The Gift of the BodyBlog / Produced by The High Calling
"The truth is none of us are in need of a savior just for our souls," writes Tara M. Owens for our series Flesh and Blood. "If that were the case, the incarnation, Jesus in flesh-and-blood, wouldn’t have really been necessary."
I’m grateful to be part of a congregation that takes Communion every week. It’s a gift that sustains me in a way I don’t have to think about, only receive. On one particular Sunday, deep in the confusing holiness of new parenthood, I was hungrier for the grace of receiving Christ’s body and blood than I was for anything our pastor had to say (no offense, Ken). So when our daughter’s diaper began to produce some telltale signs of needing to be changed, I didn’t get too worked up that I needed to leave the service for a few minutes.
It wasn’t the last time that we’d suffer a blowout during the sermon at church; it was the very first. While I had consciously chosen to take as much time as our new little family needed before braving a return to church—a kindness to myself, really, as I adjusted to my new mama-hood—I’d nonetheless been itching for weeks to get back into the pews.
Before you paint a halo over my head, my desire to get back to the sanctuary stemmed not out of holiness but from searing desperation. If you’re a parent, I suspect you’ll nod sympathetically when I say that nothing has shown me my own need for a savior more than this first encounter with my offspring, my own flesh and blood. Sleep deprivation, healing from labor and childbirth, and the new rhythms of life with our infant daughter had driven me beyond the edge of myself into a place where one of my only prayers each day was, “Jesus, help me.”
Dirty Work in Dim Light
When I got to the small, darkened room of our church that houses both the nursing area for breastfeeding moms and the only padded changing table in the building, I could already feel that my daughter’s diaper hadn’t contained everything she produced. As I placed her down as gingerly as I could, she began squirming, nearly guaranteeing that her entire outfit would have to be changed.
I dug to the bottom of the diaper bag to find some clean clothes, while her discomfort escalated to a full-blown meltdown. As my body reacted to her cries with sweat and cortisol (among other fluids), I wrestled a very uncomfortable child both out of and into a new outfit, wiping down the various surfaces and appendages that got soiled as best I could in the half light.
I returned to my husband’s side nearly thirty minutes later, shaken and just in time to shuffle into the aisle to process toward Eucharist. As Bryan took our daughter in his arms, I noticed with horror that she had poo covering her right ear. Looking down, I was further mortified to see some gracing the inside of my elbow. (Seriously, how do you get anything on the inside of your elbow without noticing it?)
Living in Metaphor
As a writer, I see metaphor everywhere, and having recently written a book on the body, I was steeped in God’s redemptive narrative in and through our flesh and bone. While my heightened awareness of the layers of meaning in our soiled supplication didn’t stop me from turning bright red or swiping at my daughter’s ear with a wet wipe, I felt God’s smile over me as I recognized the rightness of this poo-covered procession.
The truth is none of us are in need of a savior just for our souls. If that were the case, the incarnation, Jesus in flesh-and-blood, wouldn’t have really been necessary. Redemption could be a purely spiritual endeavor, one that involved belief without bodies, faith without felt experience. But the elements toward which my family was slowly moving were themselves an indication that God cares about the saving of our bodies as much as he does our souls. And I was desperate to receive those elements both because they were spiritual food and because they were tangible gifts of grace to my exhausted limbs and heavy-lidded eyes.
Come As You Are
What God showed me that day, what God shows me almost every day through my relationship with both my body and my daughter’s body, is that he’s much less concerned about me cleaning myself up to receive him than I am. In the same way, it’s my family—my flesh and blood—that often reveals to me my places of brokenness most clearly. It was the physical reality of my daughter’s body that showed me how concerned I’d become by the surface idea of “cleaning myself up” in order to somehow be worthy of receiving God’s help.
To tell the truth, I’d been despising my three-word prayers of supplication, hating myself for the ugliness that came out of me when I got up for the fourth time to feed the baby while my husband slept. I’d been so concerned with my exterior actions, the way I was “looking,” that I’d forgotten my very flesh and blood—both my family and my own body—were graciously showing me how deeply I needed (and still need) the flesh and blood of Christ, broken and poured out for me.
That’s the gift of the body, really. Whether it’s the body of Christ, our physical bodies, or the gathered community of believers, the body doesn’t lie. And my poo-covered daughter and I were living icons as we walked forward that Sunday toward the body and blood of Christ. It’s something I think about almost every time I move toward the table these days, the way my body speaks of my need for God, whatever I’m wearing on the outside. And I receive what my flesh and blood are speaking about my relationship with Him—close, fractured, intimate, or complicated—as I receive His flesh and blood.