“This Difficult Friendship” – Living in Bodies

And the body, what about the body?
Sometimes it is my favorite child, 
And sometimes my body disgusts me.
Filling and emptying, it disgusts me… 
This long struggle to be at home
in the body, this difficult friendship.
-Jane Kenyon (From “Cages”)
 Yesterday, I was in need of some solitude,
some time by myself,
away from the interruptions of home and family.
So I packed a lunch, got in my car,
and waited to see where my car would take me.
Turns out, my car likes the Slough.
 The parking lot was much more crowded than usual,
filled with family and friends of UCSB graduates
who were gathering at the nearby park for 
celebrations of all kinds on this graduation day.
I found a spot between a large motor home,
which served as a gathering spot 
for a group of middle-aged guys I’ve seen here before,
and a car filled with a family of beach-goers. 
I ate my lunch.
I did some reading.
And I got in and out of the car,
taking pictures and paying attention.
 It took me until today,
after hearing a fine sermon this morning by
our Associate Pastor, Jon Lemmond,
to more fully understand why this particular spot,
of all the possible spots I could have chosen,
is such a special one for me.

I like birds.
A lot.
I know very little about them,
I just know I love to sit and watch them,
to try and capture some of their beauty and grace
with my camera,
and to reflect on how completely  
at home they are
with the bodies God gave them.
You don’t hear birds complaining that they’ve
got too many feathers or too few,
that they wish their beaks were just a bit narrower,
that their feet were a little smaller,
that their tummies were tighter.
No, you don’t.
Besides the fact that birds don’t speak English,
I think the reason we don’t hear (or observe) such
kvetching behavior in birds is this:
they know who they are,
they accept who they are,
they live a one-piece life.
I want a one-piece life.
I want to keep body and soul together,
I want to recognize that I am a body.
And I want to accept that body with grace and with gratitude.
And I have a long way to go on that journey.
Today’s sermon was a strong, clear word of encouragement
to keep on truckin’. 
Jon took a few verses from a favorite psalm 
this morning – Psalm 139:13-18.
And he laid out his observations beautifully:
1. Our bodies are spiritual – 
we want not to err on the side of gnosticism 
(the most stubborn of historical heresies in the church) 
and denigrate the design of God for our physicality.
It is with our bodies that we glorify God.
It is in our bodies that we are saved.
We are, in truth, our bodies.
In Genesis 2, God takes the dust of the earth 
and breathes life into it…
spirit and flesh, joined forever. 
But unlike the birds, our bodies need redemption,
restoration, renewal.
And they are so valuable to God,
that God took on our bodily form so that redemption
and restoration and renewal might be possible. 
2. Our bodies are praiseworthy.
And this is where most of us badly twist the truth 
of who we are as embodied creatures.
The most usual translation of verse 14 goes something like this:
“We are fearfully and wonderfully made.”
But Jon’s OT prof, Leslie Allen (who was also my OT prof!),
translates it more like this: 
God is wonderful. And we are made in God’s image.”
We should indeed stand in awe of who we are,
at what our bodies can do –
wounds heal,
pupils contract and dilate 
according to the ambient light,
our skin and sweat glands 
help set a healthy thermostat.
We are indeed wonderfully made!
we are wonderful because of who made us,
not because of any intrinsic ‘perfection’ of our own.
Therefore, beware our cultural predilection for
believing we are the center of things.
When the Bible tells us that our bodies are wonderful,
it is not meant as, “a psychological pick-me-up 
aimed at bolstering our self-esteem.”
Rather, these words point us first to the Creator,
and only then, to the creature.
If we can grab hold of this astounding truth,
then maybe, just maybe,
we can begin to believe that every single one of us,
able-bodied or not,
fat, thin, tall, short, young, old –
every one of us – 
broken and imperfect as we are –
is a thing of wonder and delight to the One who made us.
Not just cute babies.
Not just Hollywood celebrities.
Not just the perfect bikini-body.
Not just the strong, ripped muscles.
“We are beautiful because we are the Lord’s.”
And then my friend and former colleague offered the most
beautiful analogy to help us latch onto this 
powerful truth.
The stole he is wearing was a gift to him on the 
day of his ordination into the ministry.
It was made for him by his mother and his grandmother.
It is lovely to look at…
but it is not perfect.
It doesn’t lie flat at the back like 
a more professionally made stole would.
Some of the stitching around the six lovely 
symbol patches is a little rough. 

