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

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.

Our Bodies Need Other Bodies

Parent-child sleepingIn American society, the prevailing notion is that infants should sleep alone, so they learn to fall asleep on their own and don’t get too “dependent” on their parents. But, Meredith Small points out, in all parts of the world besides North America and Europe, infants sleep with their parents (co-sleeping). In Small’s book, Our Babies, Ourselves: How Biology and Culture Shape the Way We Parent,[1] she draws on biological evidence to show that infant bodies need adult bodies. Indeed, infant biology illuminates a deeper theological fact – we all need other bodies in order to be at home in our own bodies, and in order to be fully human.

An extraordinary thing happens when mothers and babies sleep together, researchers found. Babies take on the mother’s breathing rhythm and move through light and deep sleep levels together. In the lab, when a mother’s brain wave pattern shifts, the baby’s does too. When she moves into a lighter sleep stage, the baby follows. This process, Small writes, is called entrainment. Newborns “are born with neurologically unfinished brains, and they don’t develop the ability to easily navigate types of breathing until they are at least three to four months old.”[2] In other words, newborns learn how to sleep by co-sleeping with their parents. A baby who sleeps alone can gradually manage to navigate the sleep phases on its own, but the process is much easier when an infant can “benefit from the external metronome of parental breathing.”

Infant sleeping isn’t the only aspect of embodied life that involves entrainment. We learn to make facial expressions by watching our conversation partners when their emotions change. We learn to dance by catching the physical energy of others in the room and mimicking the movements of our parents and older siblings. We learn how to be physically close by responding to others’ touch with matching pressure and feeling. My friend Pam, a psychologist and massage therapist, talks about transmission or resonance, where the therapist picks up the emotional energy of the client through bodily contact, or vice versa.

In these and so many other ways, we need other bodies around us in order to learn how to be at home in own bodies. As I heard in a recent sermon, our bodies were made for bonding, for connecting us to other people, particularly to Christ and his body the church. Without the positive presence of other bodies, we get a bit lost, and don’t quite know how to relate in our own bodies. You can see this most starkly in children who either were neglected or physically abused – they move about awkwardly and timidly, hunch their shoulders, and keep their heads low, as if afraid to let it be known that they are bodily present in the room.  On the other hand, when children are touched and held often in ways that respect their personhood, they thrive. I’ve heard from a family that co-slept with the last couple of their children that these kids seem much more confident in their bodies than their children who slept alone.

What does this mean for the body of Christ? How can we learn to be more at home in our bodies together, and pass this on to our children? For one, I wish that congregations would make it okay and good to express ourselves with our bodies in worship. Let’s start incorporating dance into our services and making space in the sanctuary where people can move about freely. Also, let’s not be afraid to touch each other. If the grandpa in the wheelchair looks like he needs a hug, give it! He doesn’t bite!  Sometimes our strict regard for personal space keeps us from that human connection that can only happen through physical touch. Finally, let’s create spaces where we can process through difficult issues and pray together not just with our minds, but also with our bodies. The workshops I led for my old church are a good starting point.

Our bodies need other bodies – not only for the hugs and warm fuzzies. Christ came in a body and rose from the dead in a body to show us that our bodies matter dearly to this whole enterprise of seeking God’s kingdom and restoring a broken humanity. If we cannot learn to be fully present in our bodies, we cannot be fully human.

[1] 1998, Anchor Books.

[2] P. 130

Creativity and the Let Down Reflex

If you haven’t been able to tell already, I like to think in metaphor. My pregnant body is a gold-mine of metaphors these days. Here’s the latest.

While I haven’t experienced it myself yet, I’ve been doing a bit of reading on breast feeding. I came across this phenomenon called the “let down reflex,” which is basically what happens when a nursing woman’s body senses her baby is hungry and ready to eat. In an amazing loop of intuitive, embodied communication, a woman’s breasts “let down” milk as the baby is sucking.

The interesting thing is, while this action is reflexive and natural, it can also be inhibited if a woman has anxieties about breast feeding.

