • When we’re angry, everyone knows it.
  • When we’re sad, it’s someone else’s job to make it better. 
  • People aren’t welcome in our home.
  • Everyone is welcome in our home.
  • Anyone who is “different” isn’t okay.
  • We learn so much from other people and ideas. 
  • It’s not okay to make mistakes.
  • Mistakes are how we learn.

What kind of credo — voiced or unvoiced — was at work in your family unit?

Pieces of Formation: Your Role in the Family

Lone bird.

I was the peacemaker in my family, and I was the listener. 

No matter who was fighting with whom — siblings, parents, siblings with parents — I seemed to be the one who not only got along with everyone but also had a way of making and preserving peace. I could help those who were fighting feel seen, heard, and understood. I could be a safe place to go. I often served as a go-between. 

And I knew how to hold the stories. My parents trusted me with theirs, and I often felt I knew my siblings better than they knew me. I just had an ability to listen. 

For a long time, after I went through my original process of looking at my container, I resented both of these roles I played in my family. Why should I have been the peacemaker? Why should I have held the stories? I carried anger, resentment, and sadness about these roles for a number of years in my adult life. 

But then, about three years ago, it changed. 

I came to see that beyond playing the roles of peacemaker and listener in my family, I am a peacemaker and listener. These are part of my nature. They are charisms God has given me.

Part of the reason I held those roles in my family is because they’re akin to my nature. 

Today, I love that being a peacemaker and listener are who I am. These gifts make up a large part of what I do with my life today, and I wouldn’t want it any other way.

But it doesn’t work out that way for everyone. Some of us played roles in our families that were assigned to us and had nothing to do with who we really are or were. Some of us took up roles because we thought we wanted them, only to learn later that we didn’t. 

What role did you play in your family? How did it impact who you became?