EMBODY is my "word of the year" for 2018. It's become a pillar for me and came as the culmination of a long, negative "relationship" with my body that I have been vigilantly trying to correct, understand, walk into joy with, and hopefully help any like me along the way.
1. The Realization of The Body (The Literal Embody)
2. Embodying What Is Beautiful
3. Comparing and Contrasting Beauty and Sexual/Physical Desirability
4. Practical Steps
5. The Creativity and Artistry of Bodies
6. The Embodiment of Others
In my intentionality to work through what has been life-long self-loathing of body (and all the ramifications that has on me, including but not limited to how I view other people and their bodies, how I am able to enjoy events/life moments given the haunting and constant ‘voices’ of hate, how it impacts my marriage, how it impacts my motherhood, how it impacts the mindsets of other women, what my daughter and son will hear from me in my home, the importance of the motive not just the action, etc). I’ve stumbled onto a moving realization. An obvious one. An incredibly un-smart, simple one. But one that changed the direction of the tides for me.
Earlier this fall I saw an Instagram post by Beth Joyce, an illustrator (mostly of women as her subjects), captioned “I am obsessed with becoming a woman comfortable in my own skin.” The same day, on a “hippie tribe” feed I saw an image of a woman looking upward, chest lifted, eyes closed with the caption: “Being An Embodied Woman.” I felt the ripple of the four words extend into my thighs when I read. I read it again. I looked up the word.
I am no stranger to unpacking the complexity of this. I have been for years now. For our entire relationship “my thing” is “this thing” and Caleb and I come back to it over and over. Learning to chase a feeling, not an image. The importance of health over looks. The difference between inner and outer beauty. Cultural ideals. Money made off of the pursuit of “beauty.” “Everyone is beautiful!” (but… how come many seem so much more desirable?? Is it all big-business and power-trip lies?). Why do I need to feel this way so badly. Body Positivity Movement. “Don’t embrace your flaws, reject the notion they are flaws to begin with.” The ugliness of catty competition. Bodies as objects. Objective beauty in bodies. Subjective beauty in bodies. The beauty of motherhood at the expense of the beauty of “your youth.” What a topic to reconcile! Why doesn’t it seem to matter as much for men (though I know it’s there to a lesser degree). How you do you find peace? Insisting “you don’t care! This doesn’t matter?” But aesthetic everywhere else does… the look of this world, the look of art, the look of food, the look of architecture. How do looks not triumph or lead, when they are all people can know about you to begin? With not a word spoken, without a heart’s secret shared, with no character qualities known, without a single story, or dream, or devastation, or personal history detail, but simply when seen a stranger knows *something* about me. Even if all they know is how I look. How I look IS a part of me.
The most casual stranger might percieve a bit of my personality and “vibe.” Maybe my emotions in that moment. To the more perceptive stranger they might translate body language, color story, my wealth, and my public persona, potentially able to guess at my inner self if they studied my eyes or my posture or way I hold the things I have to cart around with me in life.
“be an expression of or give a tangible or visible form to the intangible (an idea, quality, or feeling).”
“to give a concrete form to.”
“to represent the immaterial in material form; personify.”
“to represent a quality or idea exactly in form.”
My experience of life has been one full of profound connection to my mind, opinions, values, and “vision” for life, relatively disconnected from “my feelings,” and opposed to and rejecting my body. I haven’t liked, enjoyed, been comfortable in, or absorbed life through my body in a good way. I tune it out, berate it, feel guilt, and have often said “I wish I could be here but just be invisible. I want to talk and think and explore and enjoy this world, I just don’t want to be seen doing it.” My body seemed only to contribute two things besides basic function: potential sin or failure (whole different topics).
Marriage and motherhood have slapped my cold, wet pain on my raw cheek, and I haven’t been able to avoid the necessity of overcoming this. I don’t think it takes marriage or motherhood (or grief or or or…) to stir the process, but those are what did for me. I’ve been desperate to connect my body to my mind, heart, spirit, character, personality, and anything unseen that I think is “me” and what the Lord has made. What a joy it has been to ponder the embodiment of God.
God, The Father, The Holy One, The Maker.
Artist, Creator, Inventor, Builder.
Painter, Composer, Scientist, Architect.
