By Lydia Wylie-Kellermann
Day House, Detroit Catholic Worker, January 14, 2018
Psalm 40:2, 7-10
1 Samuel 3: 3-10, 19
1 Corinthians 6: 13-15, 17-20
I am not a body person. I feel my identity rests in my head and my heart and far too often, I think of my body only as a tool. A means to an end. It helps me get me where I want to go, but it is not….me.
Lately, I’ve been sitting with health fears for loved ones as tests are done to see if there are things growing in their bodies. And I realized the fear that swells up in me. I don’t understand the body. How could something be killing someone I love from the inside without us knowing?
I grew up along Michigan Avenue where, even as a child, cars pulled over or hollered or followed. I learned what it was like to be a woman in this country and to be seen only as a body. And there is outrage in that rises up, for I want to be seen for the workings of my mind and not the shape of my body.
So, when I read Corinthians I know that my spirituality is challenged into unfamiliar territory.
“Honor God with your bodies.”
“The body is for the Lord, and the Lord is for the body.”
“Your bodies are temples of the holy spirit.”
Spirit dwells in my body. God lives in me. I am my body.
I know there are people who read this text and it makes sense. Like Erinn who is 700 something days into running at least a mile every single day and understands it as an act of prayer. An act of sanity. An act of survival.
I thought about bodies a lot this Advent season as we read the story of the angel coming to Mary and telling her she was to carry Jesus. This year, for the first time, my immediate reaction was not awe and gratitude and the sense of how badass Mary is, but instead outrage on behalf of Mary. I wondered how often this story has been used throughout history and in political debate to justify the idea of “using women’s bodies.” Another moment where she doesn’t have the choice or the authority or the power, but is told, used, and put through pain for someone else’s plan.
But if God is in body. If we are our bodies, then the story shifts. The body isn’t used, but Mary is her body and God gets tangled up within her and together they create God even further embodied in this world.
I remember learning to trust my body during labor with Isaac. I realized that my mind and heart couldn’t do this work- it was my body. I needed to get my mind out of the way. I began to realize how much history was held in my bones and how much wisdom my body held. It could do the ancient work that was beyond my comprehension or control. I just had to let myself dwell in my body and listen for God working through pain and blood and smell and muscle.
How much wisdom does my body hold that I don’t give time or care to hear? What memory is held in my bones? What ways can I know God that I can only feel with my toes and my hair?
Cedar’s birth was two years ago yesterday. And it was like night and day from Isaac’s. I came into it trusting my body to the work only to come face to face with doctors and nurses who did not trust my body or want to hear from it. It was clear that my job was to lie down, shut up, and let them extract this child from within me. It felt like a real vision into the ways that we have lost the understanding that spirit dwells in our bodies, that we are our bodies, that creation and power dwells in us. It was heartbreaking.
So, for me, this reading is a call to enter this Temple. To get to know the piece of myself that I’ve ignored. To encounter the spirit there. To feel my body in stillness and in movement. To listen for the wisdom that dwells there. To feel the movement of blood that is the same blood that ran in my ancestors’ bodies. To delight in the water that fills my being that came from the Detroit River and the snow and from ages ago.
And I think the more I can do this, the more life shifts, the more my perception of life and God shift.
I am my body.
Suddenly, I see the ways that I am a place of creation.
Suddenly, God becoming embodied into a being that was birthed, that ate and drank and walked, and who was killed means something deeper.
Suddenly, the fact that Jesus didn’t just resurrect in mind and spirit, but body means something more.
Spirit dwells in our body.
It forces a shift away from bodies as scary or dirty or as shameful, and instead everything we do in our bodies becomes an act of encountering God.
What we put into our bodies becomes sacramental.
The ways we move our bodies becomes worship.
Suddenly, growing food in a little garden, cooking for community, dancing til your muscles can dance no more, washing one another’s feet, making love, anointing the sick, resting our bodies, engaging this life with all our senses, caring for bodies as they grow old, burying the dead- all become acts of wholeness and of faith.
Eucharist shifts. Body enters body. Spirit in flesh and blood- in our own and in Jesus’. We are fed. We are nourished.
So, I hold that intention for myself and for all of us today, that we feel alive in our bodies. That we can embrace the mud and slime that the Psalm names with all of our senses feeling the cracks and coolness of the rock beneath our feet. And that when we wake from sleep hearing God calling our name, that we can rise as our full, physical selves and say “Here, I am Lord.” That each day we honor this life and we honor God with our bodies.