I realized something as I was tackling my mess of stored clothes; taking things out of baskets and boxes and putting them in my near-empty closet and shelves.
For years now, I have lived in transitional spaces. University dorm rooms, student apartments, moving for a 2-year apprenticeship… and in so many parts of my life, I still act as if I am getting ready for whatever happens next.
The boxes of clothing are part of that. That sense that whatever size and shape I am now, whatever body I inhabit in this moment: it is only transitional. I have believed that about myself on the way up, and on the way down. Whatever I am, I won’t be for long. So I live out of laundry baskets and old boxes. No sense putting these things on the shelf, as if we were going to stay a while…
And, in some ways, this is true. We are dust, and to dust we shall return. Many things about this body I inhabit are transitional. This is a valuable thing to know about myself.
But I am reminded of a valuable lesson from one of my yoga classes. We talked about balance, and the difference between carrying weight on the heels, and on the balls of the feet. With weight forward, my instructor said, we are poised for fight or flight. We are prepared for whatever is happening next. But with weight back, on our heels, we are ready for this moment. We are ready for whatever is happening right now.
I started practicing that simple discipline at work, especially when I am standing, robed, before my congregation. Weight back, a physical sign of being open to the present moment. It actually helps me find that sense of worship, in my worship– helps me sink below the meta-fretting about the liturgy into actually experiencing the liturgy. And also, less lower back pain.
I have been circling around this truth for so long. This. Present. Moment.
And it feels like such an uphill battle, in this culture where to be “set back on your heels” is, well, all about setback.
This body, these clothes.
This work before me.
This beloved community.
My visiting in-laws have inspired me to go beyond my normal level of house-cleaning for guests. (My normal level being: tidying up the piles, moving more of the chaos to selected chaos-containment rooms, and distracting them with my husband’s awesome cooking).
But today I attacked one of those chaos-containment rooms with a vengeance. The nursery was getting out of control. What with the baby really only two needing uncluttered surfaces– in the crib, and the change table. The rest of the room, including the guest bed, had become storage for various boxes of clothing:
-things from older friends that will fit Ruth soon
-things that don’t fit Ruth, and will eventually fit Grace
-things that fit but are for the wrong season
-things that will fit Grace soon
-things to be returned to the friends who loaned them,
-things from our mom to be saved in case my sister has a girl someday
-outgrown things not yet bagged and given away
Yes. lots of boxes. And it feels mostly reasonable to hang on to things with a hope that they will fit my youngest daughter, in the right season. And it feels somewhat reasonable to set aside some choice articles to share with my sister. And it feels really freeing to finally get some bags out of the house and donated away. It even *gasp* makes sense to bag up and give away a whole pile of shirts that fit her body, but that have fixed small necklines, and don’t fit over Ruth’s delightfully enormous melon of a head. Because her head is not too big- the shirt is too small. And getting that shirt out of her closet just makes sense.
And BONUS! Under all those piles there was a bed! So the Parents-in-law arriving this evening will have a place to sleep. WHEE!
And all of this has been the warm-up I needed to get ready to tackle the chaos that has been contained upstairs in my own room*. I am so very, very, very glad that it no longer feels at all reasonable to store boxes and boxes of “it almost fits” and “it might fit again” and “it never fit me, but next diet it might”.
It has been a long time to get to this point. I stumbled blindly across the possibility of Fat Acceptance over 4 years ago, while pregnant with my first exquisite daughter. So even as I shook the dust of Diet Culture from my sandals, and came to know that I would not, in fact, devour the world, I was in this stage of life that involved a whole lot of pregnancy, childbirth, and nursing-related body changes.
It has been over a year now since Grace stopped nursing. And I still have not devoured the world. And tomorrow, having restored some order and calm to her room, I’m tackling the boxes and bags and piles that are in mine. Enough of the almost-fits and might-fit-again. Enough of the fits-but-I-hate-it-but-it-is-too-hard-to-find-things-that-fit-so-everything-must-be-kept-just-in-case. Enough of the doesn’t-fit-but-I-loved-that-concert (well, maybe those can move to the basement).
