A Short Update from a Long Absence

It’s been over a year since I’ve published anything on this site. I have struggled with the medium of the “personal blog” because of its simultaneous obscurity and visibility. You share very personal thoughts that everyone in the world can access but maybe ten people will actually read. It’s like, as a friend commented, taking your clothes off and not being sure who is watching.

I’m not sure if I will be publishing any more posts here, but I will continue to write for Christianity Today’s women’s blog, Her.meneutics. This site will still be up for reference. I am also brewing a book idea about finding the goodness of the body in the midst of chronic illness or pain. I’m hoping to include stories, so if you have an experience you’d like to share with me, please contact me at bodyandbeingblog@gmail.com. I promise I will be checking this email more regularly than I have!

Thank you all for your listening and affirmation. May the peace of Christ be with each one of you.

Learning from Bodies

“If we confine ourselves to ideas that are best suited to legislation, picket signs, and the combox, we will lose the richest vocabulary of human dignity, one better expressed in embraces and diaper changes than in words. If we let bodies speak to us in their own language, by being present to them and offering the gifts of touch and physical care, we can learn what is truly at stake and why it matters.”

I thought this article, “Learning from Bodies,” by Nora Calhoun was worth sharing: http://www.firstthings.com/article/2014/08/learning-from-bodies

Napping and Other Such Spiritual Disciplines

In my personal season of harried new motherhood and this corporate season of Lent, I’ve struggled to find spiritual practices that work – that are honoring to such realities as an infant waking up an hour earlier than I had hoped and yet responsive to the Lenten invitation to slow down, recognize my pitiful human condition, and receive God’s life.

I would have liked to dedicate an hour each morning to silence and prayer, or commit to prepare food for the homeless once a week, or retreat for a weekend to our favorite monastery. Instead, God has been challenging me through some less conventional disciplines – like napping, sleeping in, and sitting on the couch.

Me and baby Oliver on day 1 of his life, already practicing the spiritual discipline of napping.

Me and baby Oliver on day 1 of his life, already practicing the spiritual discipline of napping.

The sad truth is that I find these things hard to do. It’s easier for me to work myself into a foaming-at-the-mouth to-do-list-checking frenzy than to drop everything when the opportunity actually opens up before me and rest. It’s actually physically hard, if not impossible, at times. My eyes will pop open in the morning an hour before the baby usually wakes up and I’ll think, “Oh good! What can I get done?” By the time the twenty things I could do have run through my head, my pulse has accelerated and that drowsy, “I could go back to sleep” feeling has disappeared. My body is tense and I can find no comfortable positions in bed. It takes all I can muster at these times to resist the never-ending call to do more and instead will my breathing to slow, matching it to that of my sleeping husband’s beside me.

It is an embarrassing plight in which I find myself – to find it mentally and physically difficult to rest and sleep. In this way, these activities serve me well as spiritual disciplines. They require me to recognize my humanity and succumb to the blessed groggy truth that the world goes on spinning without me, that the Lord sustains all of life and will sustain mine, even If I don’t get around to cleaning the floor this week (or maybe even this year). To rest, I often have to quiet the monkeys in my mind in the same way I do to pray. I have to tune my mind into my breath, my heart beat, and my heavy bones. I have to surrender to the present.

My other favorite new spiritual discipline is sitting on the couch holding the baby while he sleeps. Usually I’ll put him down to nap on his own, but every once in a while, especially when the monkeys in my head have eaten too many sugar cookies and have invited their friends over to play, I remain seated on the couch, letting my baby be my spiritual director. Drink in my tender new life, he beckons me with his translucent, veined eyelids. Quiet your mind by counting my tiny toes. Come taste, see, smell my fuzzy head, and know in your body that gave birth to mine the utter goodness of the Lord.

 

Why Are We Drawn to Alternative Medicine?

I wrote a post on this topic for the Christianity Today women’s blog, Her.meneutics. Read the post here.

Getting Big

I have always had a fear of being big. In grade school I was embarrassed at being taller for my age. Even now, around short, petite women I feel awkwardly oversized standing next to them. When I visited my relatives in China as a teenager, I remember my cousin and her friend commenting in the local dialect about me, “Gui da ka!”  – What big feet! The comment was not attached to any value judgment, but the way they said it made me feel freakish, out of place, and ashamed because my feet (and stature in general) were bigger than most tiny Chinese girls’.

