Sunday, June 17, 2012

"This Difficult Friendship" - Living in Bodies

And the body, what about the body?
Sometimes it is my favorite child, 

And sometimes my body disgusts me.
Filling and emptying, it disgusts me... 

This long struggle to be at home
in the body, this difficult friendship.
-Jane Kenyon (From "Cages")

 Yesterday, I was in need of some solitude,
some time by myself,
away from the interruptions of home and family.
So I packed a lunch, got in my car,
and waited to see where my car would take me.
Turns out, my car likes the Slough.
 The parking lot was much more crowded than usual,
filled with family and friends of UCSB graduates
who were gathering at the nearby park for 
celebrations of all kinds on this graduation day.
I found a spot between a large motor home,
which served as a gathering spot 
for a group of middle-aged guys I've seen here before,
and a car filled with a family of beach-goers. 
I ate my lunch.
I did some reading.
And I got in and out of the car,
taking pictures and paying attention.
 It took me until today,
after hearing a fine sermon this morning by
our Associate Pastor, Jon Lemmond,
to more fully understand why this particular spot,
of all the possible spots I could have chosen,
is such a special one for me.

I like birds.
A lot.
I know very little about them,
I just know I love to sit and watch them,
to try and capture some of their beauty and grace
with my camera,
and to reflect on how completely  
at home they are
with the bodies God gave them.
You don't hear birds complaining that they've
got too many feathers or too few,
that they wish their beaks were just a bit narrower,
that their feet were a little smaller,
that their tummies were tighter.
No, you don't.
Besides the fact that birds don't speak English,
I think the reason we don't hear (or observe) such
kvetching behavior in birds is this:
they know who they are,
they accept who they are,
they live a one-piece life.

I want a one-piece life.
I want to keep body and soul together,
I want to recognize that I am a body.
And I want to accept that body with grace and with gratitude.

And I have a long way to go on that journey.
Today's sermon was a strong, clear word of encouragement
to keep on truckin'. 
Jon took a few verses from a favorite psalm 
this morning - Psalm 139:13-18.
And he laid out his observations beautifully:
1. Our bodies are spiritual
we want not to err on the side of gnosticism 
(the most stubborn of historical heresies in the church) 
and denigrate the design of God for our physicality.
It is with our bodies that we glorify God.
It is in our bodies that we are saved.
We are, in truth, our bodies.
In Genesis 2, God takes the dust of the earth 
and breathes life into it...
spirit and flesh, joined forever. 

But unlike the birds, our bodies need redemption,
restoration, renewal.
And they are so valuable to God,
that God took on our bodily form so that redemption
and restoration and renewal might be possible. 

2. Our bodies are praiseworthy.
And this is where most of us badly twist the truth 
of who we are as embodied creatures.
The most usual translation of verse 14 goes something like this:
"We are fearfully and wonderfully made."
But Jon's OT prof, Leslie Allen (who was also my OT prof!),
translates it more like this: 
"God is wonderful. And we are made in God's image."
We should indeed stand in awe of who we are,
at what our bodies can do -
wounds heal,
pupils contract and dilate 
according to the ambient light,
our skin and sweat glands 
help set a healthy thermostat.
We are indeed wonderfully made!
we are wonderful because of who made us,
not because of any intrinsic 'perfection' of our own.
Therefore, beware our cultural predilection for
believing we are the center of things.
When the Bible tells us that our bodies are wonderful,
it is not meant as, "a psychological pick-me-up 
aimed at bolstering our self-esteem."
Rather, these words point us first to the Creator,
and only then, to the creature.
If we can grab hold of this astounding truth,
then maybe, just maybe,
we can begin to believe that every single one of us,
able-bodied or not,
fat, thin, tall, short, young, old -
every one of us - 
broken and imperfect as we are -
is a thing of wonder and delight to the One who made us.

Not just cute babies.
Not just Hollywood celebrities.
Not just the perfect bikini-body.
Not just the strong, ripped muscles.
"We are beautiful because we are the Lord's."
And then my friend and former colleague offered the most
beautiful analogy to help us latch onto this 
powerful truth.
The stole he is wearing was a gift to him on the 
day of his ordination into the ministry.
It was made for him by his mother and his grandmother.
It is lovely to look at...
but it is not perfect.
It doesn't lie flat at the back like 
a more professionally made stole would.
Some of the stitching around the six lovely 
symbol patches is a little rough. 

But it is one of Jon's most priceless possessions.
When the Tea Fire hit his neighborhood three years ago,
he first made sure his wife and children were safe.
And then, Jon rushed into his house and grabbed this stole.
Not because it is perfect.
Not because it is without flaws.
Not because it does everything it was meant to do.
Jon grabbed it because of who made it.
Jon grabbed it because of the love that was poured into it.
Jon grabbed it not because of its intrinsic value,
but because of the relationship 
he has with the ones who made it.
It is beautiful,
not so much for what it is,
but because it reflects the love of the creator(s).
Can I begin to value my body for what it truly is?
The gift of my Creator?
My body.
The dust of the earth,
into which God breathed life 67 years ago.
My body.
The embodiment of God's dream for me 
as a whole person,
a unified human being,
body, soul, spirit.
My body.
A reflection of the God who loves me.

An added spot of beauty to our worship last Sunday was a new offertory song. Our Director of Worship Arts, Bob Gross, wrote a lovely melody to go with these powerful words written by Mechtild of Mageburg in the 13th century. This translation was done in 1991 by Jean Wiebe Janzen, but the words in bold are Bob's addition and served as a beautiful refrain throughout the piece. He tells us he's going to do a YouTube version, and when he does, I'll post a link here - and undoubtedly elsewhere, like Facebook and Twitter.  I sat amazed at how these lyrics sort of wrapped up my entire weekend. Read them carefully:

I cannot dance, O Love, unless you lead me on.
I cannot leap in gladness, unless you lift me up.
From love to love we circle, beyond all knowledge grow.
For when you lead, we follow, to new worlds you can show.

Love is the music 'round us, we glide as birds in air,
entwining, soul and body, your wings hold us with care.
Your Spirit is the harpist and all your children sing;
her hands the currents 'round us, your love the golden strings.

Play me a medley. 
Play me a song. 
Lead me, I am yours. 
I cannot dance alone. 

O blessed Love, your circling unites us, God and soul.
From the beginning, your arms embrace and make us whole.
Hold us in steps of mercy from which you never part,
that we may know more fully the dances of your heart. 

Joining with Michelle, Jennifer, Laura, Duane and L.L. this time.
And at the middle of the week, also joining Ann V., Jennifer Dukes Lee and Emily W.

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