But it is one of Jon’s most priceless possessions.
When the Tea Fire hit his neighborhood three years ago,
he first made sure his wife and children were safe.
And then, Jon rushed into his house and grabbed this stole.
Not because it is perfect.
Not because it is without flaws.
Not because it does everything it was meant to do.
Jon grabbed it because of who made it.
Jon grabbed it because of the love that was poured into it.
Jon grabbed it not because of its intrinsic value,
but because of the relationship 
he has with the ones who made it.
It is beautiful,
not so much for what it is,
but because it reflects the love of the creator(s).
Can I begin to value my body for what it truly is?
The gift of my Creator?
My body.
The dust of the earth,
into which God breathed life 67 years ago.
My body.
The embodiment of God’s dream for me 
as a whole person,
a unified human being,
body, soul, spirit.
My body.
A reflection of the God who loves me.

An added spot of beauty to our worship last Sunday was a new offertory song. Our Director of Worship Arts, Bob Gross, wrote a lovely melody to go with these powerful words written by Mechtild of Mageburg in the 13th century. This translation was done in 1991 by Jean Wiebe Janzen, but the words in bold are Bob’s addition and served as a beautiful refrain throughout the piece. He tells us he’s going to do a YouTube version, and when he does, I’ll post a link here – and undoubtedly elsewhere, like Facebook and Twitter.  I sat amazed at how these lyrics sort of wrapped up my entire weekend. Read them carefully:
I cannot dance, O Love, unless you lead me on.
I cannot leap in gladness, unless you lift me up.
From love to love we circle, beyond all knowledge grow.
For when you lead, we follow, to new worlds you can show.
Love is the music ’round us, we glide as birds in air,
entwining, soul and body, your wings hold us with care.
Your Spirit is the harpist and all your children sing;
her hands the currents ’round us, your love the golden strings.
Play me a medley. 
Play me a song. 
Lead me, I am yours. 
I cannot dance alone. 
O blessed Love, your circling unites us, God and soul.
From the beginning, your arms embrace and make us whole.
Hold us in steps of mercy from which you never part,
that we may know more fully the dances of your heart. 
Joining with Michelle, Jennifer, Laura, Duane and L.L. this time.
And at the middle of the week, also joining Ann V., Jennifer Dukes Lee and Emily W.

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  1. Amen and Amen! What a wonderful application of scripture to our lives. Being one-piece. Very interesting. I have never heard it stated that way, but the need is great today. Birds do not worry as scripture tells us, but do as the Lord created them to do. Thank you for sharing what the Lord is doing in your life and the wonderful photos of His creation!
    Keep up the God work.

  2. pastordt says

    Thank you, Lori – for coming by here and for leaving such good words. And you’re welcome. :>)

  3. This may sound silly, but sometimes when I’m out and about in a common place – the gas station, the grocery, the walmart, I stop to actually look at the people waiting in line or working. For the most part they are less than attractive. Bad hair, mis-shapen, wrinkly, wart-on-the-nose. And I tell myself that these are the people God made. He loves them no less than beautiful people we humans pick out to show each other. Many (hopefully most or all) of them are living happy, satisfying lives with people who love them dearly and will miss them when they are gone. I try to see them as God sees them and it makes me hope that each of them has made peace with the fat fingers and protruding noses and vericose veins and is happy just being human. For some reason it is often easier for me to want something good for others than it is for me to accept it for myself. But by actually looking at people as they are and thinking about how God see them helps me remember that i am no different – my hope for myself and God’s hope for me is that I will be at peace with this body I am travelling and be happy just to have it and live in it. Without it, there is no happy, satisfying life with people who love me dearly and will miss me when I am gone. And that’s what I really want, after all. 

  4. pastordt says

    Well said, Rebecca! And well done, too. We get snookered into believing that only the beautiful are acceptable in this culture – and who says what is beautiful anyhow? Who gets to define that? Maybe we need to just rest in the knowledge that to God, we all are. Thanks for stopping by and leaving such a thought-provoking comment.

  5. Beautifully said, Diana! And great photos. (That stole is important to Jon much in the same way the pottery plate in my ‘Still Saturday’ post is important to me.) Discontent is so debilitating. When we remember that we have been created with interdependent physical/spiritual/emotional/intellectual qualities, the idea of being one-piece with the Creator becomes all the more significant, doesn’t it? 

    When I remember that my body is a dwelling place for Him, I know I have a responsibility to take care of it. So I’m *not* content when I see the flab and extra pounds, the circles under eyes, etc., because I know I’ve failed to do that. When it comes to hair colour, height, personality type and other genetic components, I am who I am and I have no desire to be anything else, although it took me a long time to come to terms with some!

  6. pastordt says

    Oh, amen, to all of that, Carol! Our bodies do have a way of reminding us to TAKE CARE OF THEM, don’t they? I’m heading over to see this plate – not quite sure how I missed it, actually.

  7. Glenda Childers says

    I love these beautiful words. As I work with so many lovely young women in Chicago … I would love to make this into a poster and have them read it everyday.

  8. Dtrautwein says

     Do you mean Jane Kenyon’s words, Glenda? Those might make a poster. The rest? WAY too many words for a poster. But thanks for the thought! And the encouragement.

  9. “Rather, these words point us first to the Creator,
    and only then, to the creature.”This. More of this, please. Your words, Diana. They point me. They do. 

  10. This is excellent, Diana. Powerful and true. Thank you. xox

  11. Ohhhhhhh, I love this Diana.  I’ve had so little time to do any reading around lately and so glad I stopped here.  I want a ‘one piece life’–so beautifully put.  And–Jean Wiebe Janzen–of Fresno……..I know her 🙂 what a small world. 

  12. pastordt says

    Thank you, Sheila. I know I need this reminder daily, practically from moment to moment!

  13. pastordt says

    You’re welcome, Patricia. And thank YOU!

  14. pastordt says

    Thanks, Jody. And I wondered if she was from Fresno maybe – the “Wiebe” part of her name says Mennonite to me and that’s where their fine school is located, right?

  15. Me too, Diana. Me too.

  16. pastordt says

    I think this is true for every single woman I know. Sigh. And for more men than we realize, too.

  17. Diana, this post is extraordinary. There is the story Beth Moore tells about her dear friend who lost a young child. All the comforters at the funeral told the woman, “that is not your child–that is just a shell. Your child is with God.” the heartbroken woman told her friend,”I know where my child is. But this is the body I held and loved. This is the hair I combed, the hands I held. Beth,” she said, ” I love that body.”
    What a gift we are given in the presence we can be to each other.
    Oh, to have the confidence of the birds! to love this temple for the One who made it. Such a thought.
    Still thinking about your response to my comment last week. How lonely it feels when people disappoint. Sending you love, Diana.

  18. pastordt says

    Thank you, Laura. That means a great deal to me, coming from you. It was a fine sermon – and as often happens, so in tune with what the Spirit is continuing to work inside me. Yes, we need to value these bodies – they are who we are. I’m currently reading John O’Donohue’s look at Celtic spirituality called “Anam Cara” and he talks about this so, so beautifully. He reverses the usual idea of, “the soul is in the body,” to…”the body is in the soul. Your soul reaches out further than your body and it simultaneously suffuses your body and your mind…Trusting this more penumbral dimension brings us to new places in the human adventure…” I’m ruminating on that one a lot right now. And I have no recollection of that comment – I’ll have to look back at it…

  19. Oh my, I love this. It’s so rich, I think I need a second go. I need to sit with your words about the body. They are words I know in my head but want to stay put in my heart. I don’t want to need reminding. My husband has several stoles, none of which he wears much anymore because he isn’t pastoring, he is leading pastors. But I know they represent more than what is seen with the eye. I would love to sit with you in your car and eat lunch. I am enamored with birds too! And we are looking at Westmont for my daughter, not seriously yet, just investigating. Who knows, maybe we’lll make a visit one day soon.

  20. smoothstones says

    I love this. The stole analogy really drove it home. One thing that helps me is to consider how sad I feel when my son (or any loved one) puts himself/herself down…then to decide: I shouldn’t put myself down, either. It’s painful to those who love me.