And right where all those boxes are would make a great spot for maybe a yoga mat, or a knitting chair… or something that has more relevance to my life than these artifacts of sizes I used to be.
It’s time to climb out from under.
*It’s been there since we moved in. And the ‘lived-in’ look it imparts to the master bedroom is NOT helping, as it comes time to move on.
Thanks to following the fatshion blogs that are on the Notes from the Fatosphere feed, I have found myself feeling more free to choose the clothing that makes me feel good.
And this summer, I’ve been enjoying “wear-a-dress Wednesdays”. This is especially fun because Wednesday is the day of our midweek service, and I have usually considered this a day that I “should” wear a clergy shirt and collar. But during the service, I’m vested in robes, and a stole, which are all the marks of my office that I should really require.
So the real problem with wear-a-dress Wednesday is not questioning if dresses are what I “should” wear, it’s that I only own two office-appropriate dresses. Or rather, yesterday I only owned two dresses. Today I came home with this one:
(I’m not in the US and not subject to US laws concerning these declarations that I see elsewhere, but I receive nothing from Penningtons but respectful customer service)
What makes a dress office appropriate for me? Your mileage (obviously) may vary, but I’m looking for colour, generous cleavage coverage, sleeves (at least large enough to cover the tattoo on my shoulder), and length that hits near the knee. No unintentional “festival of inappropriate sharing”* for me. And I feel pretty in Empire waists.
What made this a possibility for this summer? An accident, really. I tripped and ripped the leg of an almost-new pair of nylon/lycra tights from welovecolors.com and rather than take them off, I quickly cut both legs off just above the knee. I expected they’d roll up my leg and be terribly uncomfortable- but No! Voila! Instant not-to-hot-for-summer chafing control, without the bulk of bike shorts, or the cognitive dissonance of shapewear!
I came home and Doctored another pair that was showing wear in the heel.
*with thanks to Peacebang at beauty tips for ministers for that phrase!
I wrote this for a joint-between-area-churches midweek service. My boss was scheduled to preach, but was then called away to a funeral. This probably isn’t what he would have written, though it is based on his chosen text, and his title.
1 Peter 2:21-25
For to this you have been called, because Christ aslo suffered for you, leaving you an example, so that you should follow in his steps.
‘he comitted no sin,
and no deceit was found in his mouth.’
When he was abused, he did not return abuse; when he suffered, he did not threaten; but he entrusted himself to the one who judges justly. He himself bore our sins in his body on the corss, so that, free from sins, we might live for righteousness; by his wounds you have been healed. For you were going astray like sheep, but now you have returned tot he shepherd and guardian of your souls.
This week- this Holy Week. The word itself evokes a strong sense of things Spiritual, Numinous, Other-worldly.
And yet, this week of all weeks, this Holy Week, it is exactly the this-worldly, incarnate, tangible body that we recall and honour. The body of Jesus of Nazareth, bathed in Mary of Bethany’s expensive perfume. The body of Jesus of Nazareth, perched atop a borrowed donkey The body of Jesus of Nazareth, honoured with palm branches and cloaks thrown down before him. The body of Jesus of Nazareth, feasting in Passover celebration. The body of Jesus of Nazareth, bent low over the feet of his disciples. The body of Jesus of Nazareth, wracked in prayer, “let his cup pass from me”. The body of Jesus of Nazareth, abused, judged, beaten, spat-upon, humiliated, destroyed.
The body of Jesus of Nazareth, revealing and making manifest the presence of God among God’s people.
Now, this is nothing new, in the ancient world. Zeus was recognizable by his middle-aged head on a youthful, athletic body. Apollo spend time as a shepherd. Isis and Osiris knew life and death on the banks of the Nile. A God in human form is nothing new.
