I am a fifty-eight year old, white, middle-class Protestant American woman.
My entire life has pushed me toward disembodiment, toward the separation of my mind and heart from my body. And even more, toward the separation of my thoughts from my feelings.
Culture, education, family background have all made it clear that intellect is the highest value. Thus, I have been pushed in the direction of being disembodied, to a state where “success” looks like being a walking brain, where rationality instead of emotion is in control, and where my body is merely the “flesh” that I need to control.
Tragically, my experience of the Evangelical branch of the Christian faith, which should have undone some of this damage, has instead tended to intensify it. I was taught that my brain needed to control my heart, that my heart couldn’t be trusted, and that my body was a walking source of potential evil—the site of “lusts of the flesh.”
By the time I was in my 30’s, I had lost the ability to know some basic things about my body, such as whether I was cold or warm, or hungry or full, or even whether I was in pain. If I ever did somehow sense discomfort of any sort, I would drown it out by eating or working harder or thinking instead of feeling.
And as for my emotions—I had also lost the ability to know whether I was sad or angry, or happy or excited. By refusing to acknowledge “unpleasant” emotions, I had also reduced my capacity to experience “pleasant” emotions. (I put these terms in quotation marks, because “pleasant” or “unpleasant” places a value judgement on emotions, when in fact emotions just . . . are. I might not enjoy being angry or sad, but if my situation calls for anger or sadness, there is something very wrong about my not being able to fully experience that state.)
It is no wonder that I have spent much of my later adult life in deconstruction and reconstruction of self in response to a culture and a theology that instead wanted to separate all my parts from one another.
God made us creatures not just of mind, but of body and of spirit. Our culture and some of our faith practices have tended to pervert this, until we have reduced a human being to rational intellect, trained to believe certain things and for whom faith is largely a cognitive enterprise.
The deep irony of this is that embodiment is an absolutely central part of the Christian faith. Remember Jesus? He was the embodiment of the Christ. God made flesh.
And what did Jesus ask us to do to remember him? Eat. And drink. His flesh. And his blood.
Can’t get more embodied than that!
Jesus cared deeply for the bodies of people. He healed them, he fed them. He touched them, and washed their dirty feet.
I am still learning that my body is not just an inconvenient appendage I have to haul around as a space to hold my mind, and that my emotions are not just an interruption from the important things of life.
ALL of me is fearfully and wonderfully made and needs to be connected, collected, and embodied.