  21. pastordt says

    Exactly – it is painful. And it speaks against the great gift of our bodies, a gift from the hand of God. Thanks for coming by and commenting, Brandee.

  22. Diana, lovely and inspirational in every sense of the word!  Struggling right now with the body I’m living in, multiple flaws and surgeries, this really spoke to me.  The analogy using your pastor’s stole made by his dear mother put the shining star on it all!  Thanks so much for your skill with words and images, and most of all for sharing both freely.

  23. pastordt says

    Thanks, Sherrey, for coming by and leaving these words of encouragement. Praying you will find peace with who you are right now, flaws, surgeries and all.

  24. When you said you needed time away and then described the crowds, I was a bit apprehensive for your time; however you looked for, and captured the best which GOD wanted to show you.

    What a wondrous truth that we are made in His Image. How ungrateful when we complain about the way He made us.

    Just like when we complain against the weather He sends…puny specks of dust that we are, on a speck of a planet in His Infinite Vastness.

  25. Dtrautwein says

     Yes, Connie – I was concerned about the crowds, too. But it turned out to be fine. I was able to sit and look, to read, to journal, to take pictures and even to nap – exactly what I needed for those couple of hours. Thanks for stopping by so faithfully from SDG!

  26. Robert Moon says

    Our frail tent is growing older but we are reserved a new home in heaven that awaits us there.

  27. Oh my, Diana. You’ve outdone yourself with this one, I think. Of course, I could say that a lot when I come by. 

    I am important and valued and (gulp) even beautiful … because of the One Who made me. That is what I heard God saying to me this morning, through your ministering words. 

  28. Ro elliott says

    we are neighbors today…we both went to His beautiful sanctuary to see more clearly…being out and seeing water…clouds and birds…do seem to make us more aware of who He is and who we are in HIm…it makes me think of the hymn…This is My Father’s World…He speaks to me everywhere. thanks for the encouragement here…blessings~

  29. yes–Fresno Pacific is there.
    bless you today on this first day of Summer. 

  30. pastordt says

    Amen to that, brother. Close enough to be recognizable, but in far better shape!

  31. pastordt says

    Thank you, Jennifer, for these kind words. And yes – you are!

  32. pastordt says

    Thanks for coming by and encouraging me today, Ro. Glad you got a chance to enjoy a water view somewhere.

  33. pastordt says

    And you, too, Jody!

  34. I just loved that analogy of the stole (new word for me) and how it was worth saving.

    God finds me worth saving.

    Thank you for this! 

  35. pastordt says

    I loved it to – and it’s all Jon’s. It just made the sermon theme leap into life for me.

  36. Joanne Norton says

    I’m a “bird person”, too.  A few I don’t like — the vultures in Uganda, for instance — but so many I absolutely adore, including the egrets in Uganda.  But I also enjoy the robins and doves and very basic birds here in Omaha.    Enjoyed your “sharing” time.

  37. Thanks, Joanne. I’m not a fan of vultures, either!

  38. This is magnificent, from your gazing at birds, to the stole analogy.

    When I first arrived in Alabama, I thought I would be emotional. It’s been a hard year and I had not been to the beach in over a year. I expected to feel something more dramatic, something visceral, but the sense of peacefulness that pervaded was fine. I’ll take that.

    Then, as I walked to the bath house, a pelican flew directly overhead. And at the sight of that creature, tears pushed around my eyeballs and pooled all around. The pelican. This is his home, and he looks like he would be so awkward and goofy, but he soars with majesty, cruising at the surface of the water, fluid and smooth, never touching unless to dive for a fish. They travel alone and in groups, seeming to slow, land and float a while, waiting for stragglers to join up. We have nothing like them in our state, other than the Canada Goose.

    The other bird that intrigues me is the blue heron. We have them in our midwestern, landlocked state now (not always, though; I never saw them here until just a few years ago). I love their patient, almost meditative approach to navigating the water’s edge. They, too, look so odd with those tall, thin legs, and then they rise up like some primordial king, spread wings stretched as wide as a man is tall, and then rise slowly, tucking in their legs and moving over the water’s surface, then higher, rising, and searching for new, safer hunting grounds, where eager humans won’t bother them.

