Category Archives: Image of God
An August of Selah
Hello, lovely readers! It’s been about six months since I began blogging regularly here at Holistic Body Theology, and I’ve decided to take the month of August off from blogging and dedicate the time to praying, planning, and preparing for the future of the blog.
Although I won’t be posting anything new, I’ll still be around, so feel free to connect with me and let me know what you’d like to see here in the future. Leave a comment in the box below, or hit me up on Facebook or by email. I would love to hear from you.
In the meantime, here are some of the most popular posts from the past few months to tide you over until I get back.
Sex is Good, Even When You’re Not Having Any
Reflections on Body Theology: 10 Things that Annoy Me about Being a Woman
Choosing Church: A Lament (Part 1)
Conversation: Are You an Ender or a Starter?
Bathtub Spirituality: Getting Naked Before God
Gender-Inclusive Language; Gender-Inclusive God – Part 1
The Spiritual Practice of Sleeping
See you all in September!
Friday Forward: Guest Post on Letting Go
Tammy Waggoner is a recent grad of Fuller Theological Seminary. She enjoys writing about the things that affect her life and ministering to women who have been abused. She is a trailblazer in this area and enjoys helping other people understand the complexity of sexual abuse as well as helping survivors get freedom and true healing. For more from Tammy, check out her ministry, Fractured Wholeness, and read her blog.
On Wednesday, Tammy shared about having a healthy body image by letting go of lies we believe about ourselves in response to Monday’s post, “Against the Flesh, Part 1.” Now she’s back today to share her very own Friday Forward exercise with you lovely readers.
One way of letting go of lies and self-hatred and believing the truth is to get out post-its and a pen. First write down the lies. If you have a cross at home or at church put the post-it on the cross and ask God to take it. If you don’t have a cross at home or at church that you can use then rip up the post-it and as you do ask God to take this thought from your mind and to never let it in again.
Then (no matter if you have the cross or have torn up the post-it) ask God to show you or tell you what the truth is. Close your eyes and wait. If you have trouble hearing God pray this prayer with someone else in the room and ask them to listen for God’s truth as well. Once you hear the truth or are told the truth by someone else write the truth down on another post-it (I like different colors for lies and truth but use what you’ve got) and put the post-it somewhere you will see it daily. Ask God to remind you of this truth every time you see it.
I have done this activity or prayer in my ministry before and it is interesting how once the post-it was left on the cross and the truth was said aloud the lie could no longer be remembered. There was freedom in leaving it on the cross and the truth had already begun to sink in.
Letting go of self-hatred and the lies we believe about our bodies can open us to the freedom of loving ourselves and seeing ourselves as God sees us.
So, how’d it go? Come back and share your experience in the comments below.
“Already” in the Flesh
If you missed Against the Flesh: Part 1 and Against the Flesh: Part 2, you might want to go back and read them first. You’ll definitely want to check out Tammy’s awesome response posted yesterday.
Like Tammy said yesterday, we all have internalized lies about our bodies that have distorted our self-image and our approach to relationships and sexuality. But we don’t have to live in that place anymore.
It’s time to embrace the truth about who we are as children of God. It’s time to spend a little time in the “already” of the kingdom of God.
So today, even just for an hour or a few minutes, allow yourself to really believe and live into the “already.”
Tell yourself in the mirror, or grab a friend and take turns telling each other the truth about who you are. Allow your body to hear your words, receive them, and begin to transform your life–as Tammy said–from the inside out.
Are you ready?
(Better get ready…)
Here we go!
Truth #1: You are precious.
4 Since you are precious and honored in my sight, and because I love you, I will give nations in exchange for you, and peoples in exchange for your life. 5 Do not be afraid, for I am with you; I will bring your children from the east and gather you from the west. 6 I will say to the north, ‘Give them up!’ and to the south, ‘Do not hold them back.’ Bring my sons from afar and my daughters from the ends of the earth— 7 everyone who is called by my name, whom I created for my glory, whom I formed and made.” Isaiah 43:4-7 (TNIV)
Truth #2: You are priceless.
19 Do you not know that your bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God? You are not your own; 20 you were bought at a price. Therefore honor God with your bodies. 1 Corinthians 6:19-20 (TNIV)
Truth #3: You are chosen.
12 Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. Colossians 3:12 (TNIV)
Truth #4: You are the dearly loved child of God.
1 Follow God’s example, therefore, as dearly loved children 2 and walk in the way of love, just as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God. Ephesians 5:1-2 (TNIV)
Still don’t believe it? Take some time to review the list of “already” verses from Tuesday. I also encourage you to revisit some of God’s truth about your identity in this list.
