Mary’s Body (A Poem)

Mary iconAs we enter Advent and prepare our hearts to receive the Son of God into our lives and hearts anew, I want to share a poem I wrote last year during this season. I was pondering the mystery of God becoming human in the body of a woman, and it occurred to me that maybe Mary’s body, like mine, was fragile and imperfect. I hope that as you read this poem you’ll join me in stepping into the shoes (or sandals?) of Mary and prepare not only your heart, but also your body, to be inhabited by the Most High.


Mary’s Body

Mary, dark chocolate hair, tinged with charcoal,

dreamy olive eyes, wide with wonder.

Mary, seventeen, pimple over the right eyebrow,

strong nose (maybe too strong?) and wide, ready smile.

Mary, able arms and hands rough with calluses

from scrubbing the stains off her brothers’ robes.

Mary, slender legs, stubby toes, and left shin scarred

from the time she was chasing a goat and tumbled over a rock.

Mary, all she is, sweetness and scrapes, blossoms and bumps,

known by God.

Mary, tender-hearted, strong, steady, trembling,

overshadowed by the power of the Most High.

Mary, the deepest places of body and soul

enlivened with the breath of the Wild, Untamable One.

Mary, surrendered, open, believing,

pondering the mystery of God growing in her being.


Bodywork with Pam

Periods of extended skin to skin contact with another person are usually associated in our society with sex or mothering. Which is why I was a bit disconcerted at first when, during a bodywork session with my friend Pam Trice, Pam gently laid her hands on my forehead and kept them there. I had no apt category in which to put this kind of touch.

Part of me was on alert – what was she going to do next? She didn’t do anything – or at least not anything that would normally be called action. After what seemed like a very long time, but was probably only a minute or so, she moved her hands to a different part of my face, near my ears. Later, she placed her pointer finger and thumb on either side of both of my outer ears. This seemed like a very odd place to be touched.

I felt in a way that she was trying to sense/hear something from my body through touching my ears, a part of my body which connects me with the world through sound. I felt vulnerable, in a way, because I know so much can be communicated through bodily touch. What would Pam think if she picked up something about me that is embarrassing, perhaps even something of which I was not myself aware?

But what I sensed from Pam’s touch was gentle, non-judgmental. Summed up in one word, Pam’s touch was presence. This is nothing world-shattering. But if you think about it, how many times do your really receive the gift of someone’s full presence, especially as it is communicated through the body? We are so often distracted in each others’ presence, not fully paying attention, our own mental monologues  and expectations going on in the background even as we half-listen to other people.

What Pam was providing for my body parallels something that Parker Palmer has called “circles of trust” for the soul. Circles of trust are two or more people who create a space for each other for the soul to come out of hiding. Palmer likens it to holding a small bird – you do not wrap your fingers too tightly around it, smothering it. You also don’t push it to fly off before it is ready. You simply hold a space for the soul come into its own.

Bodywork is like creating a circle of trust for the body. Our bodies are often “in hiding,” fearful of others’ intentions when they touch us, tensed up and defensive as we try to prevent body language from giving off how we truly feel. By providing a scaffolding of gentle presence through physical touch, not invasive, but also not evasive, bodywork practitioners hold open a space in which the body can “come out” and speak.

Our bodies may speak in bold or subtle ways. In Pam’s presence during bodywork, I was able to attend more closely to my own heartbeat, not just in my chest but throughout my limbs, fingers, and scalp. Using cranio-sacral techniques, Pam brought to my attention some imbalance of weight in my pelvis area. This awareness helped me to focus on the tension I held in this area and begin to release the weight, confident that my body was being held in a safe space.

Having received the gift of presence in Pam’s caring, gentle, and non-demanding touch, I truly felt more at home in my own skin, more confident to live with integrity in my body.

Pam’s musings about bodywork can be found at her blog “Bodywork in Progress.”

Body Imagery

I see myself crouching at the edge of a fast-flowing river, like a frightened animal. I am releasing one by one a pile of objects at my side into the river, watching each bob away and disappear. I am now left alone and object-less, with just my body, which is cramped and pain-filled. I have a strong, gut-wrenching desire to throw myself headlong into the river, to be carried along by the current and let the river buoy my weight. I am tired of crouching and bearing the pain and weight of my body by myself. But I am also afraid of drowning.

This mental image popped up often during the time I was most burdened with physical pain. It was like one of those recurring dreams that always end before the climactic moment (I hate the ones where I am about to eat something steaming hot and delicious but wake up right before taking the first bite. Anyway, that’s beside the point).

As I was mulling over it again one day, the thought occurred to me, What if I just jump in? I knew the image grew out of my own hang-ups with entrusting my body to God. With if I just visualized myself taking the dive into the roiling waters, releasing the tense muscles, completely relaxing and letting the river carry me? So I did. I let go and took a mental jump.

Nothing dramatic happened. No noticeable pain relief.  No warm tingly feelings. But I do think something shifted in a deep place “in my bones,” as they say. In that space where body and spirit meet, I took a step forward, out of the fear and closer to trust.

If you think this is all a bit whacky, I don’t blame you. I felt the same way reading parts of Flora Slosson Wuellner’s book, Prayer and Our Bodies. “In a restful posture, breathe gently and slowly,” she writes. “Picture God’s love rising like a healing spring of water, a river of light from the very center of the earth. Picture it flowing slowly into your feet and legs, and then, with each slow, gentle breath, rising higher into the body: up through the abdomen, the back, the fingers, the arms, the chest, the shoulders, the neck, into your facial muscles (especially the eyes and jaw), into the whole head area, then flowing from the head like a fountain down around the outside of the body. Your whole body is filled and covered with a warm, healing river of light.”[1]

Okay… Is this just wishful thinking? What does it actually do? I’m not sure. But I know that it is very natural, and indeed very human, to “think with our bodies.” There is something about visualizing an internal or metaphysical state using body imagery that makes it more real, allows it to sink down through all the layers of our being. Think about when preachers call you to “lay down your sins down at the feet of Jesus.” Don’t you picture yourself going to the cross, kneeling, and letting a heavy burden roll off your back? This kind of embodied imagination is not just the turf of poets and dreamers. Urban designers and landscape architects are also catching onto the way that we tend to think in embodied metaphors. Click here to read the New York Times article on this topic.

When I think about what body imagery does, an old memory from when I took piano lessons comes to mind. My teacher urged me to practice in my mind even if I wasn’t in a situation where I could move my fingers. He said that my brain synapses were still firing, even if I stopped the signal before it could carry through into actual movement. This promoted muscle memory and helped ingrain the song into my body. As the ever-diligent student, I dutifully carried out his orders, barreling along with fingers gripped onto my bike handles, tapping out Beethoven’s Moonlight Sonata on  my mental keyboard.

So maybe our synapses are firing when we picture ourselves bowing before Christ at the cross. Maybe, even if we think it’s only happening in our minds, something is happening in our bodies. Whatever is going on neurologically, we can be sure that mind, body, and spirit aren’t as disconnected as we think.

[1] Flora Slosson Wuellner, Prayer and Our Bodies (The Upper Room: Nashville, TN, p. 47-48).

Why Am I Not Yet Healed?

This question has often plagued me in the two plus years that I have struggled with chronic ankle pain. I hear stories of miraculous healings from people I know and trust, read about them in the Gospels, and hear time and again messages about the connection between faith and healing.

Just to be up front – I am not going to answer my own question in this post. If I knew the answer, I would also be on the cusp of solving the problem of evil – a problem which centuries of deep probing has left just as tangled as it began. I am simply going to offer a few thoughts based on my own experiences.

