To improve is to change; to be perfect is to change often. – Winston Churchill
There have been a number of changes here at HBTB over the last few months, which some of you may have noticed. The most recent change is the new web address. Welcome, dear readers, to HolisticBodyTheology.com!
I’ve been spending a lot of time getting my new spiritual direction website, lauraknowlescavanaugh.com, up and running and updating my social media accounts in the last few days. Now it’s time to give HBTB a new look worthy of the .com upgrade.
Due to the makeover, I won’t be posting much this week, but please be sure to stop by and browse around to see what’s changed. I may also be enlisting your opinions on Twitter and Facebook, so be sure to share your thoughts along the way.
Storytelling was my favorite class in seminary. Out of all the classes I took, it was the one that scared me the most, stretched me the most, and inspired me the most. In Storytelling, I discovered part of myself that I had never recognized or acknowledged before. I found an untapped courage and an unheard voice. In learning to the art of storytelling, I began to discover the truth underneath my own.
Telling our stories is powerful work. Here at Holistic Body Theology, I write a lot about my own story. I bare little bits of my soul, take a deep breath, and hit “publish.” I share my story with you lovely readers because I hope that you will find something of yourself here, some bit of freedom or healing, some resonance or camaraderie or commiseration. If nothing else, it is therapeutic, part of my own journey toward self-awareness, healing, and wholeness. I write the truth not just to share it with all of you but to keep the revelation fresh and conscious. And I will keep on writing the truth until I convince myself.
But this blog is not just a platform for my own story. It is also a forum for the sharing of all of our stories. As I am finding my voice and learning to use it, I am also feeling a deep call to find my ears and learn to use them. I am learning to be a listener.
Story-telling needs to be unhurried and unharried, so the listener must be willing to let the narrative unfold….Storytelling is also a dialogue, and sometimes the [listener] must become active in helping shape the story. – Margaret Guenther, Holy Listening: The Art of Spiritual Direction
I have been becoming a listener for a long time, listening to the stories of others and joining them with my own as we shape together the unfolding story of God in our lives. In a world crowded with words and noise and advertisements and cultural mandates and every message from everywhere demanding attention and primacy and response, the call to the contemplative life is something like a rising wind, blowing across the desert dunes with such force and persistence that the shape of the terrain is completely rearranged and made new. Suddenly the lay of the land looks different, unfamiliar. The path we have taken is wiped away. We can’t go back the way we came. We can only continue onward.
I want to listen to your stories, dear readers. As I share with you the journey I am on, I hope you will join me on the way and help me shape the story we are all in. The comment box is always open. For sensitive stories, I am always available by private Facebook message or email at bodytheologyblog at gmail dot com. I am honored each time I hear from you, my dear companions on this journey. We are all exploring this intersection of mind-body-spirit we call the human life. We are all moving toward healing and wholeness together.
I am both listener and storyteller.
I am both silent and engaging in dialogue.
I am both resting and moving forward.
I am both broken and becoming whole.
Holistic Body Theology is the art of balancing and honoring the mind-body-spirit connection that makes us who we are: human beings created in the image of God. That is a story worth telling!
My brother complained recently that my blog is too often about “women stuff.” Well, he’s right. I write toward a holistic body theology from my perspective as young, white, female, married, member of the 99%, seminarian, and writer — just to name a few descriptors. I don’t speak for everyone’s experience. I can only speak for my own and hope that some part of my story may inspire, inform, or challenge part of yours.
But lovely readers, today is an especially “women-stuff-filled” day, so prepare yourselves. If you are a woman, perhaps you will find something of yourself in the post below.
If you are a man, I hope that you will keep reading and recognize within yourself as you do the way you feel as you read on. Do you feel somewhat excluded? Do you find yourself doing some mental gymnastics to get at the part that relates to your own experience? If so, then you are on your way to discovering what it’s like for women to experience God in a patriarchal framework. My hope is that you will find the experience useful in your own spiritual growth.
If you follow my profile on Goodreads, you’ll know that I just finished reading Sue Monk Kidd‘s book The Dance of the Dissident Daughter: A Woman’s Journey from Christian Tradition to the Sacred Feminine. I could have quoted half the book for you, but the following passage stood out to me as particularly necessary to inform our holistic body theology.
