Being One Flesh

Wedding hands

What exactly does it mean to be one flesh? Okay, besides the obvious. I mean, when one is married, how exactly is it that your flesh is that of another person, and vice versa? I understand that you belong to each other, that your bodies belong to each other. And certainly, a couple consummates their marriage by sharing a bodily intimacy that beautifully manifests the literal reality of their unity. This love often brings forth a new human being, a symbol of and blessing on a couple’s union of body and life.

Yet, it’s not as if my husband lives in my skin, or that his brain waves can trigger responses in my own body (well, maybe through pheromones, but that’s another story). And it’s not like I can literally feel the headache pulsing in his temples or the chewed up carne asada tacos traveling down his esophagus. The limits of my bodily sensation are my own skin. Beyond that is another person, another body. A territory that as much as I claim in word and spirit, is still somewhat beyond my reach. Or is it?

As a result of my chronic ankle pain, Matt and I have gotten another view into what it might mean to be one flesh. When the pain was most grueling, I could barely move around the house, much less carry any kind of load or walk significant distances. While I lay helpless on the couch, Matt carried the laundry and groceries in, washed dishes, and picked up around the house. We joked that he was an extension of me, another set of arms and legs and back for me to use when my own were not functional. In an unexpected way, though pain, his body became my own.

A dear college professor once shared with us his interpretation of marriage. Marriage, Em said, compels you to draw the lines of your identity outside the bounds of your own skin, so that it encompasses another person. When something good happens to your spouse, it’s happening to you too.  And when one of you suffers, the other takes that suffering upon him or herself, even into his or her own body.

The lessons we learn through being one flesh in marriage don’t end there. Human marriage points to the greater mystery of Christ’s union with his bride, the church. As members of the church, I think it is God’s intention for each one of us not to draw the lines of our selfhood just around ourselves and our spouses, if we have one, but around the entire body of Christ. “If one member suffers, all suffer together with it; if one member is honored, all rejoice together with it” (1 Corinthians 12:26). Human marriage is just a beginner’s lesson in preparation for the infinitely more glorious and endless communion we will partake in at the marriage banquet of the Lamb.


A Church that Welcomes Sexuality

Go to film website.I recently watched a documentary about a church right in my neighborhood whose members are mostly gay, lesbian, bisexual, or transgender. The film introduces the members to us first as humans – fragile, tragic, comic, lovable – and part of the body of Christ before telling us the back story about their sexual identities.

We meet Lori, a vivacious woman who faithfully comes to church spaghetti dinners and fall work days, and later we find out she is transgender, meaning she was a man in the past. We meet Dan, a blind pianist and worship leader who loves Mexican food, and we later meet his partner, Sean.

I am still wrestling with what I think about homosexuality and other non-traditional sexualities in the church. What I can agree on is how this church (and the film) handled the fact that we are all sexual creatures with a range of orientations. The fact that church members were LGBT came second to the fact that they are part of the church and called to love one another and be salt and light in the world. At the same time, sexuality was not relegated to a corner and ignored. It was recognized as a crucial aspect of everyday life and something to be talked about and wrestled with.

We are all sexual creatures. But that is not all that we are. At the core, we are first and foremost God’s beloved handiwork. I think this approach is a healthy and holy way to live as embodied creatures of God and as the church, Christ’s body in the world.

The film is called “New Spirits and is produced by Heave-Ho Productions. 

Fellowship Without Words

What does your idea of church fellowship look like? Gathering around a living room for a Bible study? Munching on cookies and sipping coffee after the service? I was privileged at one of my former churches, Bridgeway Community Church, to facilitate a different kind of church fellowship – a fellowship without words.

I had the idea after being inspired by a couple workshops on my college campus – one sponsored by the dance group and the other held by a communications class of women exploring issues of embodiment. What if I could help people in my church to communicate with their bodies – not just with their minds and with words? How would that change the nature of our communion with each other?

This was not intentional, but the timing of our church’s “body workshop” coincided with what would turn out to be the last few weeks of our official fellowship with each other – we had been through a season of painful church issues and now the leadership had discerned that the wisest and most gracious response was to release the congregation from their commitment and dissolve the church.

In the midst of this jarring news, a group of us gathered in the gym of the community center (where our church met) to process, express our pain, and be with each other. As a preface, let me first explain that I had already led some dance workshops for some of us in the past few months, so we had already had a chance to get comfortable within this space of exploration and bodily awareness. I’m not sure we would have had the same level of openness if we hadn’t already been sharing these spaces with each other previously.

In the workshop, we moved through a series of activities designed to facilitate bodily connection and empathy. In one, I asked the group to sit together in pairs, and then, with eyes closed and without words, to take the other person’s hands and take turns showing how they felt using their hands. Obviously, if you can’t see the other person’s hands, you just have to feel them and touch them. This initiates a different level of interaction, one where you are listening with your body, with the cells in your body, with your skin, not just with your eyes and your ears.

