Fleshing out flesh, saving my skin

Somehow, for most of my life, my identity as a Christian has seemed to negate my identity as a human. However the message came, I picked up that my flesh is sinful and to be hated so that my spirit can prosper and live eternally with God. Maybe that’s why I did so many self-destructive things as a young adult. Maybe I figured that my body was so detestable, that I should just abuse it and neglect it. Maybe that was why I didn’t care when I saw friends or loved ones abuse or neglect their bodies. This body, after all, will be replaced with a glorified body one day, following the resurrection steps of Jesus. So, it’s pretty useless in spiritual terms anyway, right?

Well, that isn’t so right. The first thing I had to sit with for a while – like, years – is the fact that Jesus did come to earth wearing flesh. Fully Divine and fully human – that’s what we believe, right? If flesh itself is so detestable, Jesus probably would have come up with another way to save us, so that he could avoid such contamination of his Divinity.

There are a lot of Gnostic Christians still walking around, I think, believing that bodies are bad and spirits are good. Think about this, though: Jesus came to us and for us . . . in a body. And beyond the miracle of the incarnation, our bodies are redeemed toward a future BODILY resurrection. As Barbara Brown Taylor says in her best-selling An Altar in the World, in the middle of pain or disease, most of us miss the fact that “our bodies remain God’s best way of getting to us.”

How can we reconcile our flesh, then, in spiritual terms? How can we seek holiness while wearing this fleshy dress without despising the dress? I suppose we can all start by recognizing the way Jesus lived in his skin. Having skin really is the most basic connection we have as humans. Flesh and bones, we are – all of us. And Jesus’ ministry was profoundly a ministry of restoring bodies that were, in various ways, broken. Jesus saw spiritual value in healing, loving, and restoring flesh. He redeemed it. He showed us how to transform.

As always, transformation is where I land. I am so grateful for the possibility and the process of transformation! So, as I continue to walk the earth in my bony, often dirty feet, and as I walk alongside my companions who also might have issues with dirt or disease or destructive habits or other intensely human traits, I am reminded that Jesus thinks wearing skin is a great way to change the world.

Hurts so good

My foot is killing me today. The reason is a tad embarrassing, only because of the mental images you might conjure. I found a pair of headphones last night, which coincided with the arrival of a $15 iTunes gift card . . . which led to music downloads . . . which then led to about 40 minutes of dancing around my room. I have to tell you, it felt soooooo good to dance. It was late. I danced. I sang. I was in another world for those 40 minutes, and it was simply wonderful.

It didn’t take long after I stopped to notice that my left foot was hurting. Honest to Pete, I don’t know how it happened. But, I did damage to my foot, with a bruise across the top as an indicator of some sort of sprain.

But, guess what? I was so happy when it happened, I don’t really care even now about the injury. It hurts, yes. But it happened while I was doing something I really loved and, if I had it to do over, I would probably do the exact same thing.

I can’t help but compare that sentiment to the process of bringing children into the world. If there wasn’t so much joy attached to the outcome, there would likely never be more than one child in any family. How else can you explain our willingness to endure childbirth more than once in a lifetime? (And for men, how else can you explain their willingness to endure the misery we inflict on them during pregnancy and labor?)

I spoke in a previous blog about how there is always an element of imperfection to our experiences of joy here on earth. But this is a different angle, I think. This connection between suffering and joy emphasizes the presence of love in both. Love empowers us to endure suffering.

As I think about that concept during this Lenten season and apply it to the suffering Jesus endured, I am utterly overwhelmed by the vastness of His love. I cannot speak because there is nothing to say. A beautiful combination of Divinity and humanity, Love and suffering, is the story of Jesus’ passion. The whole time, He had us in mind.

That kind of covenant-based love is not an easy concept for us to grasp. We don’t see the value in enduring hardship when there are so many other choices. Today, I remain in a state of gratitude for Christ’s covenantal love and the lesson I am afforded because of it.

In the middle of joy or sadness, my heart dances in His love, whether my feet can keep up or not!