Theological Musings on “Body”

What if Christ came to earth in a body, so that we actually could let our bodies lead us spiritually?

What if Christ healed on the Sabbath, so that those who were sick or blind or paralyzed could actually experience rest for the first time in their lives?

What if we knew “I and the Father are One” because we tuned into our bodies to let us know if we were disconnected or in harmony?

What if Christ spoke the Sermon on the Mount in nature because those in the temple would not hear what he had to say?

What if Christ rose “still wounded”, so that those with chronic illness, mental illness, and lifelong disability could still find hope that woundedness is simply an invitation to transformation?

What if a weak body was celebrated in the church?

What if a disabled woman was a pastor?

What if we actually lived like we believed that “those who are weak are strong?”

What if the church actually listened to traumatized bodies: those marginalized by sexual orientation, race, gender identity, etc?

What if the church listened to people of color and have them reshape Christian spirituality–because most definitely that would lead to a more embodied faith?

What if the white church realized that striving for power and influence, (instead of turning to lament in solidarity with marginalized people), is not what Jesus is about at all?

What if the the church actually admitted that we don’t know much about the Holy Spirit (the breath of God) because we don’t pay attention to our own breathing?

What if we had spiritual practices in the church, which let us tap into our unconscious, so we can actually start to heal and change?

What if the church could be reborn so that it includes a feminine consciousness in balance with a masculine one?

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A Return to Rest

I need days of solitude.  I took a complete day off in solitude and silence this past weekend for the first time in 7 months.  Note to self: 7 months is too long.

I could feel my off-centeredness.  My body was aching from all the transition of my job, of moving, of my body reacting badly to this Indiana summer.

I needed silence.  Silence to feel what I needed to feel in a safe space.  To discern the questions that I’m asking in this season of my life. To dream and laugh, but to do so from stillness.

I needed community.  I’m realizing that as I continue to practice contemplative spirituality, it is not just a desire, but an actual need that I experience sacred silence with other people.  My soul longs for this, and I would be unwise to block this cry.

I needed to listen more intentionally.  I needed to block out other voices to listen to the voice that truly matters.  I needed to see all the ways I yearn for control and external affirmation.

In living with a chronic illness, I feel more connected to the Divine in a community of silence and stillness.  Why?  I feel like my body is welcome to feel however it feels.  My entire life with God can come to the forefront; my interior life with God matters.

To be honest, in my experience thus far, my female body in its illness, has been left outside the church.  I come back to this reality often, as my old ways of doing faith have been stripped away.

Some questions I got to ask this weekend included:

  • When does the church celebrate and esteem the weak Christ, except at the crucifixion?
  • If a main call on my life is to live gratefully in a weak, vulnerable, limited body-how do I re-engage with the church calendar in a way that resonates with my experience?
  • How do I want to address my experience of patriarchy and the unbalanced masculine?
  • Right now, do I need more solitude or community?
  • What are my deepest raw emotions surrounding the fact that I must choose a worshipping community somewhat based on the building it is in because of my mold sensitivity?
  • What has come of all the things I’ve said no to?  How has this made my spirituality more robust?

Maybe I will write more about these questions in the future.  For now, I’m just grateful I had a full day of spacious time to ask these pressing questions.  And to those of you reading, may you find time, in your own unique way, to ask your questions, even as they differ from the groups you are in.

Reflection on 2017 so far…

 

Last week I completed a 15 question health reflection given by a leading Hashimoto’s author.  It was easy to quickly realize the themes.  One question was about a word to describe 2017 so far.  My word is growth.

With a chronic illness, it’s so easy to feel like your life is putting out fires.  The setbacks can be overwhelming, because you know they aren’t going to end.  You never get a vacation from your illness (even if you go on vacation!)

But what this reflection invited me into was a reflection on my entire year.  This year I’ve committed to a yoga practice, and I’m still far from flexible, but I have a really strong practice.  There’s definition in my calf muscles again!  And I have really strong arm muscles–actually in proportion to my leg strength.  That’s a new thing for me.  In a massage session, my therapist asked me if I was a swimmer in my past life.  I laughed and said, “No a runner.  With big thighs and skinny arms.  Yoga has given me the arms and shoulders that I have now.”  It feels really good to have an athletic outlet again.

This year I visited Omaha, Nebraska and went on a weekend silent retreat that was pivotal in experiencing silence in community.  It was important to me to meet other 20 and 30 somethings that were cultivating a contemplative practice.  And since this weekend, my spiritual practices have grown and shifted.  They are more aligned with who I am, what I need, and how I go back into the world as a healing presence.  And I will be going back on retreat here next year.  Gravity Center facilitates hope and healing–the work they do is beautiful.

I read so much and I love that!  I read 2-3 books/week.  And people ask how I do it.  I don’t know.  I just have to rest a lot–and I prefer reading to watching TV just about any day, so a lot of reading gets done.

I’m moving again for a better environment for my health.  Better air quality.  New.  Less carpet.  No mold.  While this has been stressful, it will feel great once I’m moved in (which is this week!)

I quit two jobs that I needed to.  And I started my own tutoring business!  I haven’t written much about this on the blog yet.  But yes, Staying Power Resources launched this summer.  I continue tutoring students with learning differences, and have a more flexible schedule more myself.

I posted about the female healers in my life, and entering back into massage and acupuncture.  I posted publicly about my assault.

Through my circumstances, in being invited to change directions, I’ve been invited to grow.  By necessity, growth is awkward and clumsy, and in the process I’ve raised so many questions and seen so much doubt.  I was thinking that healing might mean that I enter back as a classroom teacher again.  And I’m learning that’s a dream that will not come to fruition as I saw it in my mind.

I’m learning about the severity of my mold toxicity, and the unpredictability of Indiana weather and which buildings I can go into and which ones I can’t.  I’m going to write much more about this in the future.

While I’ve made great gains, I’ve also been fatigued for a good part of this year.  In the winter, I felt great.  And once the late spring hit, I’ve really been quite exhausted ever since.

So many interesting questions surface when my health is deteriorating, and everything feels like its in transition.  Job. Home. Health.  Future.

Survival questions like:

  • Can I make it?
  • