Monday, February 27, 2012

A Temple? (Some Thoughts on the Body)

                        Source: via Lisa on Pinterest

I have for quite some time now been staring at a tab with the above image displayed on it in my web browser.  The tab has been open for days, weeks even, as I ponder the words in the image, and ponder the way they relate to how my heart is being shaped in this season.  It has been open, and I've stared at it as I pondered how on earth to broach this topic in this space, and if I even would.  This topic feels like a risk.

It seems funny to say that talking about my relationship with my body and food seems like a risk.  In this space I've spoken openly about my journey with mental illness, spirituality and other very personal things.  Things that are in some ways nearer and dearer to my heart, more personal in many ways than the topic of my body and food.  But talking about this feels risky.

And yet, I don't believe it's an option to NOT talk about it.  This is something new, something that is being outworked in my life, something Jesus is drawing my attention to.  For a couple of months now, I've been quietly paying attention to it, noticing it, dialoging about it in select trusted circles.  And now, quietly, though I by no means have it all sorted out, I'm going to start talking about it here in this space where I share the ways my life is being shaped, moulded, and changed.  I imagine it will take more posts than just this one and that this, like mental illness and spirituality and all those other personal things I share in this space, is a journey that will be an ongoing topic of discussion.  But, for a little while, I'll probably talk about it regularly as I explore in writing these things that are surfacing within me and demanding my attention.

"The food you eat can either be the safest and most powerful form or medicine or the slowest form of poison." (Ann Wigmore)

This quote hit a raw and poignant place when I read it for the first time a month or so ago.  I was about a month into a new habit of paying very close attention to what I eat and noticing how it affects my body.

This whole thing started sometime in mid-November, when I tried on a dress I hadn't worn in a while - a  dress I was planning to wear to an engagement party being held for my brother and his fiancee.  It didn't fit.  It should have fit.  I was convinced that it had been shrunken accidentally in the laundry by the last person who wore it - a friend I'd loaned it to - one who usually wore slightly larger clothing than me.  I was frustrated that my dress didn't fit, but didn't connect it to my body.  Over the next month, a few other encounters with clothes from my closet that fit differently than I expected them to led me to dragging out the bathroom scale sometime around the beginning of the new year.

Twenty-five pounds.

Twenty-five pounds.  I'd never in my life worried about weight or what I ate, but it seemed that the combination of a medication I began taking about eight months earlier to treat anxiety and depression, and the appetite that I had for the first time in a decade as a result of the medication had taken their toll.  I'd gained twenty-five pounds.

The number registering on the scale ushered in a new season of life in my body.  Suddenly, this thing that I never acknowledged unless it somehow failed me, was demanding my attention.  It was calling for me to notice it, to notice my habits surrounding it, to be open to them, and to letting Jesus share with me how he sees me in a new way.  I've explored how Jesus sees me quite a lot the last few years, and fallen in love with him more deeply along the way, but I don't think we've ever talked about my body.  Why would we?  My body was utilitarian, and I preferred to ignore it, rather than acknowledge it.  I was afraid of it too - afraid of it failing me, afraid of acknowledging that I couldn't control it at times, afraid of acknowledging that I failed it.

Around the same time as the numbers registered on the scale began to signal that there was something I needed to pay attention to, my friend Christianne began to write about her own journey with her body.  I found in Christianne's words the comfort that comes from realizing that a journey that seemed strange and odd to me was perhaps not quite so strange and odd, and was not one that is being walked alone, but one that was and is walked out continually by people all over the face of the planet.

And so with the awareness of the scale and the comfort of knowing that this was not a journey that I was the first or only one to walk, I began to walk.  I made plans silently as the new year began, starting with setting the goal of losing those twenty-five pounds over the next six months to a year.  I explored ways and means to help me achieve that goal, and I began to listen to my body more closely.  I began to prayerfully put this new awareness in front of Jesus, and wait to see where he would guide.  I became aware of the others who were talking about caring for their body, consuming food in a mindful way, discussing the fact that our bodies are holy.

I've never had to think about weight or the food I consumed - my physical response to my emotional and mental state took care of that.  I would gain a little weight when times were good and I felt stable, but I never worried about those pounds, because the one thing I knew about my body was that it consistently failed me.  That times would get bad again thanks to the battles I fought with depression and anxiety, and those pounds would melt away along with my appetite, and sometimes my ability to keep food down.

I'm going to talk more about my relationship with food in the future, but I want to highlight this - the only thing that I trusted about my body was that it would fail me.  I had learned that this was it's one consistent behavior.  My brain chemistry would get wonky, the hard times would come, and my appetite would disappear.  I didn't notice or acknowledge my body except to berate it.  To be frustrated with it. To wonder why it continually let me down.

In Christianne's first post in her series on the body, she shared a question she asked Jesus, "Help me to learn how you view my body, and help me learn how you want me to care for it."