And so it is known what a God looks like, when in human form. The human body of a God is a strong body; a powerful body (and so almost always a male body); a beautiful body. These are the sorts of bodies that are closest to Dvinity. God-like bodies.
It is this sort of God-like body that is honoured as it enters Jerusalem. Hosanna! Hosanna! Blessed be the one who comes with strength and power to save us.
But neither Zeus nor Apollo nor Osiris are the God revealed and made manifest in the body of Jesus of Nazareth.
This body reveals its Divinity, not in strength and power, but in weakness and vulnerability. This body reveals its Divinity first as an infant, helpless- honoured only by outcasts and foreigners. This body reveals its Divinity as it is abused, judged, beaten, spat-upon, humiliated, destroyed.
This body reveals and makes manifest a God to whom we do not grow closest in our strength, but in our vulnerability; a God who is most present among us not in power, but in frailty; a God who is acutely and intimitely concerned with humanity- all of humanity- and the realities that we encounter in these bodies.
Weak bodies. Powerless bodies. Hungry bodies. Cold and exposed bodies. Vulnerable bodies. Sick, and dying, and grieving bodies. Abused, judged, beaten, spat-upon, humiliated bodies. There is Divinity there. If we would honour the God revealed to us in the body of Jesus of Nazareth, let us honour him there.
The God revealed and made manifest in the body of Jesus of Nazareth is aGod who knows birth, and death, and all the life that happens in between. He himself bre our sins in his body on the cross, so that, free from sins, we might live for righteousness. And by his wounds, we have been healed.
So, Saturday was a pretty great night.
We did this church social event/fundraiser. I arranged private rental of the whole aquatic centre at the city-owned gym. We invited people to come and swim. There were opportunities to make a donation to the National Church Relief and Development Fund.* Somewhere in the neighbourhood of 55 people (we tried to count, but they kept moving!) came out to
Remember our baptism
Have fun in the Water
Help our neighbours.
That was the whole agenda for the night. I’m a big fan of the simple idea.
People brought friends.
My boss, who normally has all the gravitas that one would expect of a senior cleric, went down the waterslide… more than once.
Kids came, and parents, and people without kids.
And because it was not-Sunday and not-in-our-building, it was a self-selected group of people who came willing to have fun together.
And we did. In bathing suits. In public. Without stressing about being in bathing suits in public.
And it was awesome.
Afterward, my family went out for dinner. The pool was only available for rental from 5-6pm, which is normally when we would be eating. So all of us were too hungry to cope with the 15min wait at the chain restaurant we tried first. We ended up at a locally-owned place just around the corner from home. Every time I eat at this restaurant, I come away thinking “we should really eat here more”. I love the idea of my kids being known in a neighbourhood diner- being regulars. Ordering ‘the usual’. Trying new menu items. Honing our table manners. (Tipping really well when we leave spaghetti all over the table).
In other, totally unrelated news (welcome to my life!) my other church is planning a fundraiser of their own. Every year they do a fashion show, and the organizer nearly fell over from the surprise when I responded to her announcement that she needed models. Because I’m too fat to model? Not at all! Because none of their (um, male!) clergy ever have before.
And, in checking out the store that is partnering with us for the show, I realized something important. I’ve been getting annoyed at mall stores for not carrying the clothes I want to wear. But I am not the mall stores’ target demographic. I have neither disposable time, nor disposable money, and I’m not looking for disposable clothes.
But… as I crib text liberally from their website… doesn’t this just sound like an awesome place to shop?
“Our fashions are chosen to suit all women, ages 30 and up. We can help you update your wardrobe for work or for play; Help you find the perfect look for a night out or for that very special occasion.”
“Work during our business hours? Have a fashion emergency?
Forget to buy a gift?
We are more than happy to arrange to meet with you outside of our regular business hours! Just give us a call or send us an e-mail today to make arrangements.”