He took the untouchable of Himself and gave it touchable form. He took His qualities and feelings and truths and made them into something like butter or blueberries... able to dissolve on my tongue, developing more flavor in the process, and then with this beauty sustain my life.
It’s not rare to hear that this universe and earth and all that is in it is His artwork or handiwork. But it dawned on me that it is Himself. It’s not just that He likes/loves or values these (He does!), it’s that He IS them. “I am Beauty, so here is beauty.” “I am a Writer, here is word. Here is a story… including the stage, costumes, sound effects, and cast of characters.” “I am Holy, here is perfection.” “I am Good, so here is good.” “I am vast.” “I am detailed.” “I am constant.” He didn’t create water to communicate that He was wet, but that he was refreshing and quenching and nourishing. So on and so forth. “This is what I’m like.” Here is fascination, here is texture, here is delight, here is abundance, here is safety, here is taste. “Do you see? This is who I am ‘inside,’ go forth… experience in material form.” This world embodies God’s attributes; ideas and qualities and feelings made physical.
Then He sought to exhibit the part of Him that is "Life," or more specifically The Living Self.
“Then the Lord God formed a man from the dust of the ground and breathed into His nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living being.”
He made the human body. The embodiment of life. We are routinely told in church about being “made in His image.” It’s hard to let that pack it’s punch. My mind quickly goes to Walt Disney’s report that Mickey Mouse is an embodiment of himself. A playful, positive-attitude-ed, spunky, sweet, old soul, who spent his life battling dark depression, being a workaholic, enormous personal tragedy, and isolation. Mickey wasn’t the embodiment of all but of a part. A part Walt needed to cling to and longed to bring to life (in his own life!). A part dangerously close to becoming swallowed up and lost for good.
God was the first cartoonist.
But of course, this world and all the immaterial souls wiggling around in material form, weren’t His final embodiment. Jesus. The Concrete Form of Absolute Holiness, Perfect Love, and Literally Every Good Thing. The spirit of God took human form. And, this is where my hate begins to lose it’s traction: Jesus is described as having “no beauty or form to attract us to him, nothing in his appearance that we should desire him.” (Obviously he had beauty but not cultural, physical, desirable-to-a-stranger beauty. More on that in the next post.) He was absolute perfection. Aesthetic and beauty and “how the things look” matter. It’s undeniable! But we find ourselves with a God who is not physically attractive in any stand out way. I’m sure he was just an average guy.
He is called (or calls Himself) and embodies everything from food (“The Bread of Life”), to nature (“Rock,” “Vine,” “Branch,” “Rose”, “Seed,” “Root”), to objects (“A Door,” “A Cornerstone,” “A Horn”), to animals (“Lion,” “Lamb”), to a creative (“Author,” “Creator”), to a role (“Captain,” “Shepard,” “King”, “Witness,” “Messenger,” “Counselor”), to qualities (“Faithful,” “Glory,” “Blessed,” “Holy,” “Consolation,” “Truth,” “Almighty), to a family member (“Father,” “Heir,” “Groom,” “Son”) and so much more.
Scripture describes God as cloaked, wrapped, adorned, and clothed and also offers guidance to how we should be as well.
“Adorned with glory and splendor,
and clothed in honor and majesty.”
We read of His armour and of His royal silk robes.
“Clothe yourselves with humility.”
“Adorn yourself with honor and grace.”
“Strength and dignity are her clothing,
She smiles at the future.”
“Skirted with gladness.”
I don’t just have the joyful privilege of getting to develop the inward beauty of God’s qualities, but I have the gift of being able to wear them, to look like them, to be “ideas and truths in concrete form” (or let’s be honest… Caleb is the concrete form, I’m like… the cookie dough form. Ba-doosh.).
Just like the rest of all art.
Just like the rest of all aesthetic.
Just like the rest of every sensory pleasure (or disgust).
And, gosh, I see it! I get it!
As the sound of horse hair on wire, pressed and pulled *just* the right way can make the sound of ache.
As the form of leaf veins look like wrist veins. (I love series’ like these that detail the body and this world as connected:
As some clouds look like a dragon with a ball or a pair of legs in boots.
As spicy food tastes like spicy attitude.
