Today’s Bible reading
Oh yes, you shaped me first inside, then out;
you formed me in my mother’s womb.
I thank you, High God—you’re breathtaking!
Body and soul, I am marvelously made!
I worship in adoration—what a creation!
You know me inside and out,
you know every bone in my body;
You know exactly how I was made, bit by bit,
how I was sculpted from nothing into something.
Like an open book, you watched me grow from conception to birth;
all the stages of my life were spread out before you,
The days of my life all prepared
before I’d even lived one day.
(Psalm 139:13-16, MSG)
More thoughts for meditation
In her chapter, Body, Cole Arthur Riley writes:
I was in middle school when my great-aunt’s husband died and we began going to church with her for a while so she didn’t have to go alone. It was a Baptist church on a hill, made of hand-hewn logs and white faces. And it’s where I first heard about a God who died on a cross. It was a Good Friday service, and the pastor, a small man with hair slick like oil and veins that stained his flesh blue, was pacing the stage. He began gesticulating wildly, sweat collecting on his upper lip like a strand of tiny pearls that he sprayed out to the audience as he yelled.
And they DROVE the nails right here, he said, digging his thumb and pointer fingers into his wrist. And they took the nest of thorns and RAMMED it on his scalp. And he hammered his own skull with his fist. My sister grabs my knee.
This dude okay? And my father glares a warning down at us, but we can tell he is trying not to crack up. This is what JEEZUS gave for you, the blue man cries. I flinch, and my sister squeezes my knee tighter. He gave his BLOOD. What will you give? Is he worth your LIFE? Will you give your life to him today? And he beats against his chest like a locked door.
After the service, our parents went to eat bagels and act somber with my great-aunt and the other adults, and I curled up in my sister’s shadow as she rotated around the stations of the cross with the other kids. She brought a vinegar-soaked sponge to my mouth and whispered, Pretend. And we giggled as the other kids winced and went back for more. As a finale, they made us write down our deepest loves and throw them into a fire in the parking lot. Jesus wants it all. Will you give your life for him? My sister took a slip and wrote for both of us: We’re too young to die. And then, almost as an after-thought: Sorry. We threw it in the flame.
In hindsight, this was my first encounter with a spirituality that demanded my death far more often than it ever advocated for my life. It was as if because God endured bodily violence, it became a requirement for the rest of us. That we should sacrifice our bodies, knowing that eternal salvation awaited our souls. This was the eerie heartbeat of this small log cabin church: Your body is expendable.
And it’s not only them. I think whiteness knows that the more detached I am from my body, the easier that body will be to colonize and use toward whiteness’s own ends. It desires that my mind be fixed firmly on an immaterial realm, that I become numb to any present and material injustices. It is this belief system that indoctrinates us to sneer at social justice but bow to evangelism. After all, evangelism has the ability to exercise the same muscles as colonization–telling someone what to think and be. It can be a form of ownership in the name of heaven.
All our charades of honoring the invisible things at the expense of the material serve to obscure the very material injustices by which Black people have been historically excluded.
That is not to say I disbelieve in an unseen spiritual realm.
On the contrary, I believe that the spiritual realm is so enmeshed with the physical that it is imperceptible. I believe in the mysterious nearness of my ancestors, but I believe they are located at the site of my own blood and bone.
The chasm between the spiritual and the physical is no greater than that between a thought and a word. They cannot be disconnected. And it is difficult to tell where one ends and the other begins, perhaps because there is no such place.
We were never meant to dismember our selfhoods. My face is my soul is my blood is my glory. When we neglect the physical, it inevitably suffocates the image of a God who ate, slept, cried, bled, grew, and healed. And whether or not the origin of that neglect is hatred, it will indeed end in hatred.
I want a faith that loves the whole of me. And if I make it to the table of God, I hope it has cornbread stuffing and comfortable chairs. I mean no offense to the desert mothers and fathers eating locusts and honey and itching with camel hair, but I hope God knows how my cousin’s baked mac and cheese tastes. I hope he puts ham hocks in his greens and feels no shame.
Suggestions for action
Do something today to honor and love your body, and make the act a prayer, giving thanks to God that you were made, body, bones, skin and soul, woven together. Here are a few ideas, or come up with your own.
-Eat a food you truly enjoy slowly and thoughtfully, savoring the taste and textures
-Put lotion on your skin and enjoy how it smells and feels
-Stretch your body in a way that feels comfortable; if you practice yoga you could engage with this practice.
-Take a warm shower and linger a little longer than usual, breathing deeply, giving thanks
-If you are able, go for a walk outside and notice how your body carries you where you choose to go