She posted that question about a week after I'd really begun in earnest to notice my body, to try to treat it differently, and in that question I found words for the things rolling around in my head and heart.  As I began to ask Jesus how he saw my body, and what he wanted me to know about it, the first thing that sprang to mind was a passage of scripture that talks about our bodies as temples of the Holy Spirit.

My love of all things liturgical caused that phrase to conjure up an incredible set of memories and images.  Images of beauty, of holiness.  Memories of the first Catholic mass I attended at St. Mary's Cathedral here in Calgary, and of the churches I sat and prayed in in Rome and Malta.  Thoughts of the four and a half years I spent studying to obtain a degree in church history, and the feeling of setting foot in some of those places several years later when I travelled to Europe for the first time.  Memories of being a small child, and having my first "job" helping my grandparents who worked as church custodians - cleaning bathrooms, watering plants, cleaning glass, and carefully dusting the pews each week.  Mental images from childhood of watching pilgrims prayerfully ascend the steps to St. Joseph's Oratory in Montreal, and more recent ones of the moment I stood before a priest in St. Peter's Basillica in Rome, to receive the ashes in the last mass of the day on Ash Wednesday, of the feeling of the ashes on my head as I stood in the center of that magnificent church.

I thought about temples as I read through Leviticus in my daily scripture readings, encountering the strict commands that God gave to his people about the construction of this place of worship - about the beauty and awe it should generate.  I thought about temples as I considered the churches, cathedrals, and sacred spaces that I've visited all over North America and during my time in Europe.  I thought about how these are the places that have been made sacred, set apart for God to dwell in, to meet with his people in.  And I thought about the maintenance devoted to these spaces - how their sacred nature demands care.  And then I returned again to the passage of Scripture that seemed to be Jesus' immediate answer to my question.

Eugene Peterson translates the passage like this:

Or didn't you realize that your body is a sacred place, the place of the Holy Spirit? Don't you see that you can't live however you please, squandering what God paid such a high price for? The physical part of you is not some piece of property belonging to the spiritual part of you. God owns the whole works. So let people see God in and through your body.  (1 Corinthians 6:19-20 The Message)

As I explored the context of these verses and the passages that surround them, I came across others in the same chapter:

You know the old saying, "First you eat to live, and then you live to eat"? Well, it may be true that the body is only a temporary thing, but that's no excuse for stuffing your body with food, or indulging it with sex. Since the Master honors you with a body, honor him with your body!

God honored the Master's body by raising it from the grave. He'll treat yours with the same resurrection power. Until that time, remember that your bodies are created with the same dignity as the Master's body. You wouldn't take the Master's body off to a whorehouse, would you? I should hope not. (1 Corinthians 6:13-15 The Message)

Three things became strikingly clear to me, and are the things that I continue to ponder daily.

First, my body is a temple.  It is a sacred space, set aside for God to reside in, and for Him to meet with me.  The implications of that stun me.  I've heard the passage in context of arguments for not smoking, not consuming excessive amounts of alcohol, and even the need for regular exercise.  All of these were arguments that meant little to me.  But hearing Jesus remind me that I am his temple?  That was a different story, and I find myself pondering the implications of being a temple, given my associations of temples with sacred space, holiness and deep beauty.  I find myself pondering the fact that a temple is designed to display the glory of God, and maintained to continue that display for ages to come.  It leaves me with questions about my own display of God's glory.  Questions about the teaching I grew up with that it is the inner beauty that displays the glory of God, and the inner beauty only.  Questions about how it is that I care for this temple - how I maintain it so that it continues to display God's glory.

Second, this phrase in Peterson's rendering of these verses jumped out at me: "Since the Master honors you with a body, honor him with your body!"  My body is an honor given to me by Christ.  That's a thought that is going to require some further meditation and conversation with Jesus.

And finally, my body is created with the same dignity as Christ's body.  Hello!  Did you catch that in the passages I quoted?  It stopped me in my tracks.  Peterson's version reads, "...remember that your bodies are created with the same dignity as the Master's body. You wouldn't take the Master's body off to a whorehouse, would you? I should hope not."  It's a rather striking image, this age old question of "Would I take Jesus there or subject Him to that, and if not, why am I taking myself there, or subjecting myself to it?"  I have a thousand arguments to answer those questions and justify various things in my life or the life of others around me, but it boils down to this: when this is a personal question, when I am talking with Jesus and he is asking me if I am treating my own body and how I see it in the way I would treat and see his body, I need to stop and think a bit.

And so I'm pondering, and asking questions, and listening, and implementing new habits and practices.  And I'm going to talk about those things here.  I set out to write one post about the changing way in which I am relating to my body, and my history with my body, and as I wrote I discovered that I have stories to tell.   For the next while I will share these stories and ponderings and questions in this space, and I'd like to invite you to journey with me as I talk about food, about my body, about being a temple, about weight and eating, about health and self-image, and coming into myself more fully.  You're welcome to come along, and I'd definitely love to hear your thoughts and interact with you about this.  Feel free to leave a comment, or to email me at the address in my profile.


christianne said...

