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At my church, a small processional begins each service. The acolytes walk in holding a processional cross, the Gospel, and some candles. And as the cross passes in procession, it is appropriate to bow. I am relatively new to this, so most of the time, I have taken a tiny bow, almost non-existent. I’m not usually one to make commotion out of my ignorance. I tried to keep the bowing as calm and unnoticeable as possible.
But a few weeks ago, I got bold and took my first deep bow as the cross passed by. And as I rose my chest up again, it occurred to me perhaps for the first time in my life that my body could be a means of worship. It hit me hard in the heart and it was with tenderness that God spoke quietly, “How could you have hated this good thing?”
As an Anglican, there’s a focus on embodied liturgy. Giving nod to the Incarnation, this takes seriously the thought that it’s not just our minds and our hearts that Christ dwells in, but even our very bodies. We don’t just worship him with our adoring thoughts, but action too, allowing our bodies to move on behalf of that adoration. This could mean, among other things, feasting, fasting, crossing myself, or kneeling at his Table.
For me, though, this becomes a little complicated. In short, I have hated my body for fifteen years. There is probably not a more graceful way to say it. This fact is almost incomprehensible to me. But it’s true. Since about the time I was eight years old, before my body began to even consider puberty, I have felt much shame over my flesh, at times with a hatred that has frightened me.
Though I have battled raging shame for most of my life, something essential in me knows that my flesh was not made to be an enemy to God or to me. It was made for delight.Kelsey Miller
This hatred has changed shape over time, almost in the same way that my body has changed shape as I’ve matured and grown. It has been all-consuming, ravenous, much like the hunger I’ve forced myself into at my worst. It has been lonely and isolating, similar to when I’ve been in obsessive modes of calorie-counting. Sometimes it has led me to cling closely to a mirror, inspecting myself at every angle, and other times, it has led me to avoid any mirror at all costs, lest I am disgusted by my own reflection. At all times, it has put me at odds with the Creator of this flesh, confused about my anger towards the only skin I’ve got.
That same Sunday that I took my deep bow, our priest added right before we went to communion: “I’m going to be in the back for prayer. I encourage you to come if you’re having difficulty feeling God’s delight for you.” My face was wet with tears. Though I have battled raging shame for most of my life, something essential in me knows that my flesh was not made to be an enemy to God or to me. It was made for delight.
That is the task right now, to take back the delight I have been sacrificing on the altar of my self-made condemnation. Delight in God’s creation, including my very own flesh, requires reverence, a declaration of authority: “Look with awe! God is in this. How could he not be?”
It is hard for grace and shame to live in the same room, to breathe the same air. One will surely extinguish the other.Kelsey Miller
Of course, this is not a magic fix. I am not suddenly healed of almost two decades of embodied shame. I have wished that was the case, and naively thought it was the case before and the reality is that there are no quick fixes in this life and we know that, even by the way that God’s healing is coming into the world. It’s slow, often painfully quiet, but it’s coming. The same follows in the healing He does in us: it’s slow, it’s quiet, but I really do believe it’s coming.
Instead of magic, God gives us habits, and for better or for worse, we are shaped by our repetition. Right now, I am awkwardly learning some new practices, the ones that sing of delight rather than despair. And as the work continues, I notice the hatred is a little quieter these days, perhaps even softening. It is hard for grace and shame to live in the same room, to breathe the same air. One will surely extinguish the other. I have found healing in small places, in small doses, in the careful repetition of healing habits. In practicing yoga at my home, toppling over while attempting crow pose. In inviting friends to eat at our home. In wearing less makeup. In my husband’s touch. In bowing deeply to the cross. But most of all, on my knees at the altar, hungry and thirsty for the meal Jesus gave us.
It turns out God has never asked me to make myself smaller for his sake. He's never asked me to starve.Kelsey Miller
These are my new habits, the ones that bend towards worship, rather than my old twisted form of self-idolatry. Every week I will keep bowing towards his cross, bending my body on behalf of my adoration. It turns out God has never asked me to make myself smaller for his sake. He’s never asked me to starve. He’s asked me to delight in him with my whole self and he matches that delight, filling my cup to overflowing.
How could I have hated this good thing? I’m not really sure. With time and healing, by the sweet grace of God, I await with hope that the end of the hatred is fast approaching. It is about time.