In Christianity God came in a male body. Within the history and traditions of patriarchy, women’s bodies did not belong to themselves but to their husbands. We learned to hate our bodies if they didn’t conform to an idea, to despise the cycles of mensuration–“the curse,” it was called. Our experience of our body has been immersed in shame.
Let me interrupt to say that the understanding that patriarchy has had a negative impact on female body image is not a new idea for this blog. We’ve touched on this idea here, for instance, and here and here, and even here.
This negative impact must be recognized as a lie and uprooted so there is room for planting new understandings of the body that are more in line with the truth about who we are as human beings: male and female, together we are created in the image of God.
We’ve talked before about how the foundation of holistic body theology is our identity in Christ, but this truth is much more difficult for many women to embrace on a heart-level and experience in their own bodies than it is for men because we first have to break down the gender barrier. We have to “enter into” our identity as the image of God “in a new way,” through an embracing of our physical selves.
Waking to the sacredness of the female body will cause a woman to “enter into” her body in a new way, be at home in it, honor it, nurture it, listen to it, delight in its sensual music. She will experience her female flesh as beautiful and holy, as a vessel of the sacred. She will live from her gut and feet and hands and instincts and not entirely in her head. Such a woman conveys a formidable presence because power resides in her body. The bodies of such women, instead of being groomed to some external standard, are penetrated with soul, quickened from the inside.
I’ve been working on this process for a long time. At my awakening to the need for this “new way,” I struggled to give voice to my experience and name my pain. Now, I am still in the process toward accepting the truth about myself in my physical being and experiencing God in myself in this new way. The journey is not complete. There is more work to be done. One day I trust that I will be able to see myself fully — both spiritually and physically — as the embodiment of God, the imaga Dei.
This is where I am on my journey toward holistic body theology. Where are you?
What did this passage stir up in you? Share your thoughts in the comment box below, or drop me a line on Facebook or via email: bodytheologyblog at gmail dot com.
Hello, lovely readers! I know I’ve been MIA here at Holistic Body Theology while I’m recovering from a recurring neck injury. Just a note to let you know I look forward to getting back into the swing of things next week.
Until then, have a fun-filled, yummy-food-filled, good-friends-and-family-filled Thanksgiving tomorrow!
This year I’m thankful for each of you — for your kind and supportive emails, Facebook messages, blog comments, and all the deep conversations we’ve had over the last few months. I’m thankful for the opportunity to keep thinking theologically and exploring practically what it looks like to live into healthy, holistic experience of God — mind, body, and spirit. And I’m thankful that I’ve been fearfully and wonderfully made in the image of God, adopted by grace through faith in the incarnate Christ into the family of God, and indwelt with the mighty, beautiful, life-changing power of the Holy Spirit — and so have you!
This year, what are YOU thankful for?
“Went to seminary” sounds so nonchalant, so casual and normal, as though I had said nothing more significant than “then I went to the store.” Let me rephrase.
Then I was uprooted from the comfort and safety of my quiet little life in conservative Greenville, South Carolina with its gentle, rolling Appalachian foothills and temperate climate and dragged across the country to entertainment-saturated, liberal southern California with its rough, jagged Rocky peaks and dry, dramatic desert climate.
During a prayer session once, a young man I had just met that evening gave me a prophetic word that he saw me as a beautiful flowering plant that had been uprooted from my pot. He said the pain I was feeling was from being in transition but that I could rest assured that God was holding onto me and that I would be planted again soon, outside in the garden.
At the time, I kinda thought he was crazy. I didn’t put much stock in prophetic words, especially from people I’d just met, and how did he know I was in pain, anyway? I hadn’t said anything about it.
But I went home and cried.
He was right. I had been uprooted, not only from the pot of my life in South Carolina but also from my black-and-white Presbyterian perspective on the world. What I didn’t realize at the time was that my pot was holding me back. I couldn’t keep growing in that environment anymore. I had outgrown the pot and needed more room for my roots to go down deeper and my leaves to spread out more fully.
Invited into the conversation
So I was in seminary, hovering between the security of my pot and the great unknown of the garden. My roots were dangling in the air, exposed for all to see and desperate for water. It was in that space, the space between the pot and the garden, that I was invited back into the conversation.
In seminary, I was surrounded by people of faith–both conservative and liberal–all wrestling with scripture, examining their roots, being exposed to new points of view, and rubbing against each other in friendly, earnest debate. We were all working out who we were and what we believed. We were all trying on new ideas and perspectives. We were all talking and listening and thinking and arguing. We were all part of the conversation.
I spent a lot of my time in seminary with other Presbyterians, only a lot of them weren’t black-and-white at all. And I spent a lot of time with people whose roots were in many other denominations and expressions of Christian faith. And they weren’t very black-and-white, either. The best conversations I had in seminary were with other students whose roots were dangling in space just like mine. We were all in transition.
We were all on our way out to the garden.
To be concluded tomorrow…
If you missed it yesterday, read Part 1 first.
Running in place vs. running a race
But if we end the conversation, then what have we gained? We might stay safe; we might feel righteous and satisfied at having the last word. But what have we really gained?
Being a conversation-ender is like running in place. We might be the fastest, fittest, most well-trained athlete in the world, but if we only run in place, we never get anywhere. It’s much safer to run in place than to enter a race. But is that safety really worth more than the risk it takes to enter the race and be willing to find out we’re actually not as fast or fit as we thought? What does running in place really gain us?
Ending the conversation
Rachel Held Evans spoke recently at a Mission Planting conference about her upcoming book A Year of Biblical Womanhood where she said, “I believe the Bible is meant to be a conversation-starter, not a conversation-ender.”
Growing up in the conservative South as a black-and-white Presbyterian, I prided myself on being able to end conversations with the perfect Bible verse. You can’t argue with scripture, right? I carried my Bible with me everywhere because I wanted to be prepared to give an account for the hope that I had. Cursing? Sex? Watching TV? I had a Bible verse for everything, and I felt safe and secure in the knowledge that I was living the right life.
But then I entered high school and began to be friends with people who didn’t live the right life at all. In fact, they didn’t even care about what the Bible said! I didn’t know how to have conversations with people who didn’t honor the word of God as perfect and authoritative. For the first time, I wasn’t ending the conversation. They were.
Listening before speaking
As soon as they saw the Bible I faithfully carried with me everywhere, the conversation was over before it ever began. So I put my Bible away for a while and began to listen.
I listened to my high school friends. I read their stories and poetry. I played their games. I entered their lives and watched how they engaged with people. I took note of what was important to them. I listened not only to their words but to their lives.
In college I kept listening, mostly because every time I opened my mouth I was slapped down and criticized as that-intolerant-conservative-Christian. I began to understand how I had wounded others with my Bible-verse sword, how I had cut out their tongues with it and counted myself righteous for doing so. I had wounded others growing up as I was now being wounded by my professors and fellow students. I listened, and I learned how it felt to be uninvited to the conversation.
Then I went to seminary.
To be continued tomorrow…
I used to be a conversation-ender.
Growing up in the South, I was immersed in a conservative environment, both religiously and politically. I grew up Presbyterian, in a long bloodline of Presbyterians past, which is a denomination that puts great emphasis on knowledge and scripture. I grew up with sword drills, and I was a quicker draw than most. I knew all the Bible stories and could answer all the Sunday school questions.
I wouldn’t trade that upbringing. I have deep respect for my Presbyterian roots. They are strong and deep. I still maintain most of my early Presbyterian theology and appreciate my early exposure to a love of the word of God.
What I would trade, however, is how I used that word of God. I was quick to draw my sword and fight, and I fought to draw blood. I fought to win.
The appeal of a black-and-white theology is that there is a straight answer for everything. There are neat categories. There is order, and we Presbys love us some order. There is comfort in knowing what is right and what is wrong, who is in and who is out, where the line in the sand is and which side we’re on.
The problem with black-and-white theology is that it is fear-based. Fear of complication, wrong answers, messy categories, disorder. Fear of not knowing, not being sure, or maybe just not being right. Fear of being disagreed with. Fear that there could be more than one valid answer. Fear of losing that comfort and security.
