Every January, in lieu of resolutions, I choose a word to help guide the coming year. It helps inform my thoughts, my words, my actions; it reminds me of what to spend precious emotional energy on. Sometimes, the word is directly linked to my hopes or desires for the coming months. At others, it’s more of a lesson that I began to learn, and I want to walk it out in the new year. Such is the case with my 2021 word: embodied.
This past year, I learned a lot about the body. I walked away from diet culture and came home to my body through intuitive eating. I took up yoga, a practice I had shied away from for years because I was afraid I didn’t have the right body type for it–and in doing so, I realized just how strong and powerful my body truly is. I spent time barefoot outdoors, literally grounding myself in the earth’s energy. I focused on rest, and nourishing myself, and moving joyfully–the very basics of what it is to be a human. I read, and I researched, and I realized that the body really does keep the score*, and much of my C-PTSD is tied up in the physicality of my own body; every time I treat it with gentleness and grace and remind it that it is safe and cared for, I heal a little bit more. Dan Siegel says, “Where attention goes, neural firing flows,” which refers to neuroplasticity, the changing and regrowth of the neural pathways in our brains; essentially, what we focus on can literally alter our brains, ultimately impacting how we feel about ourselves and the world around us. I struck a balance between treating my body with traditional Western medicine and more homeopathic and holistic remedies, and I saw how both are essential. I tracked my feminine cycle, and I discovered how it was linked to natural rhythms, like the phases of the moon, or the seasons of the earth. I felt my feelings. I took my meds. I asked my body daily what it needed, and I gave it exactly that.
But there is so much more I want to explore this year, particularly when it comes to the role of the body as a person of faith. Because here’s the thing: Jesus, The Greatest Mystery of our faith, entered this broken world the way we all do: in a body, in flesh and bone and sweat and muscle and organs and pushing and pulsing and screaming. The body is not shameful to him; it is literally how he chose to come to us. God had a body, a body very much like my own. A body with knobby knees, one that got tired and needed sleep, one that hurt and bled, one that needed sustenance to survive, one covered in pores and hair and veins. So the body, it seems, is good to him. All bodies, even, not just the ones that look a certain way. There is such a holy healing in that. All bodies are good bodies.
This year, I want to lean into embodiment even more. I want to discover how God communicates to me through my body, through the injustices that make me rage and cry, through the beauty I see with my physical sense of sight. I want to pray not just with my mouth or my wallet but also with my feet. I want to re-read the Gospels, the story of the man Jesus who healed with spit and mud, who cooked his friends breakfast on a beach, who napped in a boat, who flipped tables in the temple. I want to use my hands to mother, to cook, to soothe, to heal, to write, to clean, to welcome–because it all matters; there is no separation between sacred and secular. I want to be an active participant in this thing we call the Christian life. I want to live it as embodied.
I need the body, the body who knows my limitations and expectations and fractures and failures and desire and disappointment and hunger and need because it has felt them, too. I don’t want impractical faith, faith that acts like God is some ethereal force somewhere out there, like God is there but not here. I don’t want a faith that’s too far removed to be attained, a faith that acts like it exists only in my head and my heart without paying any attention to the skin that inhabits them.
How could a faith like that speak to an epidemic that has claimed over a million lives?
How could a faith like that speak to the blood of black and brown bodies that soaks the earth?
How could a faith like that speak to children who feel the angry gnaw of hunger in their bellies?
How could a faith like that speak to inmates on death row?
How could a faith like that speak to refugees who traverse the deadly desert or the dangerous waves of the ocean in search of freedom?
How could a faith like that speak to the one who has cancer?
How could a faith like that speak to the AIDS patient?
How could a faith like that speak to the families in cages?
Humanity is embodied, and so we need an embodied God. Our pain is embodied, and so are our struggles. We don’t need a God who floats around in a far-off mansion in the sky; we need a God who feels the hurt, who knows the ache, who understands the weariness. We need a God who plugs the bullet holes and feels the bony ribs, who shields our bodies with his own, who weeps, whose body tore, who knows what it is to choke out the words, “I. Can’t. Breathe.”
So here’s to 2021, the year of living embodied.
I’m curious: do you choose a word for the new year? If so, what did you decide on?
* I highly recommend reading the book, The Body Keeps the Score, by Dr. Bessel van der Kolk.
** Sketch of the body is from BlekPrints on Etsy.