“We carry ladies clothing sizes 4-20, regular and petites. You will find everything from casual co-ordinates to pantsuits and dresses. We also have unique accessories including jewelry, purses and scarves.”
“…a family business with many years of experience in fashion and customer service. Our goal is to make your shopping experience a pleasant one, and we guarantee that you will leave looking and feeling great!”
The best part? Their winter clearance sale is on Thursday ’til Saturday. And I’m working a half-day Friday.
Judging by every other event I have ever been involved with at this Church, the fashion show will be an evening of camaraderie and laughter and fun and making money so they can give it away. I’m really looking forward to it- and my modeling debut.
*This takes some, but certainly not all, of my discomfort out of declaring “SPLASH! What a great day that was!” about a day that so many people in so many places passed in fear on Tsunami watch. I wish our small “drop in the bucket” was more.
I think, unless the Holy Spirit does something very unexpected in the next seven hours, that Tomorrow is going to be a rather public ‘coming out’ for me. Because I’m planning to get up in front of my Church and say this. I’m tired of thinking “I wish my Church had something to say about this” They put me up in that pulpit! Who else was I waiting for?!
May the words of my lips, and the meditations of all our hearts, be now and always acceptable in your sight, O Lord, our strength, and our redeemer. Amen+
So, every year, at the beginning of Lent, we hear this story- in which Jesus is led by the Holy Spirit into the wilderness to go without food for 40 days. And as always, this story leaves me with one burning question: WHY WOULD ANYONE WANT TO DO THAT?!?!
Why would anyone choose to go for over a month without eating? I mean… eating is good. It feels good. It’s good for you. And if you stop doing it for long enough- you’ll die. Why would Jesus purposely go out into the desert to be hungry for almost 6 weeks? WHY?
Jesus, of course, is not acting in a vacuum. His choice in this- all his choices- are informed by who he is, where he is, and what has come before. Jesus is a product of his culture, and his faith. And these have something to say about fasting as a religious practice.
While there’s not a lot of specific teaching in the Old Testament about fasting, there are certainly stories where it plays a part. And taken together, these narratives can point us in the direction of how Jesus’ may have understood this radical act.
Fortunately for me, H.A. Brongers, in an article “Feasting and Fasting in Israel in Biblical and Post-Biblical times” did all the legwork of collating all the Old Testament references to fasting, and found that in general, fasts are carried out for 5 purposes: “1) as a sign of grief or mourning, (2) as a sign of repentance and seeking forgiveness for sin, (3) as an aid in prayer, (4) as an experience of the presence of God that results in the endorsement of his messenger, and (5) as an act of ceremonial public worship.”
These 5 purposes boil down to 2 main theological ideas: fasting as repentance for sin and fasting to intensify prayer when seeking God’s favor.
And these ideas presuppose an even more basic truth that underlies all scriptural references to fasting, a truth where we might look for an answer to the question: Why would Jesus do this?
Food- and the eating of it- is one of the most basic and normal parts of human life. This is what we do- this is what all living beings in creation do- we consume. We eat the cow that ate the grass that came from the soil that is made of living things and organic matter from no-longer-living-things and mineral elements from the foundations of the earth. And when we have finished our time of consuming, we will be consumed: Pushing up daisies- that will in turn be consumed by some other living thing. This is the natural order of Creation in all its wonder and carbon-cycling majesty. We are dust. And to dust shall we return. This is the rhythm of life.
Abstaining from eating implies a disruption in that rhythm. And throughout the Old Testament narratives that inform Jesus’ time of fasting- disrupting this good and right and necessary natural order is done to point to something even more necessary: Communion with, and dependence on God.
The prophets have long used fasting and prayer as a… re-set button for the peoples’ right relationship with God. Sort of like calling tech support and getting told, “Have you tried turning it off, and then turning it back on again?”
In the same way that pilgrimage allows the pilgrim to leave an ordinary place, and then come back different- fasting allows the faster to leave the ordinary relationship with Creation, and come back different. Better. Restored.
