“… the places in our lives where we are fragmented are essentially growing edges, places where our lack allows Christ to be present. ”
On my left arm, three inches below my wrist is a scar whose faint discoloring whispers of a magical afternoon spent walking wide-eyed amongst the Mayan ruins of Belize. While stopping to take a photograph, I had leaned against a tree and later developed a skin reaction that looked and felt like a third degree burn.
In almost exactly the same place on my right arm are the remains of an older scar, this one boasting of an exuberant bike ride on wooded trails in Seattle, Washington.
The decades old scar on my forehead speaks of the pain and play of a childhood reared in Nigeria–of running straight into the corner of a wall while trying gleefully to escape my older brother’s clutches.
The wounds of my body tell tales of my life’s passages. There are endless related memories stitched into these wounds.
How easily we forget, or never even learn, that our bodies are storytellers.
They bear the marks of our existence in both visible and invisible ways.
They hold the events of our lives like an ever growing book of fables, stories that long to offer us lessons to learn from, words of wisdom to live by, and invitations to deeper self-awareness and spiritual well-being.
It takes practice hearing our bodies.
But if we are curious enough to listen,
patient enough to learn how,
and brave enough to act on what we’ve heard
then maybe we can inch our way a bit more into faithfully living as though our bodies really are temples of that wild and holy transforming Spirit of God.
Over the last few weeks on this website, women have shared openly and daringly about their bodies: stories of celebration, pain, healing, shame, joy and so much more. It has been beautiful.
I have always imagined that our bodies are divinely infused to be temples of proclamation, whose visible and invisible marks, scars, and wounds can speak forth life-giving stories of grace, healing, and prayer for ourselves and others
* * *
I am leading a one-day workshop on Spirituality and the Body. I say to the women gathered in the room, “Today you are going to draw a rough sketch of your body … with crayons.”
There are groans. Heads turn with shaded looks of disbelief. Voices murmur confessions of being lousy at drawing. No one confesses to the discomfort of focusing on one’s own body.
I am used to the resistance. I say, “I want you to take a few minutes to pay attention to every part of your body.”
I listen to the silence filling the room.
I continue. “I want you to mentally work your way up from your toes to your scalps.”
The directions are clear and simple. The uneasiness spreads with each new line step I share.
“I want you to use the crayons to draw images and symbols of what you see, feel or imagine is going on in each part of your body. I know this sounds odd but please try and listen more intently than you are used to, to what each part of your body is trying to tell you.”
“We so rarely listen to our bodies.”
In silence, hands begin to reach out to the center of tables for paper and crayons.
After ten minutes have passed, I begin to walk around the room, to glance over shoulders and moving fingers.
I see bursts of vibrant aching colors,
deep dark shades,
symbols of fire and water,
images of bricks,
flowers and trees growing in the strangest places.
I catch women weeping as they work, intently bent over their colorful, fantastical body maps.
Fifteen more minutes pass. Hands are still working. I give the “five minutes” call.
Women finish drawing. Heads come up. Glances pass across tables and the room is still quiet.
I break the silence. “And here is where I invite us to share with one another as we feel led.”
I am used to what follows. Nothing. No volunteers, faces looking away from me.
Then, the first brave soul stands up, timidly holds up her work of art and begins to narrate pieces of her life through the colorful, imaginative art transfiguring her body. We listen to her share her story by the images of her body.
“Where my stomach should be is full of dark clouds. At first, I thought I knew what it meant. How lifeless I sometimes feel. But then the more I sat with it I started adding raindrops under the cloud patch. So now it is raining in my belly. And that makes me think of things a little differently.”
When this first brave soul is finished, the other hands cannot go up fast enough.
There is a piece of all of us that yearns for witnesses to the stories our bodies have to tell.
At various intervals the room is filled with chuckles and outbursts of laughter, sniffling and weeping, vigorous applause and quiet sighs and nods affirming similar feelings and experiences, all of which have found a home in their physical bodies.