What’s your favorite truth about who you are? How are you living in the “already” today?
Against the Flesh: Part 2
Yesterday, we looked at a list of the negative treatment of “the flesh” in the New Testament.
The Flesh = The Sinful Nature
When the gospel writers and Paul write about “the flesh,” they are not making general statements condemning our physical bodies. Fleshly, earthly, and human are all descriptors used in reference to the sinful nature. For example, you’ll notice I used the NIV for the Galatians 5:16-18 link yesterday because it uses the translation “flesh” rather than the updated TNIV translation “sinful nature.” The scholars working on the TNIV decided to update the translation to help illuminate the point Paul is trying to make.
It is the desires of our sinful nature that are against the Spirit, not the desires of our physical bodies. Our bodies’ need for basics like food, sleep, and sex are not evil or filthy desires in and of themselves. God created us with these desires and designed our bodies to function this way. Paul’s point is that the sinful nature corrupts these desires.
Paul’s Already/Not Yet Theology
But the list I shared yesterday is not the full story. That list was only the “not yet” of Paul’s argument: that we are still battling the sinful nature and must fight to follow the Spirit and bear fruit. The battle is ongoing and will not be fully realized until we die or Jesus returns.
There is another part of the story, the “already” of Paul’s argument. The battle has already been won. We can experience the fullness of redemption right now and forever. There is nothing to struggle against anymore because Jesus came to live among us, was crucified as the ultimate sacrifice for our sin, and was raised from the dead in final victory.
Here are some “already” verses for you:
- Jhn 1:14
- Acts 2:26-27
- Rom 8:8-10
- Rom 9:8
- 2Cor 10:2-4
- Gal 2:20
- Eph 2:14-16
- Eph 5:29-30
- Eph 6:12
- Col 1:19-23
- Heb 2:13-15
- Heb 10:19-22
We Christians are really good at living in the “not yet” part of the kingdom of God. We struggle and try and work out our salvation with sweat and tears. We put the burden on ourselves to do the work of capturing every thought, renewing our minds, and beating our flesh into submission. We are still being saved.
What we can’t seem to learn is how to live life in the “already.” This part of the kingdom of God is just as real, just as available to us as the “not yet.” This is where we have already been saved. The battle is won, and we are now heirs with Christ Jesus. We can approach the throne of grace with confidence. We are clothed with righteousness. There is no condemnation for us because we are under Christ Jesus. We are dead to sin and alive to Christ. We have taken off the old and have put on the new.
Old Testament Sacrifice and Jesus
In the Old Testament, the blood sacrifice of a pure, unblemished animal was necessary to purify the sinful flesh of the people of God. Every time a person sinned, another blood sacrifice was necessary to make the person clean and pure again.
When Jesus died on the cross, our pure, spotless lamb, his blood purified the sinful flesh of the people of God forever. No longer are we bound to the need to sacrifice an animal for each of our sins. Our sins have already been paid for. Jesus’ blood has already purified us. We are called righteous because of what Christ has already done.
Tomorrow, we’ll look at the implications of this “already” theology for holistic body theology.
Against the Flesh: Part 1
One of my pet peeves is when people talk about fighting against their flesh, beating their flesh into submission, or some other allusion to the flesh/spirit (sometimes also earthly/heavenly) dichotomy present in a number of New Testament passages–mostly in Paul’s letters.
It bothers me because people often use these passages to support an unhealthy–or at least unbalanced–body theology, one in which the body is something wholly other, something to be forced into submission, blamed for failures, lamented, battled, beaten, and regarded as dirty, filthy, and something to get rid of and be finally, blessedly free from after death.
I am not my body, people seem to acknowledge. I am my mind, my personality, and my spirit. I am pursuing God, but my body pursues evil. I am good, but my body is bad. I am purified, but my body keeps contaminating me. “What I don’t want to do, I do, and what I do want to do, I don’t do”; and it’s all my body’s fault. Stupid human flesh holding me back from the glorious, Spirit-filled Christian life.
I get a little upset.
That is not the truth about who we are as children of God. These are lies we believe, perpetuated by a consistent misreading of scripture. Just as we can’t read Romans 3:23 without Romans 3:24, or Colossians 3:22 without Galatians 3:28, or Ephesians 5:22 without Ephesians 5:21 — so we can’t read Galatians 5:16-18 without Ephesians 6:12.
The Bible is meant to be read collectively as the revelation of the story of God for the people of God. We need a holistic hermeneutic by which to read the entirety of scripture. Otherwise we get caught up in a verse here and a verse there and end up so far away from the point the author was trying to make, or the truth the Holy Spirit intends to reveal.