So, so beautiful, Lisa. I've got tears in my eyes while reading this.

It was meaningful to me to read your thoughts on our bodies as the temple of God. Hearing your background about your love "for all things liturgical" and different experiences you've had with cathedrals and other sacred spaces ... it really put it into perspective for me. Thank you for that.

I also really appreciated reading Eugene Peterson's rendering of those 1 Corinthians passages. I'm reading 1 Corinthians right now, actually, and my next section is chapter 6. Good timing! :)

I'm so glad to be here while you're stepping into this part of your journey and choosing to share it with us. I look forward to learning from you as you go.


terri said...

I love it when our lives and concerns intersect so closely even across great distances. I wonder what number of miles are covered from you to me to Christianne!

Anyway, this question of the body and seeing it the way God sees it and treating it with the proper care is something I've been wrestling with a good deal of my life. When I read that you gained weight after starting a medication that resonated with me so much because I never struggled with weight (even after having two kids!) until a medication change because of migraines. It's very disorienting and betraying to have to think about something that you've never had to worry about before. I think I've used that as an excuse, but the truth is that I still have choices to make and these choices matter on more than a physical level.

Anyway, I'm anxiously awaiting your thoughts on this topic here. I'm glad you took the risk. Sometimes I think just making the leap between knowing something in your head and sharing it out loud makes all the difference.

Cheryl Sweeney said...

I'm new around these parts, and want to first thank you for sharing this part of your journey in the wide open spaces with such vulnerability. And, to be doing that from the perspective that you are is just so special to me and resonates into the depths of my soul.

I, too, have been on this body journey, over 2 years now, and it's taken me this long to give up on my own ways of getting it done. Up til now I've crafted a plan to get to goal, and then asked Jesus to bless it and help me. Umm, backwards!

I'm excited to find your blog (thank you sweet Christianne) and to follow along and walk with you along the way. Again, just thrilled to find like-minded women for this body work!

Anonymous said...

Having a few friends that struggle (have struggled) with different eating disorders that topic was always very important for me. And its definitely like you said, that a lot of christians don't think about the importance of what they 'give' to their body. I think we should much more talk about that in our churches, fellowship groups... Having a lot of things I'm not allowed to eat (e.g. wheat, milk,...) I have to look very well what my body needs and I'm constantly learning to 'listen' to his needs and fulfill his needs... My doctor once said, that she really thinks we should much more look what we eat and how we treat our bodies especially as christians (she's a christian as well), because of the same reasons you said. And that its sad, that the non-christians often know how to do that better... Crazy, isn't it?!
I'm glad you're talking about that topic and I'm excited what you will write about it.

Lisa said...

Christianne - thanks for the encouragement. Smiling that you are reading 1 Corinthians right now. I'm quite moved and challenged by Peterson's translation of chapters 6 and 7 (which deals with marriage and being single and is a whole other blog post). I'd love to hear your thoughts after you've read chapter 6.

Terri - it is so fascinating how our lives have all begun to intersect across such distances. I know I live about a 22 hour drive or so from where you are, and I think Christianne must be at least another 22 hours or so of driving from you (I made that drive with family once, all I remember of it is that it was long!) I've absolutely used various things as an excuse to ignore the choices I've needed to make. After I wrote this post last night, I sat with the notebook I use for blogging and was surprised by how many thoughts I jotted down for future discussion. And yes, sometimes making the leap really does make all the difference!

Cheryl - Welcome here! So glad to meet someone else who is journeying with the body. I have to be honest and say that my initial thought was not to ask Jesus, but simply to tackle losing the weight. But, as I started out, it quickly hit home through various things that I was reading (including Christianne's posts) that perhaps this was about more than just my weight - perhaps it was a continuation of healing that I needed to invite Jesus to be a part of. It's been an interesting journey thus far, and I'm certainly curious to see where it goes!

Johanna - stay tuned, I'm going to talk about eating disorders, maybe even later this week. I'm not sure I have all the answers, nor will I ever claim to have them, but I do feel like this is a part of my story that I need and want to share right now, even as I am walking out new aspects of it. Thanks for writing :)

Anonymous said...

Proud of you and the steps you continue to take on your journey, friend.

You'd love my new "blank Bible" (not the Wycliffe One Verse one I'm about to post about - though I love the challenge of that) - but rather an interleaved one...I did mine NIV/Message (the new numbered version) parallel one...with the blank pages for journaling!


Lisa said...

LP/CA - Thanks friend! and, you're posting again? I don't know if I have access anymore? Miss ya! Hugs back.
The other LP/CA

Anonymous said...

Oh no, no...(although I am still just for me and hoping to get back in a rhythm and open it up again!) - I posted it on FB about a month ago...Let me try to find it and send it to you! I never posted the picture finished b/c I got it portions (long story) but the whole idea! Will you e-you!