But, then, Jesus is no ordinary faster. And this story that Luke tells us is no ordinary fast. He is aligning himself with Moses and Elijah, who fasted before him. To a people who know those stories, he is identifiable, in this 40-day fast, as a man deeply connected with those ancient stories of God’s redeeming love for God’s people.
And so it is here, in the early chapters, that Luke tells us of a fast for Jesus that becomes a part of the great story of God’s redeeming love for God’s people- how Jesus succeeds in resisting temptation in the worst of all possible circumstances- physically weak and corporeally famished. He is victorious exactly where Adam and Eve, in the best of all possible paradise conditions, failed. Not by bread alone, but, as the quoted line from Deuteronomy continues, by every word that comes from the mouth of the Lord.
For Adam and Eve, and for Jesus, eating and not-eating is deeply connected, both symbolically and concretely, with right relationship with God. Eating abundantly in the garden when the relationship is whole. Then falling to temptation, and eating. Then cast out of the garden and struggling to eat enough, working to till the land when the relationship is severed. And now, driven by the Spirit, Jesus inverts this. Not eating in the wilderness. Then not-eating in the face of temptation. And restoring right relationship with God.
Although, of course, even this incredibly long 40-day fast is only a small disruption in the live-and-eat, die-and-be-eaten cycle of Creation. The true ‘reset’ and restoration of right relationship- Jesus victory over death itself, is yet to come. And, lest you think I’m making too much of this eating/not-eating business- Jesus specifically invites us to participate in that restored relationship by saying, “take this bread, which is my body, and eat it”. And we do.
Which brings us, at last, to the other question that we bring to all of these ancient texts: what has this to do with us? What has this to do with this gathered group of faithful people who were invited, just 5 days ago, to “Observe a Holy Lent by self-examination, penitence, prayer, fasting, and alms-giving.” What has this to do with us, who would spend these 40 days as Jesus spent them… stepping aside from the normal order of things, in order to return to a more whole relationship – to be reconciled with God?
Because that is, all in all, what the whole thing is about: to be reconciled with God. To rediscover something even more necessary than our daily bread: communion with, and dependence on, God.
I don’t know if or how you’ve chosen to observe a Lenten fast this year. If you have, I hope that it may, indeed, be for you a means of drawing closer with God, a means of reconciliation.
But if we do fast, we do it in a time and a place very different from Jesus. The idea of re-establishing a right relationship with Creation or Creator by disrupting the natural rhythm of consuming and being consumed- implies that we regularly maintain a natural rhythm of consuming, and being consumed.
Our reading from Deuteronomy lays out what a natural, normal connection with food might look like: The harvest- the gathering up of stuff of the earth for the purpose of eating it- is marked by thanksgiving, and celebration. It is a moment for remembering the past, and looking to the future. It is a time for joining together with friends and strangers- to celebrate together that the Lord has given sufficient abundance for all.
If that is the hallmark for what “normal” eating might look like, then we fall short.
Far from joining communities together, industrialized agriculture turns food production into a means of further separating rich from poor.
Food technology manipulates our appetites and leaves us echoing Isaiah’s question: “Why do you spend your money for that which is not bread, and your labour for that which does not satisfy?”
One reality of life in this particular place at this particular time is the painful prevalence of disordered eating. The diagnostic criteria for eating disorders include “being fanatical about weight and diet”, “taking time off work, school or relationships in order to exercise”. “Allowing weight and shape to overly influence how we feel about ourselves” “Feeling we can take control of our lives by taking control of our eating and weight”.
So, while according to 2002 Data from the National Eating Disorder Information Centre, more than 2 million Canadian women have diagnosed eating disorders*—the rest of us are bombarded with dieting advice on how we can adopt many of these same disordered behaviors in order to improve our health. And our daughters are inheriting our broken approach to this simple, basic act of eating. More than 25% of girls in grade 9 and 10 have dieted to try and control their still-growing bodies. And not to be left behind in the field of body dissatisfaction, some 4% their male classmates reported using steroids.
