Scripture: Psalm 139
“Yes, you shaped me first inside, then out, you formed me in my mother’s womb. I thank you. High God—you’re breathtaking. Body and soul, I am wonderfully made! I worship in adoration—what a creation! You know me inside and out. You know every bone in my body; you know exactly how I was made, bit by bit. How I was sculpted from nothing into something.” — (translation from The Message, Eugene Peterson)
Psalm 139’s insight that “I am wonderfully made” is somewhat difficult to imbibe. We dwell in a culture suffused with advertising that profits by instilling within us insecurity about our bodies. People are categorized simply by body characteristics (racism) or by gender (sexism). To add to this, Christianity offers deep ambivalence on the body, with some key doctrines affirming that we are indeed wonderfully made, while the Church’s practices and history reveal otherwise. For example, Greek philosopher Plato’s dualistic affirmation of the soul as preferable to the body profoundly influenced early Christian theologians, yet they still affirmed that God created the body good and in the image of God (doctrines of creation and “imago dei”). The church canonized the stories of God (Jesus) becoming incarnate in the body of Mary (doctrine of incarnation), yet engaged in practices that oppressed women. Theologians affirmed the body as the site of redemption (doctrine of the resurrection), yet Jerome, an early church father, wrote that the body was “a perilous mudslick” and Augustine, the great fourth century bishop and theologian, wrestled with the body as a source of temptation and lust. With such an inheritance on the theology of the body in the midst of a culture that constantly denigrates bodies (especially people of color and women’s bodies), understanding ourselves, body and soul, as wonderfully made, requires some significant hope.
Thank goodness God is a God who deals lavishly in hope with and for our bodies. Genesis 1 describes our bodies as good (tov- in Hebrew). In Genesis, our bodies, not just our spirits or souls, are made in the image of God. The Christian doctrine of the imago dei teaches us we are a reflection of God’s very self in many different ways, including in our bodies. Understanding this simple truth that even our bodies are made in the image of God can undo the damage of advertisers, of our dualistic culture, of our heritage imbed with Platonism and Gnosticism. Our bodies aren’t containers for the soul, they aren’t just dust; our bodies are imbued with divine fingerprint, in all their beauty and fragility and vulnerability.
Seeing hope in the fragility of our bodies is a challenging task. My own body holds within it a chronic, rare, neurological disease called neuromyelitis optica. The disability and destruction this awful disease (with an equally terrible name) brings is in no way a “good.” It is not a good God’s desire for me to walk with a limp, or for someone to suffer with cancer. Yet, for example, the practice and teaching of yoga that came out of my suffering is a “good”. The commitment to greater love and service that can come out of the body’s fragility is, in fact, how we more closely resemble the body of Christ.
Truthfully, the Church is socially constituted of all of our many bodies into one corporate body of faith. Our individual bodies are formed by, shaped by, and interdependent with other bodies in the community of Christ. Being with others in the community comprises part of our Christian hope. We are in this body together—young, old, black, white, male, female, able-bodied, disabled. As a body of faith, we are comprised of all different shapes, sizes, sorts, and we come together as a body to eat and by nourished by the Body of Christ that is broken and poured out for us. Our body image, to borrow from French philosopher Michel Foucault, is always communal.
Therefore, we are called to see our own individual body and the body of everyone else as sacred and sculpted by God. Karl Barth, in his Church Dogmatics, states, “everyone should treat his existence and that of every other human being with respect. For it belongs to God. It is His loan and blessing. And it may be seen to be this in the fact that God has so unequivocally and completely acknowledged it in Jesus Christ.” I am wonderfully made. You are wonderfully made. We are wonderfully made–together. This is ground for significant hope.
We will begin with a meditation focused on being wonderfully made.
- Begin by focusing on the breath and the rhythm of your inhale and exhale, filling and emptying
- Deepen your inhale to at least the count of four, and then as you exhale, land in your body. Begin to notice what might be sore, or tight, or in pain.
- As you inhale, breathe in the words “I am wonderfully made.” On the exhale, send the breath to the place of tightness, soreness, or pain.
- Continue this breath for several minutes, allowing the breath to open a pathway for healing in your body.
A peak pose in the practice will be trikonasana, or triangle pose. This pose opens our heart to being wonderfully made. When you arrive in the pose, one option is to place your top hand on your heart, to invite a deeper connection to being wonderfully made. (pose directions taken and adapted from Yogajournal.com, January 13, 2018)
Stand with your feet parallel. With an exhalation, step or lightly jump your feet 3 1/2 to 4 feet apart. Raise your arms parallel to the floor and reach them actively out to the sides, shoulder blades wide, palms down.
Watch this video on Extended Triangle Pose
Turn your left foot in slightly to the right and your right foot out to the right 90 degrees. Align the right heel with the left heel. Firm your thighs and turn your right thigh outward, so that the center of the right knee cap is in line with the center of the right ankle.
Exhale and extend your torso to the right directly over the plane of the right leg, bending from the hip joint, not the waist. Anchor this movement by strengthening the left leg and pressing the outer heel firmly to the floor. Rotate the torso to the left, keeping the two sides equally long. Let the left hip come slightly forward and lengthen the tailbone toward the back heel.
Rest your right hand on your shin, ankle, or the floor outside your right foot, whatever is possible without distorting the sides of the torso. Stretch your left arm toward the ceiling, in line with the tops of your shoulders. Keep your head in a neutral position or turn it to the left, eyes gazing softly at the left thumb.
Stay in this pose for 30 seconds to 1 minute. Inhale to come up, strongly pressing the back heel into the floor and reaching the top arm toward the ceiling. Reverse the feet and repeat for the same length of time to the left.