Scripture is easily twisted to fit our preconceptions and presumptions. We are so used to reading scripture through the lens of our own understanding and experience that we are often unable to recognize when a beautiful spiritual truth — intended to free us and bring us into the fullness of life and completion of joy promised to us — has been distorted into a horrible lie — intended to steal, kill, and destroy us.
Tomorrow, we’ll look at some of the scriptures below through the lens of holistic body theology. This is not intended to be an exhaustive list but representative of the New Testament’s negative treatment of “the flesh.”
- Mat 26:40-42
- Jhn 3:6
- Jhn 6:63
- Rom 3:20
- Rom 7:4-25
- Rom 8:1-13
- Rom 13:13-14
- 1Cor 3:1-3
- 1Cor 15:49-50
- Gal 3:3
- Gal 5:13-24
- Gal 6:8
- Col 2:20-23
- 1Pet 2:11
- 1Jhn 2:15-17
To be continued…
Maternal Language for God
It’s Blast from the Past Week on Holistic Body Theology. Here are some of my theological reflections from a class I took on “Women in Church History and Theology” at Fuller Seminary.
First posted May 9, 2008
Julian of Norwich, Showings
The idea of referring to God as Mother, or even as Mother-Father, has never sat comfortably with me. I cherish the image of God as Father and attribute much of my relationship with God to the understanding that image has fostered. (Note: I’ve come a long way since first writing this post.)
Nevertheless, I felt no discomfort when reading Julian of Norwich’s Showings. Perhaps that is because it was not my first reading of her revelations using such prevalent maternal language and imagery when referring to God and especially to Jesus. Or perhaps I was not uncomfortable because she is not agenda-driven in her writing. Though Julian often refers to Jesus as our Mother, she continues to refer to him as “he” and just as often pairs the parental reference as God our Father and God our Mother.
Particularly, Julian is writing in explication of sixteen visions she had of Jesus revealing something of himself to her. If her explanations include maternal imagery in conjunction with paternal imagery, I am not upset by it but appreciate what her revelations add to my understanding of God in the role of tender nurturer.
Hildegard and Hadewijch
Likewise the use of maternal imagery in the writings of Hildegard and Hadewijch, as recorded by F. Gerald Downing, does not bother me for similar reasons. These women are not pushing an agenda, trying to force out the man in favor of the woman, or trying to emasculate men or make God a woman. They are simply recording their own experiences of personal encounters with Jesus, using the kind of language and imagery that is both appropriate to their own life experience and to the way in which Jesus chose to reveal himself to them.
As Downing notes, “Hadewijch enjoys a fully tactile (and indeed erotic) sensation of being embraced by him [Jesus] during a mass,” and Julian’s less sexually-charged image of “Christ’s motherly suckling care” is just as intimate and personal a description (429). Downing notes also that the images these women draw on in their writings are all scriptural and traditional sources available but not utilized by other theologians like Anselm and Thomas Aquinas (430).
This kind of imagery, Downing argues, leads to an understanding of “the actions of Father, Son, and Spirit towards us [as] personal, specific, and interconnected, culminating in the Incarnation of the Word and the response the Spirit enables” (433). The point is not a triumph of feminine imagery over masculine but of personal, bodily imagery of a real and experienced relationship with God over impersonal, abstract imagery of a distant God who is perfect but inaccessible.
Marriane Meye Thompson, “Speaking of God”
Marianne Meye Thompson writes in her article “Speaking of God” that it is important not to lose one’s audience for the sake of pushing a theological conviction that the way has not been prepared for (6). What is the help in praying to God as Mother before a room full of people who have no idea what you are doing?
But Julian teaches her readers, in the midst of her sensuous and bodily language, how to imagine God (and particularly Jesus) as relating to us not just like a Father but like a Mother as well: “for God’s fatherhood and motherhood is fulfilled in true loving of God; which blessed love Christ works in us” (chapter 60). I think Thompson would agree that reading Julian out of context would be detrimental to an unprepared audience, but Julian’s unashamed use of maternal language (“[Jesus] feeds us and nurtures us: even as that high sovereign kindness of motherhood [does],” chapter 63) in general draws no particular criticism.
Paul Jewett, The Ordination of Women
Paul Jewett would probably also agree that Julian’s use of maternal language is appropriate because they are just metaphors. She still uses the masculine pronoun “he” to refer to each of the three persons of the Trinity—“for he [Jesus] is our Mother, Brother, and Savior” (chapter 58, emphasis added)—which is the only thing Jewett is concerned about.
She also does not use maternal language to the exclusion of paternal language, so Jewett would not be too concerned about her usage but would probably praise her ability to integrate these images so smoothly into her descriptions. In fact, Jewett actually declares that “the church needs to teach that God is as much like a mother as like a father” (139), and thus Julian does.
Is feminine imagery for God “un-biblical?”
Thompson notes that while there is a “predominance of male imagery for God” in the Bible, it is also true that “the Bible does use feminine imagery for God” as well (2). Since “much of our language for God is metaphorical and analogical” (1), there is no grounds for the claim that it is “unbiblical to picture God in analogies from the sphere of women’s experience” (3). What Julian does in her writing is provide a balanced analogy of the parental relationship, both that of the Father and the Mother whenever she deems appropriate. In that way, she is able to elevate from a “second degree” status the part of the woman in the image of God (5).
Jewett echoes Thompson in the acknowledgement that women have been demeaned in the church, relegated to a secondary or “human-not-quite-human” status in relation to men (119). Since God has revealed himself in masculine language through the biblical authors, and since theologians have followed that tradition in referring to God, Jewett argues that it is appropriate to use masculine language, especially the masculine pronoun “he,” to refer to God (123).
Nevertheless, it is important to educate Christians that while a masculine pronoun can be more appropriate in some contexts than a feminine one, that usage must be balanced with the recognition that “God so transcends all sexual distinction as to be neither male nor female, yet appropriately likened to both” (124).
Julian does just that: likens God to both a Father and a Mother, “as truly as God is our Father, so truly God is our Mother” (chapter 59). Ultimately, Jewett asserts, God has revealed himself not as masculine but as personal, the “personal Subject, saying I am who I am” (127), so while masculine language about God is appropriate because of tradition, “we must not continue to think of the male as supremely the bearer of the image of God” (128).
Julian helps us understand God in feminine terms as well with her many references to Jesus as the suckling mother who cares for his children: “The mother may give her child suck of her milk, but our precious Mother Jesus feeds us with himself” (chapter 60).
Give Your Body a Valentine
Believe it or not, your body is aware of who you are, what you care about, and how you are doing emotionally and spiritually. Our bodies are part of who we are, and they know us better than we think they do. (If you missed it yesterday, you can read about my experience learning to listen to my body here.)
This week we’re learning together about the connection between our physical and spiritual selves through Flora Slosson Wuellner’s book Prayer and Our Bodies. These posts are not meant to be a book review but a sharing of and engaging with some of her insights as an ordained minister, adjunct professor, and trained spiritual director.
Here is some of what Wuellner has to say about the body throughout her introduction:
Our understanding and awareness of our bodily selves unfold slowly as we grow, learn, and mature within God’s embrace.
This is why the development of a holistic body theology begins with and is constantly being informed by our identity in Christ. This is also why becoming more media literate and culturally discerning is important so we can sift through the messages we receive in search of God’s truth about who we are.
When the body is mentioned in the New Testament, it is often referred to by the Greek word soma, which usually implies the whole human self: body, emotion, intelligence, will.
Because our faith is rooted in the incarnation of Jesus, any form of spirituality we claim must also be incarnational, which by definition includes the wholeness of the person. This will profoundly influence our relationship to our communities and our world.
This is why I have added the word “holistic” to my discussions of body theology and have expanded the definition to include not only our physical selves (body image, sexuality) but also how we interact within the community of God (the body of Christ, community) and within our larger local and global context (the body of Christ, service).
…[A]s we grow into a new, transforming relationship with our bodily selves, we will begin spontaneously and naturally to make informed decisions about our habits, lifestyles, and relationships.
I don’t think I could write a better description of the purpose of holistic body theology. We are created to engage with ourselves, with God, and with others through our bodies, not in spite of them.
Chapter 2: Reconciling and Celebrating Our Bodies
In this chapter, Wuellner gently approaches the topic of body image and the need for inner healing. She asks, “What have our bodies done to us that we ignore, dislike, and punish them so?” and suggests that “much unhealed anger, fear, and hurt underlies our dislike and suspicion of our bodily selves. These unresolved, underlying issues affect our engagement in culture (e.g. what and how much we eat and drink, how we identify and treat illness) as well as how we relate to ourselves, one another, and God.
Our bodies were created in unity with our emotions, intelligence and will, Wuellner describes, and being out of touch with our emotions and bodies results in “fragmentation.” Wuellner encourages her readers to “pray for awareness that our disliked bodily parts are part of us and have served us faithfully. We can stop blaming our bodies for our own decisions…. Celebration of even one small part is deeply healing to the whole.”