And somehow in the process of all this, these women begin to feel a fraction more in touch with themselves, with their spirits and with one another than when the day first began. And some small piece of them has tasted a healing they may not even have known was needed.
* * *
If it is true that God created our bodies to be temples of divine dwelling, then are not our bodies places where God continues to choose to speak, and make God’s self intimately known? Does not the voice of God echo throughout our limbs and ligaments offering grace, healing, hospitality and prayer for us and for those around us?
And yet, like any earthly dwelling of the holy, the sacred co-habitats with the profane and it requires our attentive work and consistent response to live faithfully as embodied stories of God’s work in the world. The question is how do we discern between the sacred and the profane vying for our attention? How do we learn to listen to our bodies for the upbuilding of the kingdom?
The Practice of Holy Listening
There is so much to offer as starting points for this. But I have come to painfully realize that part of the practice of holy listening to our bodies, requires acknowledging our wounded brokenness, the inescapable fragmentation of our being that results from life in a fallen world, in a world where God’s kingdom is ever coming, but never fully here.
We are all wounded creatures.
Our ability to live demands our being wounded. From the very first cutting of the umbilical cord we are ultimately set up to embrace the wounded body of Christ, in us and amongst us.
And as we grow, our bodies speak loudly of that brokenness--the pain of heartache, the pain of birth and death, the pain of violences done against the body that also ravage our hearts and minds, the physical and mental ailments, diseases and the handicaps–visible and hidden, all of which meet in the one body that bore the fragmented, ravaged body of the world; the body of Christ.
- So, isn’t a crucial step to accept that our bodies have stories of brokenness and imperfection?
- And isn’t a crucial step to remember that we do not have to let those stories define us?
- And won’t being aware of these stories perhaps help us to reach for healthier more life-giving narratives?
- And isn’t there a spirit-filled healing that begins to take shape once we learn to share these stories with others?
- Couldn’t our tales of brokenness be transformed into fables of wisdom and teaching within the right context?
I know this takes courage.
We have seen this courage over the last few weeks from readers and writers here at the SheLoves online community. As women shared amazing letters about their own bodies, I was reminded that our bodies are only made whole when we piece them together with the brokenness of other bodies, all of which together form the body of Christ.
In the retelling and sharing of our stories we not only learn from each other, but we offer a holy service by allowing one another the space to dwell in our tales and perhaps resonate with our afflictions and joys, and maybe even to draw from our own deepening wells of health and healing.
I like to think that as we continue the holy listening to our bodies, we come to find that the places in our lives where we are fragmented are essentially growing edges, places where our lack allows Christ to be present. The Word of God claims that where we are weak, God’s strength is made perfect. We are given divine permission to not be perfect.
Can we hear God’s voice within us reminding us that those fragmented spaces in our lives and in our bodies are still spaces being graciously shaped by God?
Can we recognize those spaces as where God is still working–and NOT where God has given up?
Maybe such recognition is one way that grace is proclaimed to us through our bodies. And maybe the more we learn to recognize this, the more we might be able to extend God’s grace to the other imperfect bodies around us upon which God is still working.
Enuma was born in the United States and raised in Nigeria, Ivory Coast and England. She holds a Master of Divinity degree from Duke University Divinity School where she served as Director for the Center for Theological Writing. She is an author, speaker, spiritual director and continues to lead workshops and retreats on varied topics engaging the literary and visual arts, and spiritual disciplines.
Her spiritual memoir, Reluctant Pilgrim: A Moody Somewhat Self-Indulgent Introvert’s Search for Spiritual Community (Fresh Air Books, 2010) was a winning finalist in the 2010 USA Best Books Award and received the 2011 National Indie Excellent Book Awards Winning Finalist in “Spirituality and African-American Non-Fiction.” She is co-author with Shane Claiborne and Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove of Common Prayer: Liturgy for Ordinary Radicals
Okoro’s new forthcoming book, “Silence,” will be released in Summer/Fall 2012
Image credit: Black Magic Woman, by Alain LM