My story of believing how I physically see myself is an old one… meaning I can’t remember when I didn’t carry “my story.” I have carried it for most of my life and it hasn’t always been kind or loving, and certainly NOT pretty. My mantra for many years when I looked in the mirror was “fat, ugly and stupid aren’t we?” It’s probably time for a new story, and I get to write it. That’s the good news and the bad news.
Like many of us, childhood wasn’t always easy. A gym teacher, a relative, violent strangers here and there, and the darkness of addiction and destitution all did enough damage to ensure I learned my mantra VERY well. So well in fact, that by the time I was 25, whenever I saw a beautiful woman, or a couple being loving, or a small child in the arms of their mother or father, or ANYTHING that reminded me of what I believed was missing from my life, I returned to my story – that I didn’t have those things because I was indeed fat, ugly and stupid.
In my darkest moments when I looked at myself in a mirror it was like looking at someone behind a dark veil. I could see the outline of a person, but the details were distorted. The edges of my face were charred, dark and ragged. My eyes were sunken and lifeless, certainly no twinkling or awe and wonder. I believed what I saw – I thought it was truth.
My first Unity service was Christmas Eve 1991. I was listening to the minister tell the Christmas story – you know, the usual one with the angels, shepherds and wise men – when all of a sudden I heard him say something amazing: EACH of was created in the image and likeness of God, NOT just Jesus. As I sit here writing this, I can hear the words from so long ago echoing inside. I close my eyes and let them wash over me – I physically feel contentment moving through me.
While it wasn’t the first time I had heard those words, image and likeness of God and not just Jesus, this time I thought, “HOLY COW! Really? Does this guy know what he is saying? In the image AND likeness? Really? He must be nuts because he can’t mean me! I mean really – look at me!” I left that service, wrestling with this new awareness for some time. It ate at my soul, like a corrosive agent, nibbling on my brain as the years ticked by, eating away what didn’t serve me.
In time, I began to slowly breathe in the words, “image and likeness” and to question “my story.” I wondered if I really was created in the image and likeness of something greater than myself. I contemplated the idea that perhaps I am such an infinite expression and so amazing, in spirit, soul AND body, that I just couldn’t hold the fullness of it. This belief is pretty tough to hold and still be congruent with “my story” because I had been taught on a curriculum of brokenness and shame, of being inherently flawed.
The challenge on my journey has been accepting that I am of God. I have yearned to be wholehearted, to know my completeness, which is the image and likeness of God. And to know this not just about the intangible things, that “inside stuff,” but also to know that my body is of God. Our culture, traditional Christianity, and years of indoctrination of other people’s shame have seriously skewed my perception and connection with my body. To be of God is to physically feel my body, caress it… enjoy it… and know every inch of it. (And if your mind went off “someplace else” I’ll wait for you come back.)
To know the sanctity of my own body – regardless of its shape and my story – reminds me of the words of the Sufi poet Rumi. “This that we are now… created the body, cell by cell… the human body and the universe grew from this, not this from the universe and the human body.” The beauty of Rumi’s words reminds me that within the soft warmth of flesh, he sees eternity – and I can glimpse it, too. Or to be more contemporary, in the words of John Mayer, “my body is a wonderland.”
Some days are good and I have peace around “my story,” it is gone from my mental chatter because I have learned to embrace the darkening agents that have clouded my vision and my soul for so long. I have learned to love the unlived pieces of myself, to make that a spiritual practice.
And other days are not so good. I feel empty, alone, waiting to be comforted, to be touched. I want my aching desert to be watered, and I can’t make the words come out of my mouth – to plead with someone, “Please! My body needs you, touch my face, embrace me, caress my hand, gently stroke my back.” On those days I’m like the little inchworm all curled up inside itself for protection – playing dead so that no one can hurt me anymore.
This is where I find myself at times these days as I embark on a new path of radically living more fully the image and likeness of God in physical form. While afraid at times, and more vulnerable, open and raw than ever before, I wouldn’t trade it because I so desperately want to be touched, held and rocked back to life. No words are needed from you, just your warm hand on my face, a gentle stroke of my hair, the strength of your arms enveloping me in a hug that doesn’t end making a soft place for me, all reminding me I am connected, I am worthy, I am more than the scary dark moments… so much more.
What I know is that your touch, your willingness to be close enough to me so that where I end and you begin gets lost, reminds me I am alive, that I belong and mostly that I matter. I have a renewed passion for knowing the sweetness and sacredness of bodily flesh as well as for God – at the same time, without the slightest gap between them. This sounds like a pretty good story, so let’s begin. Chapter 1…