In another activity, we gathered in small groups and mimed. Responding to the non-verbal cues of others, we shrugged our shoulders, furrowed our brows, threw up our hands, and created a generous space for receiving each others’ bodies and bodily reactions. I liked this exercise especially because I realized how sensitive we are to another’s facial expressions. When I frowned, other people followed, and when others broke out into a grin, I couldn’t help but do the same. So much is communicated and received through these minute changes in our facial muscles.

Another memorable activity was body sculpting. No, not lifting weights and toning our gluts. What we did was have a couple people be the sculptors and another person be the sculpted. The sculpted person stood limp while the others moved their limbs, head, fingers and torso, and, in essence, sculpted them into a new position. If I remember correctly, I asked the sculptors to express their response to our church break-up through their sculpture. The results of this activity are similar to what my friend Pam, a massage therapist and counselor, describes when she talks about bodywork – “One powerful opportunity that bodywork affords is the opportunity to experience myself in ways that are different than my own self-generated limitations – and physical often translates into emotional and spiritual realms.” To read Pam’s full blog post on this, click here.

In other words, in allowing ourselves to be “sculpted,” we opened ourselves to be moved, not only physically, but emotionally and spiritually. We allowed our bodies to receive the input of other people and allowed that input to add to our own experience of reality.

Our church body workshop was a powerful time and space of fellowship. The weight and potential of what we were doing struck me in a comment from one of the woman participants, who remarked afterward, “What if we had created spaces like this for expressing our frustration and working through our church issues from the beginning? Maybe we wouldn’t have reached the point of needing to break up the church.”

What if? What if the body of Christ learned to communicate not just with proclamations and doctrinal statements? What if we allowed ourselves to be physically vulnerable, allowed ourselves to be moved? How would that change our fellowship, our service, our witness to the world?

Poor Bodies, Rich Bodies

When riding the green line train through Chicago to grad school last year, I would notice that as we left the downtown “Loop” business area and rattled deeper into the poverty-stricken South Side, people started looking different. Most obviously, the number of White people decreased and the number of Black people increased. By the time I reached my stop in the heart of the South Side, there were almost no non-Black people to be seen.  I also began to notice something less obvious, however, about people on the South Side – there were way more people on crutches, in wheelchairs, and missing limbs here than in the wealthier parts of the city.

This observation is, of course, only supported by my own “quick and dirty” street research.  Some other facts, however, contribute to its validity. The South Side is known for street violence. It makes sense that the bodies of the people living here would reflect this painful legacy. Also, poor people are not able to afford the same quality or amount of healthcare as wealthier people. Sadly, this lack of access to treatment results in debilitating conditions which could have been prevented. Furthermore, poor people often do not have the resources or education to make healthy eating choices. It is well known that there is more obesity among poor people, a condition which leads to a range of other health problems, such as diabetes and heart disease.

I found myself strangely drawn to these people on the South Side with their broken, beat-up bodies. One day, as the bus I was riding lowered to meet the curb and a wheelchair rolled on, I raised my eyes to meet the gaze of a very large boy in a wheelchair. He looked around 10 years old, but his weight was probably twice that of a grown man. Part of me wanted to look away in disgust, but the other part of me held his gaze, driven by a deeper impulse. The look on his face was heartbreaking. There was a hint of childish innocence and curiosity, but also a wistful listlessness and despondency.

The bodies of this boy and of others I encountered on the South Side profoundly unsettled me. But as I resisted the urge to turn away and ignore them, I was able to see in them something more than just the grimy and grotesque. These are the sick people for whom Jesus came to rescue! If Jesus were walking again on this earth, I am sure he would wind up in Chicago’s South Side at some point, putting his hand gently on the boy in the wheelchair’s drooping head, making up a dirt-spit plaster for the woman with the white burn scar streaking across her brown face.

Me? I recognize a bit of the Pharisee in me – the part that wants to escape to the shady streets of my quiet suburban neighborhood, where joggers with sleek, toned muscles and expensive running clothes breeze past, and where I don’t have to think about poverty and broken bodies. Yet, I am grateful for my exposure to the poor bodies on the South Side. In some ways, their scars, disfigurement, and pain seem more raw, more honest, and more ready for a Savior than the put-together, self-sufficient bodies of the wealthy. This doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t take care of our bodies and seek healthcare when we need it, or that we shouldn’t work with the poor to increase their access to healthcare and their chance to lead healthy lives.  I just wonder what we as the Church could gain from simply being with the poor and being in contact with their physical brokenness, and what we lose by ignoring them.