Breastfeeding2If a woman is so worried that she cannot produce milk or enough of it for her child, it can become a self-fulfilling prophecy. Her baby may suck, but the milk doesn’t come. Another interesting aspect of breast-milk production is that it is not continuous. Milk is made as the baby is eating. There may be some leftover from a previous feeding, but mostly it is made at the same time it is being consumed. Demand dictates supply.

As I think about trusting my body and trusting that I have the inner resources to bear, deliver, and nourish a child, it strikes me that the let down reflex is an apt illustration of all creative processes.

When we create, we are in a sense “giving birth” to something within us, something that we hope and trust will nourish and give life to the world. We were made to create, because we were made in the image of a creative, life-giving God. Yet, our creative flow can be inhibited by fear – fear that we are not capable, fear that we don’t have what it takes, fear that if we use up this round of creative juices there will be nothing left.

But, like the let down reflex, it’s is only when we are giving of ourselves and releasing our gifts into the world that we have more to give. If we try to “store up” our creativity, it gets blocked, and we run dry. Our fear and anxieties short-circuit something that is part of our very nature. As a writer, sometimes I get writers’ block just thinking about the enormous amount of commitment and grit it takes to write a book. A musician may stop composing after releasing a ground-breaking album, for fear that what comes after will never be as good again.

Also, like the let down reflex, creativity does not reside in the mind. A new mother can’t just will her breasts to give milk, just as an artist can’t just will herself to paint a masterpiece. Creativity (and mothering) resides somewhere in between trusting and being, in a place of embodied understanding that this is who you are and what you are meant for. Both require a simple trust that what you have to give (even if you don’t quite know what it is) will come, when the time is ripe.

Elizabeth Gilbert, author of Eat, Pray, Love gave an excellent TED talk on relating to your creative genius. Listen here

iPhones as Liturgy

iPhoneiPhones and other forms of technology function as alternative liturgy, James K.A. Smith suggests.[1] They are “covert incubators of the imagination, because they play the strings of our aesthetic hearts.” But instead of stretching our imaginations to encompass an irresistible view of God’s kingdom, the habituated bodily practices of such technologies “implicitly treat the world as available to me and at my disposal, to be selected, scaled, scanned, tapped, and enjoyed,” Smith writes.

Smith’s claims raise important questions for us. If we, like Smith, believe that “the way to the heart is through the body,” then it matters for our spiritual well-being what rituals we are practicing with our bodies. What does it do to our spiritual imaginations to be regularly hunched over gadgets that presume to place to world at our fingertips? Does walking around with earphones blocking most outside sounds in any way affect our ability to listen for God’s voice in the world? How does something like masturbation, which presumes that we can somehow meet our own physical desires, condition our hearts to respond to other unmet longings?

I’m not sure how to answer these questions. I think it’s crucial to ask them, though, because the habituated postures of our bodies affect the postures of our souls. This goes for all kinds of body habits, including how we handle technology, how we eat, and how we live out our sexuality.

I don’t think we will be able to escape using technology, but at least we can be aware of the psycho-spiritual effects that our iPads, laptops, and Kindles have on us when we cuddle with them in bed and when we touch their screens so intuitively. We can also intentionally immerse ourselves in liturgies that do call us out of ourselves and into God’s kingdom.

One of the most powerful liturgies in which I regularly participate is a monthly Taizè gathering. After a few meditative songs, children are invited to go forward and light their candles, which they then use to pass on light to the rest of us. I love how this simple act of receiving light from the tender hand of a child sends a message to our souls about what it looks like to enter the Kingdom of God.

During the Alleluia chorus, we raise our candles high, proclaiming with our arms and eyes and hearts and voices the truth that God’s light overcomes all our darkness. Later, we kneel and plant our individual candles at the foot of the cross up front in an embodied act of surrender. During the Lord’s Prayer at the end of the service, we join hands with our neighbors and form long rows of the people of God connected in body and spirit.