The good and bad of boundaries
Having clear boundaries makes us feel safe. That’s a natural human trait. We’re designed to want and need boundaries. Boundaries are good and necessary.
But whose boundaries?
If boundaries are good and necessary, then the more boundaries we have, the better off we will be, right? We will be safer and more comfortable. We will be more sure. More right. So we create more and more boundaries for ourselves, encroaching on the space within. Little by little, we sacrifice our safe space until we find ourselves…in prison!
Enter Jesus. Enter truth. Enter freedom. Enter fullness of life. Enter fulfillment of the law. Enter space.
The best boundaries we can live by are God’s boundaries, not ours. But how do we know what God’s boundaries are? Who’s to say who’s right and who’s wrong, who’s in and who’s out, who’s free and who’s in prison, whose space is God’s space?
Better to be safe than sorry, right?
Better slap down those who threaten the safety of our comfortable boundaries, right?
Better end the conversation now than risk stepping out into all that space, right?
To be continued in tomorrow’s post…
Community is about being part of each other’s stories. When God decided to break the 400-year silence and reestablish communication with humanity, God didn’t just bellow from heaven. God actually came to earth to share in our story, becoming one of us to relate to us on our most intimate level—relationally. John’s gospel begins with the announcement of the best news we’ve ever received: the Word became flesh and lived among us. We are relational creatures, designed to respond to the incarnation of Christ in the person of Jesus. We are created to relate to each other through story, so Jesus related to the Jewish community in just that way: he told stories.
The gospel writers preserved for us in written form examples of the stories among different Christian groups about who Jesus was and what he said and did that was so life-changing. These books are not police printouts with Jesus’ specifics so that he can be recognized wherever he goes. They are stories, narratives—each written from a different perspective and with a different purpose according to the communities each author was a part of.
Mark, whose gospel is generally accepted as the earliest written record of the oral tradition about Jesus, wrote his story to Gentile believers who had little understanding of the Jewish tradition. Luke was also probably concerned with a Gentile audience, but Matthew, on the other hand, clearly geared his story toward Jewish believers who needed no such explanations. John’s gospel is probably the most obvious example of the way a story can affirm a community’s identity since most scholars agree that he wrote for a particular group of Jewish Christians who had been ostracized from the synagogue.
Stories not only help us relate to each other, but they also give an account of who we are; our stories are part of our identity. The gospel writers chose carefully what to include in their accounts of Jesus’ life in order to preserve and perpetuate the identity of each community. But this technique is not lost on us today. Think of all the memoirs written in recent years. As we get older and reflect on the wisdom of our lives, we don’t want to share a list of dos and don’ts with those who will come after us; we want to preserve our identities as a legacy, the story of our lives for those lives coming after us. We are not designed to relate to rules of behavior; we want stories, understand stories, think in stories, and relate to each other through the shared story of our lives together.
Story is universal. The desire to connect with others, the desire for community life and personal relationships, the desire for spiritual encounters that involve experience rather than knowledge—these desires are not being filled in today’s consumerist society. All around the world people are seeking relational fulfillment. If we weren’t, online networks like Facebook wouldn’t be so successful. We yearn to share ourselves with each other. Stories are the entry point into the vulnerability necessary to wipe out loneliness and the burden of shame so many people carry in secret. It is the call of the Christian community to build relationships by following the example of Jesus, by telling stories and by becoming part of the story of humanity.
The gospels invite readers to enter their world, to listen to Jesus’ words, to watch his great deeds, to appreciate their understanding of him, and to ask ourselves the same questions as the people in the text…In other words, they are portraits which invite us to respond by joining in the picture. ~ Richard Burridge, Four Gospels, One Jesus?
We, as the community of God, need to learn how to tap into that vision and invite people to join in the picture. We do that by practicing telling our stories, personal and biblical, that join into God’s story—the one we are all a part of, as a community of believers. If we really want to know each other, and if we really want to know God, we have to tell our stories. Without them, we lose the power of truth discovered together. And without them, the Christian community is nothing more than a building with a bunch of chairs facing all in one direction.
Community truly is about being part of each other’s stories. Relationship requires interaction, vulnerability, and the space to share with one another in the one way we all relate to: story.