What is it about big-ness that has acquired such a negative connotation for me? With other things, big can be good – big shady trees to sit under, big juicy peaches to savor, big plush beds to stretch out in. But when it comes to my body, somehow I have learned that big is bad. Small is good. Small is cute, pretty, graceful, even virtuous. Big is…well…ungainly, awkward, too much, not good.

I think this has something to do with being a woman. With men and boys, it’s good to be big. They get admiring looks and comments about their broad shoulders, tall stature, and large muscles. Big-ness is positively linked to their manhood. But overly-tall women, large-boned women, or thick women usually aren’t admired. Instead they are seen as oddities or viewed with distaste. Other times, their size is admired distortedly. Women’s big bottoms and big breasts become sexual objects detached from the people themselves.

Lily Myers’ viral slam poem “Shrinking Women” gets to the heart of this difference. “Women in my family have been shrinking for decades,” she says, “making space for the entrance of men into their lives.” Comparing herself with her brother, she describes, “I have been taught accommodation, I have been taught to filter…you have been taught to grow out, I have been taught to grow in…you learned from our father how to emit, how to produce, how to roll each thought off your tongue with confidence…I learned to absorb, I took lessons from my mother in creating space around myself… deciding how many bites is too many, how much space she deserves to occupy…”

That’s it. Women are afraid of being too emotional, too loud, too crazy, too opinionated, too much. This translates into a physical aversion – a fear of taking up space, a fear of getting big. Small and thin, quiet and submissive, becomes our ideal, and women learn to hold themselves in, deny their appetites and their voices, and shrink.

Pregnant_woman2Pregnancy has been freeing for me in this respect. While some women worry about their disappearing waistlines and expanding torsos, I have found it fun and exciting to watch my belly grow and track the numbers rising on the scale. Recently, I surpassed my husband in weight and told him gleefully, “Now who carries the most weight in this family?”

Part of my enjoyment of the physical changes I’m undergoing as a plump pregnant woman is due to the fact that it is probably the first time in my life I feel allowed to get big. Big is now good. Big belly means Baby is growing well. Big breasts mean my body’s getting ready to nourish my child. Big appetite means Baby is hungry for nutrients. So I’m more than willing to get big. I revel in getting big.

Ina May Gaskin[1] tells the story of a woman who was told by her midwife that she would get huge to have the baby. During her labor, this woman repeated “I’m gonna get huge, I’m gonna get huge” as a mantra to herself and resultingly pushed out a large baby with no trouble, tears, or unnecessary medical interventions. I love the fact that getting big in this story is a positive thing associated with empowerment, healthy womanhood, and the amazing God-given ability to bring life into the world.

Of course, I’ve had my share of worrying that I’ll keep my built-up pregnancy fat after the baby’s born, and that I’ll never get my old body back (I’m told I never will anyways, no matter how hard I try). After the birth, I’m sure I’ll be more cautious again about how much I eat and how much weight I gain or lose. But pregnancy has definitely helped me overcome my fear of getting big. I’ve learned to associate big women’s bodies with vitality and hospitality, not just with fear and shame. I hope this lesson is one I’ll carry with me as I continue to “fill-out” into the woman God has made me to be.

 

 


[1] Ina May’s Guide to Childbirth (2003, Bantam Books).

Economy of Abundance

Grapes waiting to be crushed.

Grapes waiting to be crushed.

I went to St. Procopius Abbey last weekend expecting to attain profound spiritual insights during times of stillness and silence. Instead, I stumbled into one of my deepest lessons during a walk on the monastery grounds, when Greg, the abbey winemaker, invited me to join him and some other volunteers in crushing grapes to make wine.

In the woods outside a large green shed which serves as the monastery workshop we assembled our gear – 1,700 pounds of freshly harvested grapes grown on site, sugar, yeast, a water hose, a scale, large plastic barrels, sulfite spray, and our bare feet! Greg and his crew have tried using machines to extract the grape juice in the past, but found that the old-fashioned method of stomping on grapes with your feet actually works best at separating the skins, seeds, and juice.