As the outer layer husk of an onion feels exactly like when your spirit is fragile and thin, yet still holding it together.
Steve Jobs said “Creativity is just connecting things.” Amanda Palmer said “Collecting the dots. Then connecting them. And then sharing the connections with those around you. This is how a creative human works. Collecting, connecting, sharing.” W. I. B. Beveridge said “Originality often consists in linking up ideas whose connection was not previously suspected.” Paul Rand said “The role of the imagination is to create new meanings and to discover connections that, even if obvious, seem to escape detection.” Stephen Roach said “The role of the artist isn’t journalistic reporting but rather to help us attend and see again that which we may have missed.”
Some people look a little bit like an alley cat.
Some people look a little bit like Santa Claus but as a child.
Some people look a little bit like a Honda Civic.
Some people look a little bit like a radish.
Some people look like Woody from Toy Story.
Some people look like an oak tree, and some look like a fuzzy shrub.
Some people look like mystery.
Some people look like tender.
Look like strong.
Look like soft.
Look like hard.
Look like Type-A order.
Look like the wind.
Look like warmth.
Look like light.
Look like beauty (more to come).
Look like humor.
Look like intelligence.
Look like fun.
Look like innocence.
Look like experience.
Like a garden of budding flowers.
You can probably do it. Think of someone who looks like comfort. She probably came instantly to mind. Think of someone who looks like spunk. Oh man, you can see it in their eyes, can’t you?? Think of someone who looks like a warrior. Who looks like a swan. It’s so easy.
Not “exclusively” of course, but I’ve been able to identify how much my external has been personifying jealousy, desperation, numb-ness, disdain, effort, and discomfort. (Isn’t it great how someone who is uncomfortable looks exactly like what discomfort feels like? Oh, it’s uncanny.) Gosh, how sad to spend my life embodying envy or superiority complex or spite.
In “Walt Manner” I made myself a list of the primary “soul untouchables” I want my body to bring to life. Not all but… given my life thus far, who God created me to be, and my preferences, what do I really want to aesthetically look like? What do I want my body to, well, embody!
My Greatest Sensory Pleasures
- Story and Word
- Light and Shadow
My Greatest Roles
- A Wife
- A Mother
- An Artist
My Best Qualities
- The desire to make all things meaningful/beautiful
- My pluck and moxie
- How intrigued I am to know, understand, and experience/“A Scout” (as detailed in this piece)
What God Specifically Notes
Wow. My body can look like a story (“The Story of a Mother,” “The Story of The Afternoons on The Beach,” “The Story of Surviving A Death,” “The Story of Pizza Enjoyed, And Kombucha And Organic Multi-Vitamins Too,” and on). It can look like courageous curiosity in the shadows (like when Belle asked the Beast to step into the light so she could take a good look at him, and then without flinching boldly walked to his face and said “You have my word.” and volunteered herself to become a monster’s prisoner in order to set her beloved father free.) It can look like a piece of art, freedom from shame, and Someone’s Lover. It can look like flavor tasted, "a time to rest in the shadow of the tree," and a light in the distance or light bursting through the perfectly placed picture window.
I understand how simple this is, but goodness… I have become captivated with the concept. How I wanted to be invisible, and how I’ve come to love the chance I get to make the invisible visible. I’m obsessed with becoming a woman comfortable in her own skin and story.
My mind lurches to identify the qualities others embody:
Caroline looks like adorable and she really is “inspiring of great affection; delightful; charming.”
Sara looks like a peaceful deep well and she has explored the cold, lonely holes of this life and they’ve led her to river banks.
Summer looks like feist.
Becca looks like comfort. (Just spend one afternoon with her. One.)
Megan looks like genuine confidence.
Ally looks like joy.
Mrs. Maisel looks like colorful nerve.
Shannon looks tough.
Dumbo looks bashful and precious.
One of my dad’s longtime buddies looks like a St. Bernard, just as playful and loyal too.
And on it goes…
Collect the dots. Connect the dots. Share the connections.
Praise the Lord for His skill, for His design, for His installations and art, for Himself. And let Him flow out from every place, including the literal, physical body. May I and we embody the best things well.
Up next: Part 2 - Embodying What Is Beautiful