  39. Ann, this approaches poetry. Just beautiful. 

  40. pastordt says

    Wow, wow, wow! ANN! This is magnificent writing here – thank you so much. You have captured both of those wonderful birds, two of my favorites. Pelicans are the ones who particularly feel primordial to me, looking like a skeletized raptor of some sort, suddenly enfleshed and brought to life for our pleasure. They are the most graceful birds in flight and among the most awkward on land and that speaks to me so strongly. Being in our element makes a difference, doesn’t it? I love how they skim right on top of the water, looking for dinner. Or how they drop from the sky like some sort of insane dive bomber, bobbing up with dinner in their beak. In fact, I wrote an entire post about bird when I first started blogging and here’s a link to it, if you’d like to see a few more pictures. They’re a bit blurrier than I’d like as I had to crop way in on my telephoto-ed shots to show what I wanted to show. And one of these days, I’m going to do this again – watch the pelicans on the ocean side of the water as well as the Slough side. Thanks so much for leaving these beautiful, beautiful words here, friend. http://drgtjustwondering.blogspot.com/2006/12/in-praise-of-pelicans.html

  41. pastordt says

    I’d say it IS poetry – just remarkable writing, right from the heart. So grateful for it.

  42.  I love you both.

  43. 🙂

  44. Yes, yes, yes, you described those amazing birds so well. I’m going to visit your link to see more. Thank you for sharing!

  45. pastordt says

    And a :>) from me, too.

  46. Oh, my …. this certainly hits home. Wonderful images to accompany your writing.

  47. Thanks so much for reading, Susan, and for leaving such kind comments.

  48. diana, i so appreciate this. between you and sarah bessey this week, i’m sitting a little more comfortable in this skin, inclining heart and hands heavenward.

    oh, that stubborn gnostic heresy! i hear echoes of it everywhere. thank you for calling it what it is.

  49. pastordt says

    Thanks, Suzannah. I, too, was struck by the similarity in our posts (Sarah’s & mine) and glad to find those echoes. Thanks so much for coming by and leaving words of encouragement.

  50.  That is one of my favorite books, Diana. It inspired a post and a poem in me a couple years ago and I was surprised to have a comment from a representative of his estate on my blog. She asked me to link up to his website rather brusquely. It was a strange experience after forming an assumption about him from his writing. I had linked to his book on Amazon. He is such a deep, poetic thinker.

  51. pastordt says

     What is it with estate people?? He surely seems far from brusque in his writing. I also have the one on Beauty (which I think I recommended to you in a THC post once) and the one on Blessings – both wonderful in the bits I’ve explored. I read Anam Cara because it was assigned – and I’m so glad it was. Such an interesting take – his chapter on Death was just amazing to me – made me glad I’m part Irish, actually! You know he died very suddenly – maybe his estate manager isn’t over it yet.

  52.  Oh, yes, it was the estate person. She was just trying to protect his work, I suppose, but since I was gushing on about it I was surprised by her abrupt tone. One never knows about these things, so I responded with grace and changed my link–though I think the other would have been more profitable for them :). I need to get those other books, I think. Love his voice.

  53. pastordt says

    Very strange – and sorta sad, too. You did the right thing by linking to his book on Amazon. Pity she didn’t see that. But then I’m not a legal person at all, so maybe there was something legal about it all. Or maybe she just didn’t have the skill (??) or wisdom (??) to be able to say that she loved your words so much, she wanted people who visited his website to find them. Maybe that’s a good way to look at it!

  54. Jennifer Richardson says

    I like birds too.  Alot:)  And my heart is singing a giddy yes to this meaty nourishment…..tender as butter
    and like a shot of B-12 to my soul.
    much thanks for this delicious stir,Jennifer

  55. pastordt says

    You are more than welcome, Jennifer. Thank you for stopping by and commenting.

  56. mark and jennifer dougan says

    Hi Diana,

    Nice to meet you,. I’m popping over from Imperfect Prose. I can resonate with needing a time of solitude, and seeking it outside, in the wind and by bird calls. I like your line to the effect: ” I am a reflection of the one who loves me.”

    Have a great week.

    Jennifer Dougan

  57. Emily Wierenga says

    wow, i love this diana. i would really like to share it on my ED blog if you’d let me? xoxo

  58. pastordt says

    Feel free, Emily – and thank you for your encouragement.