In 1981 Olivia Newton John charged us all to “get physical.”
Whatever the shady message and embarrassing connotation of this song—and perhaps a memory of some hilarious karaoke experience—it has been stuck in my head all week (and popping up at all the wrong moments, I might add).
I know one reason why. It is probably because of Barbara Brown Taylor’s words on wearing skin in An Altar in the World. Through her strong, poetic, and achingly real manner, BBT “reveals how to see the sacred in our everyday life.” Each chapter discusses an aspect of the Christian faith and how it can be seen, felt, tasted, heard, and expressed on the ground of one’s everyday life. Her chapter on wearing skin majors on the mystery of the Incarnation, the glory of the Other pulling on flesh to become like one of us.
And exactly like one of us.
This may sound like a third grade Sunday School lesson, but there is more than meets the eye. The vast wealth and weight of the lesson comes if we take the fact of Christ’s humanness to the extreme to which it actually was. Then maybe we can draw some deep and existence-altering implications.
Jesus breathed, perspired, got bellyaches, and smiled. He ate, talked, turned tables, and held children. Jesus felt the rush of goose bumps and the burn of stressed muscles. In Jesus, the God of the universe learned what it is like to lose sleep on hard ground, and how it feels to stand in the embrace of sunbeams. He was human, and He is human—He rose from the dead. It is a wonder to think that Christ’s humanness remains after the Resurrection. If Jesus had come back as some body-less sprit, the resurrection would have been less of a feat, at best. But He didn’t. Jesus came back human, and hungry at that.
Barbara Brown Taylor reminded me of the marvel of Jesus’ humanness. More accurately, she reminded me to marvel at Jesus’ humanness, for, in doing so, I might catch a glimpse of God’s orientation to flesh. Understanding that God put on flesh in Jesus and that God thought flesh important enough to raise it from the dead means something about how God values my own flesh. And everyone else’s. There is a message in Christ’s very humanity; I can feel it.
I hear and believe many a message about my body in this time and society. I get twisted notions from magazines, television, and the unwitting socialization of my peers. I get it from myself when I pass mirrors or feel pinched in my clothes. However, acknowledging Jesus’ physicality, His body-ness, empowers me to break from these messages. There are countless ramifications and freedoms found in the Incarnation, but one that heals me now is that human bodies are important to God.
Bodies mean something. They are not things to be whipped into shape, fit into certain dressings, or punished for not looking a certain way. They are miracles and present revelations of God’s ingenuity and imagination. They house souls and preach of a person’s life. Even more, they preach of their Creator.
What would happen if I did “get physical” in that I allowed myself to believe the worth God sees in my body? What if every day I took time to quiet popular messages about my body—from the world and from my own self—and listened to what God has to say? And what if I took time to notice what my body might say about God?
What if I took time to hear God’s presence in my breathing? If I noticed with each heartbeat the God that took care to create it? And what if I noticed that about others’ bodies, too, the sacred handiwork and marvel that they are?
O God, may I walk knowing that within my body
There be messages of Your grace and love.
May I live realizing, and giving,
My body as a sanctuary;
My body as a breathing prayer,
My body as a pulsing miracle,
A living message to the world.
Leanna thinks God very funny—you ought to see the toes He gave her! She prays you find and feel the wonder of God that you are.