Firstly, I have come understand that I am asking the wrong question. When I draw near to God for the sole purpose of getting healed of an ailment, I miss out on the truest and best gift He offers – Himself. I am, as C.S. Lewis so poignantly described, seeking solace in mud pies when there are fireworks going off over my head.

During a period when I kept bringing this painful question about my healing to God, a line from the Gospel of Matthew began glowing with new significance for me, “Seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well” (6:33). I don’t know when or how God will finally take away this pain. I trust He will sometime, even if not in this world, but, as for me, I am called to seek God’s face and His kingdom above all else.

Second, God, like Aslan, is not a tame lion. I can’t predict that since my friend over here was healed after three years of persistent prayer, the same thing will happen to me. I love the way that Jesus never repeats his methods of healing people in the Gospels. One minute, he is making a spit and dirt salve for a blind man. The next minute, he is healing the centurion’s servant from afar. The next minute, who knows what?

God’s ways are a mystery to me, and totally, exhilaratingly unpredictable. But I can trust that He knows my story, that He is writing my story with me, and that He will meet me in the midst of my story in a way that is deeply personal and completely Himself.

Finally, I believe that good things come out of the tension between brokenness and wholeness, between longing for and receiving healing, between the already and the not yet. One of my mentors would gently remind me that, in the midst of being tried by fire and stretched to my limit, God was forging in my heart the precious gems that could only be formed under intense pressure.

Parker Palmer expressed the same truth another way. He writes that we shy away from holding together tension and paradox because of an underlying fear that our hearts may break from holding the tension any longer. We see the reality of our broken bodies, lives, and societies, and we see the hope of healing, wholeness, redemption. But we tremble at the thought of standing in the tragic gap between the two. It is easier to respond with fight (making your ideals come true by force) or flight (escaping to a fantasy world where the reality can’t disturb you).

Sometimes it just seems to hurt too much to hold together both the hope of healing and the present pain. It makes our hearts break. But this does not have to be a bad thing. Palmer writes, “As I stand in the tragic gap between reality and possibility, this small, tight fist of a thing called my heart can break open into a greater capacity to hold more of my own and the world’s suffering and joy, despair and hope.”[1]

I love this. I have often felt in the midst of the emotional pain that comes from questioning the meaning of my physical pain that I was falling into the gaps of life. I walked such a thin line between hope and despair, trust and disgust, patience and desperation. Honestly, I don’t like being there. I would feel much more comfortable with some solid answers about why this is happening to me. But I don’t have any. I just have the gap. As I grope forward, I take a small, brave step in believing that God is with me in the gap, and that He is enlarging my soul to live in more spacious places.

[1] Parker Palmer, A Hidden Wholeness: The Journey Toward an Undivided Life (2004, Jossey-Bass, p. 178).

Share Your Embodiment Story

What does living an embodied life mean to you? What are the threads that weave together your understanding of yourself, your body, and your spiritual journey? How does the tension of being a body and having a body manifest in your life?  I know everyone has a powerful story to share, and I also believe that when we each summon up the courage to speak the truth of our personal experience, our communal grasp of the truth is enriched.

That is why I’d like to open up the Body and Being blog to guest posts. If you have a story to tell, let me know! Even if you are not comfortable or able at the moment to write down your own story or with sharing your name on the Internet, we can work out a way to make your story heard. Perhaps you could tell me your story in person or over the phone and I could write it into a larger post or as a stand-alone post, sharing only the details you are comfortable with sharing. But I also welcome those who would like to contribute posts written in their own words.

As you consider your own embodiment story, ponder the words shared by a woman in one of Parker Palmer’s circles of trust: “We believe that we will find shared truth by going up into big ideas. But it is only when we go down, drawing deep from the well of personal experience, that we tap into the living water that supplies all our lives.”[1]

Contact me at or at my personal email address if you’d like to share your story.

[1] Parker Palmer, A Hidden Wholeness: The Journey Toward an Undivided Life (2004, San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, p. 123-124).