Our lives are filled with liturgies, whether the intentional liturgies of worship services or the unintentional liturgies of technology. How are these liturgies training our bodies? How are they shaping our souls?

For a powerful meditation on the spiritual effects of technology, check out Derek Webb’s latest album, CTRL.

[1]Alternative Liturgy: Social Media as Ritual” (The Christian Century, Vol. 130, No. 6, March 6, 2013, p. 30-33).

A Woman’s Lent

Gymnopedies:Lent et DouloureuxWhat does Lent, the annual Church season of fasting, repentance, almsgiving, and prayer which we enter today, have in common with a woman’s monthly cycle? It seems an incongruous analogy, but as I was pondering a post on menstruation (and I hope that by talking more about it, it becomes less “icky” and more meaningful), the similarities between it and Lent became striking.

As I understand it, Lent is a season of slowing down, of detaching ourselves from the frantic rhythms of high-speed internet and media spin and tuning in our senses to the deeper, all-encompassing pulse of God’s life in the world.  A woman’s period, I think, is also an invitation to slow down and recalibrate our sense of time not to man-made rhythms but to the creaturely cycle of life and death.

As I wrote in my last post, the pain and discomfort our bodies experience in illness can be a wake-up call, reminding us that we don’t have the unlimited resources of God. Likewise, for women, when our insides cramp and bleed each month, and we feel the need to curl up and sleep more, we can welcome this time as the body’s invitation to slow down and remember our vulnerability in light of God’s sufficiency.

In Anita Diamant’s novel The Red Tent, she paints an imaginative picture of how Jacob’s wives embraced their cycles. I’m not sure how this worked or if it’s at all realistic, but in the book, all the women in Jacob’s tribe got their periods at the same time. In the red tent, they leave their everyday duties and come together as women, using the time of their periods to rest, tell stories, and deepen their sisterhood. Okay, so we don’t have instituted “period” time off as contemporary women, and I somehow doubt that Jacob and his sons would have been very happy with all the womenfolk taking a three- to four-day break from cooking and cleaning each month. But I do think there are ways to embrace and celebrate menstruation instead of wishing it were over faster and feeling gross during it, and Diamant’s story points us in the right direction.

I also love how women’s cycles, like Lent, hint at something more important – new life. Month after month, the womb sheds its lining (which to women who are hoping to conceive, can seem like a disappointing “not-life”) and prepares again for the possibility of nurturing another life within. It’s almost sacramental, this bodily ritual that parallels the Church’s annual custom of inhabiting Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection.

Though foreshadowing the resurrection, Lent is a somber season. We ponder our brokenness and the world’s suffering as a way to prepare our hearts to truly receive God’s gift of life through the resurrection. We practice the spiritual discipline of fasting during Lent as a way to embody our repentance. One of my pastors reflected beautifully on the role of fasting in the spiritual life. The voluntary hunger that we go through during a fast, he said, serves to alert us to a deeper spiritual hunger. These pangs become not a distraction from the spiritual, but rather a physical means to enter into larger spiritual realities.  Our bodily sensations bring home in marrow and blood what it means “hunger and thirst for righteousness.”

A college roommate told me once about how she was letting the bodily sensations of her period usher her into deeper spiritual awareness. As she pressed into the pain and discomfort she experienced each month, it became a way to connect with the pain and suffering of others. She made her period a regular time to step back and reflect on life. Her physical cycles led her to a greater emotional and spiritual receptivity and expanded her ability to “suffer with” (the root meaning of com-passion).

Does it seem crude to liken the messy, bloody experience women go through each month with the holy, sacred season of Lent? I don’t think so. The dictionary defines sacrament as “a Christian rite…that is held to be a means of divine grace or to be a sign or symbol of a spiritual reality.” While I would never say that menstruation is a sacrament by any means, it does have sacred qualities. If we are open to it, our cycles can point us to holy rhythms of life and death, remind us of our humble, creaturely origins, and lead us to a new level of compassion with those who suffer. That’s quite a divine grace, if you ask me.

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