After spraying the grapes and our feet with water and sulfite to kill bacteria, we were each assigned barrels of various grape varieties. Since I am carrying a rather unwieldy baby-belly, Kevin, another jovial volunteer, steadied me as I let my feet sink into 98 pounds of fragrant purple concord grapes. The other volunteers joked that I was doing extra work by making wine for two, though I countered that it was actually the opposite – my extra baby weight gave me an advantage and they were getting a two-for-one deal – two people stomping the grapes instead of just one.

Ninety-eight pounds of crushed concord grapes.

Ninety-eight pounds of crushed concord grapes.

Outside on this mild fall day in “God’s great cathedral” of the forest, I sunk my toes quite literally into the extravagant, unmerited abundance of the harvest. Though someone did the hard work of planting and tending the vines, in all truth, the profusion of plump fruit dripping off of them is a gift. And when God gives, it’s not in a measured, controlled fashion – “one for you, two for you, three for you because you worked extra hard.” No, he gives exorbitantly, over-the-top, even more than we can ask or imagine (Ephesians 3:20). He gives until we have overflowing barns and vats brimming with new wine (Proverbs 3:10), so that it would be unthinkable not to call your neighbors and friends over to share in the plenty.

I learned the same thing taking a walk later through the monastery apple orchard. The branches groaned toward the ground under the weight of so many apples, and on the grass I could not take a step without squishing the overripe fallen fruit already being devoured by worms, bugs, birds, and deer. Amidst this jubilant harvest riot, where even the smallest creatures have their share, the nearly $4.00/lb. organic apples that Whole Foods sells seemed ridiculous. So many juicy apples waiting to be enjoyed freely, yet our economy rations and labels them as a commodity for those who can afford it.

It is inevitable that we participate in the market economy, unless we want to live as hermits or in isolated communes in the middle of nowhere. But this weekend, I was refreshed to step out of that economy for a little while and participate in a different kind of economy, God’s economy, where generosity is the currency of choice and the cost of partaking in the abundance is “free.”

The Power of Dirt

Remember you are dust, and to dust you shall return.

Though the Ash Wednesday saying rightly evokes repentance and humility by reminding us of our mortality, dust is not only a symbol of death. As I have come to realize in delightful new ways this year through poking around in my garden dirt, dead and decaying matter is a powerful source of life.

It is a ridiculously obvious fact that we humans have known since the discovery of agriculture, but something that I as a city-dweller still find wondrous: throw some tiny seeds in dirt, and, with some sunlight and water, they grow to produce delicious edible wonders! In a truly miraculous way, that brown and unassuming dirt, the bedrock of the food chain, sustains our lives.

Starting a garden this year has been therapeutic for me, not only because I have gotten to witness these small everyday miracles of creation and eat yummy vegetables, but also because of my contact with dirt.

It is good for us to touch dirt – not just as a way to symbolically acknowledge our mortality. Dirt is powerful on a physical, cellular level.

Enjoying the dirt and trees of the cypress grove in Colombia.

Enjoying the dirt and trees of the cypress grove in Colombia.

The power of dirt is something that therapists often utilize. When I was getting acupuncture for fertility issues at a Chinese medicine clinic, one of the student doctors there told me to regularly touch dirt to tap into the fertility of the earth. On a recent visit to Colombia where we walked through a cypress grove, our guide told us that people often come to this grove to walk around barefoot, touch the trees, and discharge static energy from always being around electronic gadgets.

It may sound like “new-age” fluff, but it makes sense too from a Christian perspective. God breathed his life into creation, and it means that each created thing – humans, animals, plants, water, sunlight, dirt – somehow resonates with the energy of the Creator. Even rocks, Jesus said, have the capacity to cry out God’s praises (Luke 19:40).

We often spiritualize this knowledge of God’s divine energy in creation. Spending time in creation is good for the soul, we say. But I think it is also good for our bodies, which are inextricably connected to our souls. When we come into physical contact with the goodness of creation – though playing in the dirt, through a walk in the forest, through an ocean swim – something shifts in the energy of our bodies, in our very cells. We are re-attuned to something basic in life. Like receiving the imposition of ashes at the start of Lent, we become more aware of our humanity – not only of our impending deaths, but also of our lives and bodies, which are sustained in the power and love of God.

 

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