By Dr. Tina Schermer Sellers
I was recently talking to a college student who had been saving her pennies for two years to buy her dream car - a 1966 Ford Falcon. She bubbled over about how she washed it, made seat covers for it, found other local Falcon lovers and parked it far away from other cars when in a public parking lot. She was exuberant about her "new" car. Now to someone else, a 47-year-old car would be a piece of junk. For that person, one more dent would mean nothing. Sounds indicating a need for a mechanic, would go ignored. Oil changes would be forgotten. We care for what is precious to us.
This is true with how we feel about our bodies as well. Is your body a vehicle that gets you from one place to another, functional but ignored unless too sick to move? Is it dirty, nasty in its erotic longings and sexual energy? Is it the object of someone else's pleasure, a commodity you trade for other goods? Is it disliked by you - too fat, too skinny, too saggy, too ugly? Is its hunger for pleasure something that brings you shame and embarrassment - something you only feed in secret? For many how they feel about their bodies is a mystery - a question not asked, an awareness hidden under the many tasks of life, an ignored embarrassment. We live in a culture that punctuates our efforts at shaping our professional identity while ignoring the body that allows that identity to take shape. Who are you - the question of identity - leads us to answers that describe our roles in life - mother, father, professor, engineer, doctor. The body and its part in this identity is invisible. How do we care for that which is invisible, ignored? When the body speaks its hunger for food, for touch, for sleep, for love, for play ... how do we value its wisdom? How intentional are we in the ways we feed it?
Our physical bodies are the most valuable part of our humanity. They bear the image of God, the very breath of God. In Jewish belief, the body is the outward expression of the soul. The body and soul receive the breath of God - the image of God - at birth. This breath not only brings to life the soul but deeply infiltrates all areas of the body. Wherever there is oxygen in the body, God's breath, God's image, is known and expressed. William Blake describes the body as 'a portion of the soul'. 9th century Irish teacher, John Scotus Eriugena says, the body is an 'echo of the soul'. Richard Selzer in his book Letters to a Young Doctor describes the body as 'the spirit thickened'.
One of the most thrilling parts of my work is helping young people whose religious upbringing taught them to despise their body and sexual desire - to begin to see God's deep love in and through their body. Recently I sat with a vibrant and brilliant 22-year-old who 2 years before had come to talk to me about her negative feelings about her body and her sexual longings. Now 2 years later she explained how she has come to see herself - including her body - as precious, dynamic, filled with wisdom and desire. She talked about the clarity that had come to her life, how she navigated romantic relationships and what she had learned about what was important to her. It was clear that not only had she come to see her body as precious but also as an extension of her heart, her faith, her abilities and her desires. She felt whole. It was also clear that she was making intentional decisions about her life and her relationships. Unlike other college seniors, she was not interested in dating for the sake of dating, or trying to find a husband, or getting a 'ring by spring'. She wanted a partner someday, yes ... but she wanted a man who cherished her strength, loved her body and desired to support her in becoming all she was created to be. She wanted someone with much the same qualities as the father she had been blessed with. She had come to see the breath of God coursing through all parts of her and it was all good. ... And she was taking good care of this precious gift.
Seeing our bodies, our heart, our desires as reflecting the image of God can help us care for ourselves with more love and nourishing intention. It can help us distinguish relationships that are supportive from those that are toxic. It can help us say NO when we are taking on too much and YES to exercise, a massage, nourishing foods, intimate touch, a long walk and good talk with a friend. It can help us let go of cultural messages that would inhibit honoring our body and heart, and religious messages that would discourage sexual abandon in the context of a well-chosen relationship. Seeing God's image and gift in our hearts and bodies opens us to receive all that is healing and energizing in the gifts of loving touch in all its varied expressions and intensities.
Seeing ourselves as precious is the beginning of knowing more love and joy!
Originally posted here