I Am An Embodied Woman

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naomi pattison-williams -i am an embodied woman-3By Naomi Pattison-Williams | Twitter: @NaomiWilliams87

Last Sunday I went to the beach.

I pulled up, squeezed into a tight parking spot (still an achievement every time for this Vancouver-transplant driving a big old Albertan truck) and began to walk, face tilted down slightly against the wind, until I reached the pebbly beach.

As a theology student, my days are filled with words and ideas. This is a long-held dream coming to life in this sweet season for which I’m wildly grateful. And yet this I know to be true: I am an embodied woman. If I am tending only to the swirl of words and ideas, I become unrooted, distracted, stuck. I forget something deeply important. I knew this in my body before I knew it in my head on Sunday; which is why I found myself mysteriously propelled towards the ocean.

I am a woman in a body, and my embodied presence matters deeply. I have been made not just to think and to feel but to smell, to taste, to see, to hear, to touch all that God has created; to tend with my hands what Robert Farrar Capon calls the “stuff of the world” that God loves with an “unrelenting love.”

I am an embodied woman. My body bears the marks of my journey—from my scarred legs, thanks to the Summer of Mosquitoes 1996, to the inflamed chest muscles that bother me once in a while. From the two front teeth that braces wouldn’t tame, to the circle of pale skin created by my wedding rings.

We are embodied women. We have no other way of living, moving and having our being on this earth than in these glorious old bodies–growing weightier every day with what my Prof calls “memory and meaning.” My body—our bodies—will continue to bear the marks of where we’ve been, what we’ve carried, how we have loved and been loved. In all their contradiction and imperfection, our bodies are fierce with reality.

And we will have no other way of living, moving and having our being when at last we gather around the table at the Supper of the Lamb. Our bodies are not an obstacle to be overcome until we reach our final—spiritual—destination. Our bodies will take us Home where they will be renewed, restored, redeemed, in all wholeness—praise be.

I am also a woman who has known the confusion of a body which has caused me pain, which has slowed me down, which has most definitely seemed like an obstacle that I would like to trade in now, thank you very much. Perhaps you have known this feeling too, and for far longer and more deeply. How do we reconcile ourselves with our “glorious embodiment” when we find ourselves in such a place? When we are still this side of full restoration; when our bodies are vessels of sickness, of lost babies, of deep grief, the contours of ageing? When they are ravaged by abuse, by neglect, by the violence of racism?

I don’t know the answer. All I know is that, somehow, our bodies carry these painful things, too. In some seasons, our bodies carry memory and meaning so weighty that we feel we may crack clean open, and then again, and again, and again. Sometimes it feels impossible for them to carry it all—and yet here we are.

By this point I’m reaching the tip of the peninsula where Acadia Beach turns into Wreck Beach. It is a nudist beach. It seems fitting to be pondering the glory and mystery of our bodies as I walk past people basking in the frigid February sunshine wearing nothing but … well, their bodies. Some are doing nude yoga (okay she had a scarf on.) Some are standing in groups drinking to-go mugs of steaming tea, squinting delightedly at the sun. Loving the embodied loveliness as I am, I’m grateful for my five layers and the protective shield of my sunglasses.

St. Augustine once said that a better question than, “What do you do?” might be, “What do you love?” I know this: We can’t answer the question, “What do you love?”’ apart from our bodies.

Even amidst the aches and all the unanswered questions, if you ask me what I love, I will tell you: I love the feel of the Pacific wind whipping hair around my face. I love the sight of empty wine glasses and tottering piles of dishes after a house full. I love the smell of garlic crescendoing to that point just shy of sizzling in decadent glugs of olive oil, the feel of my husband’s hands in mine and the ruffled easiness of his hair first thing in the morning. I love the wet nose of my dog as he gives me his enthusiastic hello-kiss and the dissonant sound of the orchestra warming up before a concert, the air electric with expectation. I love the simultaneously spent-and-filled feeling in my bones after deep time in prayer, the tingle in my fingers during a morning of typing and strong coffee as the sun creeps in through the blinds. I love waking up in a tent to sharp, clean air with a cold nose and toasty feet. I love the tender release of salty tears, laughter that bubbles up from deep in my belly and which involuntarily escapes in snorts through my nose. I love this sometimes ragged, sometimes breathtaking world so much, I can barely believe I am here.

I eventually get back to the car. Slightly breathless, I send a satisfied selfie to my husband—my two front teeth proudly on display. Driving home, I am aware of a sense of being just that much more at home in my body and in the world. And it is from here that I can love the world that God loves with an unrelenting love, serving and tending to it with my whole self.

At the end of my journey I long to be able to say: I am an embodied woman who loved what I love. I am an embodied woman who was honest about my aches. I long to be a woman who carried all of it in this body—all of the loves and the aches—and who now offers them up in a last priestly act of love to the One whom I trust will redeem and carry them all into the New City. It is in that New City where we will taste and see and smell and touch the One who makes not all new things, but all things new.

Hallelujah.

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About Naomi:
NPWMy name gives a clue as to the English and Japanese in me but my favourite thing about it is the Hebrew meaning: “pleasant,” a reminder that somehow I am pleasing to my Creator. My heart is a little bit in the various corners of England where I’ve spent most of my life, a little bit in the cherry-tree’d loveliness of Japan where my family is from, and a little in the wide open spaces of my husband’s native Western Canada where we are now making our home. I am currently studying at Regent College in Vancouver–a dream several years in the making–and feeling wildly thankful for it. You can find me on my blog naomipw.com or on Instagram @naopwilliams.

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