She suggests that engaging with our bodies in prayer can provide space for us to “learn to listen to the signals of our bodies, honoring them as one of the main ways God speaks to us and by which we can learn much unencountered truth about ourselves and our communities.”
Guided Meditation with the Body
She goes on to offer a guided meditation exercise in which she encourages her readers to
1) think of a part of the body they dislike or are ashamed of and picture it being “touched lovingly” or “gently washed” by Jesus,
2) touch that part of their bodies themselves, “thank it for being a faithful friend in spite of your dislike,” and ask God for healing of the dislike or shame associated with that body part,
3) remember a time their bodies were insulted or criticized by someone else and see themselves as they were at that time (e.g. child, teenager, adult) being comforted by God, and
4) thank their bodies as they are now “for taking the special tasks and challenges of this phase of your life” and allow their bodies to be held by God “as one who is precious to God and valued by God.”
A few friends and I tried this mediation exercise in our sexuality group two or three years ago. Even though it was an uncomfortable approach for some of us at the time, I remember how the night was filled with healing, freedom, and peace as we each acknowledged some shame or emotional hurt related to our bodies and were able to deal with it individually with God in a shared, safe space.
Give Your Body a Valentine
Today, try setting aside a little time to celebrate Valentine’s Day with yourself by going through this exercise (or whatever portion or version feels safe and available to you).
Show some love for your body as it is now, fearfully and wonderfully made by a powerful, creative God who knows you, loves you, and could not possibly imagine this life without you in it!
Parable and Truth
The Diving Bell and the Butterfly, the 2007 French film that won numerous awards and was nominated for more including four Oscar nominations, is the true story of Elle editor Jean-Dominique Bauby. Bauby suffered a stroke and lived his remaining years “locked in” to a body completely paralyzed except for his left eye. He uses this eye, through coded blinking, to dictate his memoir of the same name. I find something extraordinarily beautiful about the way Bauby chooses to express himself poetically despite the tediousness of the task and the utterly humiliating state of being he is reduced to from his former position of influence and affluence.
Watching films like this make me wonder at the amazing imagination we have been given. Story has often been considered falsehood or at best escapism, yet the tide is shifting as we come to realize the power of imagination for good purpose. Indeed, our imagination is just one way we are imaging our Creator. We have an imaginative God who speaks to us in more than just a list of dos and don’ts. So, too, do we have this ability to share truth through story.
When I was in seminary, my Storytelling professor, Olive Drane, told us a story about the twin boys Truth and Parable. In the story, Truth has an urgent message to share with his town. In his haste, Truth runs into the town square stark naked, shouting his news to all who will hear him. But the townspeople are horrified by Truth’s display, beat him, and send him away.
Discouraged, Truth returns home to his twin brother, Parable, who is well-respected in the town. Parable cleans his brother’s wounds, gives Truth his own clothes to cover his nakedness, and encourages Truth to try again. This time, when Truth returns to the town square wearing Parable’s clothes, the townspeople listen to his message and accept him.
But might people miss the truth we want to convey if we cover it with story? Isn’t it safer to speak the truth plainly and ensure we are heard?
Even artists disagree on the appropriate balance between story and truth. Poet Emily Dickinson wrote famously, “Tell all the Truth but tell it slant.” Yet Southern short story author Flannery O’Connor one wrote in an article that she was determined to write her message “in large print on the wall so that the blind could see it.” Is it subtlety, then, or shouting that wins the day? To put it another way, how many layers of Parable’s clothes must Truth wear before the townspeople will accept him?
Perhaps it depends on the message. Perhaps it depends on the artist. Perhaps it depends on the audience.
In the film, Bauby shares his life story in painful detail, yet the success of his life lies not in his worldly accomplishments but in his ability to imagine, to feed his soul though he is “locked in.” Rather than dictating a minimalist report of his life, which would have been so much easier, Bauby chooses to make the extra effort to show the truth of his experience and the truth of the person he has come to be–with all his flaws–through story.
Bauby didn’t set out to write a book. He didn’t grow up taking creative writing classes or attending seminars. He was a magazine editor, interested in the world of fashion. But he had something to say, and before he died, he took the time to say it. And the world is better for having heard and learned from his story.
Maybe you think to yourself, I’m not an artist. I don’t have a story to tell. But you’re wrong. Everyone has a story. Maybe it’s not a fable like the Princess and the Pea. Maybe it’s not an award-winning novel like The Old Man and the Sea. But it’s part of who you are. And the world will be better off having your story, too.
Jesus, who is the Truth, spoke often in parable and usually refused to explain himself even to his disciples. We’ll take a look at why Jesus spoke in parables tomorrow.