Someone please show me where the reset button is on our “normal” relationship with this basic life-giving act of eating, with the natural rhythms of interconnecting with the Creation by consuming it. We are, I think, in deep need of both a symbolic and a concrete way to ‘reset’ a right relationship with both the Creation that we incorporate into our selves- and the Creator who brought it all into being.
I’m just not sure that more abstaining, more declaring this or that food to be ‘off limits’ is the departure from the normal order of things that we’re looking and longing for.
And if you either think I’m on to something there, or if you think I’m completely and dangerously wrong- I hope you’ll come back Monday night and talk about it. Because I firmly believe that we, who struggle to live out spiritual truths within these corporeal bodies, have something to talk about, there.
We are all of us, here, longing to be reconciled with God. To find some peace in this world. To know that Hope overcomes despair; that life is stronger than death. To know that we are loved.**
“Rest assured”, Luke tells us, “fear not. In the face of temptation, what Adam broke, Jesus has restored”.
In his life, his death, his resurrection… Jesus has accomplished what we ourselves cannot.
“This is my blood of a new covenant” he says, “that sins might be forgiven”.
“Take this bread, which is my body” he says, “and eat it”.
And we do.
Thanks be to God.
*I had to do the math myself.1.5% of women 15-24, which according to these people is (assuming roughly equal gender distribution) close to half of 4,359,100 people. So “more than 2 Million” seemed like a reasonable figure.
**I know, I know. I have a serious sentence fragment problem. I should give up fragments for Lent.
My Lenten Study, Feasting and Fasting: Living Abundantly in a Dieting World, is forming up. I’m really excited about it– about the content, about putting out there in front of people who know me the same sort of stuff I’ve been writing anonymously for 2 years, about learning how to use Powerpoint, the whole she-bang.
The downside is that the structure of the study- in which I invite people to consider a text from popular culture that speaks about the body in contrast to a text from Scripture that speaks about the body- demands a certain amount of “research” into texts from popular culture.
I have put myself in a position where I am reading Women’s Magazines for work.
I was never really a fan before finding FA, and even less so now. But the first mag I picked up to browse through hurt my head so badly, I’m not sure I can go back.
At least I was able to find it online, so I can grab screenies to use in the study. I think I would have cried a little if I’d spent money to have access to gems such as:
Prevent Love Chub
That’s right, ladies. We know it takes a skinny girl to get a man, but once she’s got him, how can she prevent all that weight gain that comes from being in his vicinity? The brain-breaker came last.
The Problem? too much happy. But fear not, we have a fix for that
That’s right Laydeez. you might be too happy. But the solution is easier than you think; weigh yourself more.
Research shows that what’s good for your heart may be bad for your hips. A study published last year in the journal BioPsychoSocial Medicine found that happy people were less likely to succeed at losing weight than those with a “slightly negative and cautious outlook.”
The fix: Weigh in often. It’s great to accept your body and not obsess over every last calorie, but it’s hard to feel good about yourself when none of your pants fit. To prevent your eating habits from spiraling out of control, Miller-Kovach recommends regular weigh-ins. “Studies have shown that once you pass the five-pound mark, weight gain can take off like a runaway train,” she says. Seeing the scale creep toward that mark can be a call to action. Still need convincing? Women in a Duke University study who lost as little as 10 percent of their body weight reported dramatic improvements in the bedroom. “Research shows that people who are more active and happier with their bodies have more satisfying sex lives,” Ward says. If that’s not motivation, we don’t know what is.
Hop on that scale more often to ensure you maintain that elusive slighly negative outlook. Actually, if you get really successful at the self-loathing, maybe you can convince him that he’s unhappy in this relationship, too. And then you won’t have to worry about the Boyfriend Layer any more. WIN!