And then I did what any ministerial candidate with a stack of professional reading with her would do. I bought a fashion magazine. I enjoyed the interviews with the cast of Glee and learning about what was “in” this season. (It’s neon, apparently.) But as I flipped through the magazine that old, unwelcome feeling started creeping in. My body is flawed, the magazine was telling me. I should buy some of these products to fix that.
Instead, I decided to put the magazine in one of the recycling bins conveniently located throughout O’Hare and buy myself a Starbucks coffee.
Our culture loves to tell us how flawed our bodies are. The message seems to be that the body is just one more possession we own that should be upgraded and improved upon. But our bodies are so much more than that. They are our homes. We live here. Yours is a body like no other, and it is deserving of reverence. Your body deserves reverence from everyone, but it most especially deserves reverence from you. As Barbara Brown Taylor puts it, your body is “your soul’s address.”
I think we do ourselves a real disservice when we discount our bodies as unworthy of reverence. Maybe we, despite our best efforts, are letting those messages from advertisers through. The ones that tell us we are too . . . what? Fill in the adjective. Fat. Wrinkled. Hairless. Hairy. Weak. Soft. Not soft enough.
Maybe we are fed up with bodies that never seem to work as well as we’d like them to, or perhaps we are weary of the pain of being in a body that barely seems to work at all. Maybe we have a body with a sex that is different from our gender. Perhaps your body or the body of someone you love has been harmed by violence. Perhaps the scars you bear are not visible to the eye but the wounds are there all the same. We have many reasons to be unhappy, resentful, or dismissive of our bodies, but when we are we miss out on many of the things our bodies can teach us about the world and what it means to live in it.
I’m not trying to discount the intellect here. I love information more than most. But we live in a culture where we are bombarded with information almost around the clock. Facts, figures, ideas, and opinions are constantly offered up for our consumption from every media outlet that surrounds us. The Internet, and all the devices we can now use to access it, gives us an unfathomable amount of information at the touch of a few buttons.
In an environment like this it is even easier to discount our bodies and what they might be trying to teach us.
If we feel tired, we are more likely to get some coffee than to sleep. Got a headache? Take some aspirin. Feeling stiff? Take some more. We eat when we are not hungry. We neglect to eat when we are. These are simple things our bodies are telling us. Babies understand this language very well. Yet we often feel so separate from our bodies that even these simple messages—messages like Rest, Heal, Move, Eat—are not getting through as they should.
There is no limit to what our bodies can teach us if we are willing to let it happen instead of constantly thinking: “Not me. Not now. Not yet.”
Above all, our bodies are saying, “Slow down. Pay attention to me. Pay attention to others. Be here. Right now. Feel this. Know this. Experience this. Pay attention.”
Whenever I am feeling overwhelmed, out of my body and nearly out of my head, I have to remind myself to breathe. One of my English professors in college was also a student of Zen Buddhism. He began each class with a short meditation, my favorite of which was:
Close your eyes and take a deep breath in.
And breathe out.
Now as you breathe in, say to yourself, “I have arrived.”
And as you breathe out, “I am home.”
I have arrived.
I am home.
I have arrived.
I am home.
You are home. Your home is wonderful beyond measure. Honor it. Listen to it. Enjoy it.
Adapted from a sermon delivered at a Unitarian Universalist Association staff chapel service on May 17, 2011.