Body and Soul – a Reflection
Unitarian Universalism is an embodied faith; our theology proclaims that all our bodies are sacred and beautiful, and that our physical selves matter. Our faith is demanding; we are called to stretch ourselves and to be transformed.
For much of my life, I have lived in my head and my heart, and my body was mostly a vehicle for getting things done. It was also a source of pleasure. Among other physical pleasures, I have enjoyed bubble baths, soft kittens, and delicious food. I spent time caring for my mind by studying, reading, and learning. I also tended to my heart and soul, through prayer and by opening the pathways of empathy and compassion, even when it was difficult. Despite my theology about the importance of the body, however, I mostly simply used it, ignoring what it might need to stay healthy.
I gained weight slowly over the years, and in some ways relished being fat. In my large female body, I felt like I projected a safe presence, and the hugs I gave congregants seemed to be received as nurturing rather than sexual or threatening. I did always ask before hugging someone new, however; prior trauma can be so easily triggered by touch. I was largely happy with my “earth-mother” image of myself. I did not enjoy squeezing myself into airplane seats, or enduring the indignities and judgements that society places upon fat people, but I loved myself and my body, just as it was. My dear wife also loved me, no matter what size I was.
But I forgot that my body needed my care and attention, and that just as my heart, brain, and spirit needed exercise to stay healthy, so did my body. I forgot that this faith demands a wholeness of mind, spirit, and body. I forgot these words of the 16th century Unitarian, Michael Servetus:
“It is necessary to care for the body if we wish the spirit to function normally.”
Last year, I got a wake-up call, a revelation if you will. My health had begun to deteriorate, so much so that I had to leave a ministry earlier than planned. Most of my health issues were made worse by the amount of weight I was carrying. I knew this was true this time, despite the years of doctors implying that my weight was the cause of what were completely unrelated problems. I realized that if I was going to have a decent quality of life ever again, if I was going to be able to continue to work for justice, I needed to lose some serious weight. Exercise wasn’t going to be enough; my body and I needed both physical and spiritual rehabilitation if we were going to survive.
I had never seriously dieted before and was very suspicious of the diet industry. To me, it symbolized both capitalism and misogyny, the policing and sexualizing of women’s bodies for profit and control. One can be healthy at any size; I still believe that, but it wasn’t true for me, at least not any more.
I signed up for a medically supervised weight loss program through my health plan. It isn’t easy, and has required intense concentration and focus, but the weight is coming off. It is hard, but it is what I need. I am learning to tend my body in the same sorts of careful and attentive ways that I have always cared for my heart, my mind, and my soul and spirit. My body is so much more than a vehicle; it is my home. I have no regrets about my past habits, but it was time for me to go home. I needed a revelation to really understand that our minds, bodies, and souls are deeply interwoven, and that only when they work together can we live to our full potential. Sometimes we need revelations – sometimes we need two, or three, or twenty-three. I am so glad that revelation is not sealed!