Thursday, September 10, 2009

Being Comfortable in One's Skin

I do love and admire my cat.

Mostly, I think I love and admire how at ease she is with who she is in the world. And if you have a problem with that, well... that really is YOUR problem, isn't it?

Cats, dogs, just about any animal, when loved and cared for can show us a very basic way of being in the world: simple, and comfortable in being just as they are.

I find that's one of the stumbling blocks for us humans. We just can't seem to get comfortable in our skin. We think of ourselves as too fat, too thin, too tall, too short, too young, too old, too stiff.

What brings all this to mind is a recent training on sexual harassment and sexual exploitation. I had to do the "Safeguarding God's People" course as part of being a Eucharistic Minister in the diocese. Coming from a profession where my job is to touch people who are lying nude or semi-nude under a sheet in a massage office, I have been trained pretty thoroughly in what is appropriate touch and talk with my clients, so there wasn't a whole lot of new information for me. Surprisingly, though, this seems to be "new" for lots of other people. And I could not help but wonder why.

As I thought about it, I considered what it is about humans that when we get to something that is "a matter of the flesh" we get all weird about it. The flesh we wear is God-given, right? The body our soul animates reflects the emotions and habits of our souls and thus becomes infused with our outward and visible being, right? And God, in an act of amazing grace and mercy, actually took on a body like ours in yet another try at being in relationship with his final work of creation, yes?

All of this tells me that the body is NOT bad, and the flesh is not bad. Sex is not bad, either. Well, usually.

Where the "bad" comes in, I think, is when our actions with our bodies become motivated for our own gratification at the expense of another one made in God's image. It goes back to the very early lesson, "Love God and love your neighbor as yourself" aka "Do unto others as you would have them do unto you". For most adults, this should provide the appropriate guidance.

Still, there seems to be a dis-ease when it comes to the body. In the church, I think words from St. Paul, particularly in Romans, have been used to "beat down" the body. We are told that "sin" is in the flesh and we are to set our "minds" on the spirit. At times, there seems to be this internal battle raging within the apostle Paul about his own body, and trying to rise above this human casing to reach a more Christ-like state. Hence, the teaching becomes body=sin; mind=holy. And this is when we divide body from mind... and... well, I have seen countless examples in my massage practice of what happens when we deny the health and well-being of the body in favor of the mind that we think is a separate entity!

As artful in language as I think Paul can be, I have to wonder if there isn't something that got lost in our 21st century interpretation of what this man from the First Century was saying. The way I read it, it's not that having a body, and appreciating the body is a "sin". But if your mind, your soul, sets its sights on God... and not on money, power, pride, etc.... you will be putting on the "armor of light" that Paul talks about.

Just my theology as of September 10, 2009.

Here's hoping that you can feel comfortable enough in your own body that you can more easily see all that God has created... including other people... just as they are.


frdougal said...

The problem, of course, is that we cannot approach Paul without being influenced by Augustine of Hippo's reading of him. Dear Gussie was struggling mightily with the whole impact of his Manichean past and it's dualist "spirit good, body bad" world view. And he gave a lot of ground to it - too much, you might argue. But your piece makes sense. We need to learn to be at home in our own skin if we are to be at home in the world.

SCG said...

Thanks, frdougal. I always intentionally date my "theological statements" to allow room for me to change my mind when presented with new information. I'll be interested to learn more about Augustine, and the heartburn he's caused. I noticed on his Saint's Day, the priest I serve with didn't talk about him at all, save for reading the collect!
Of course, the main point really is being comfortable in one's own skin. I think if you are, it makes "things" easier.

Anonymous said...

As I am one of those "oldies" and I see myself and others who are my age, I wonder sometimes why we don't smile more as that will make us definitely feel more comfortable in our "old" skin and you can accomplish a lot more and feel good about not only yourself but others as well.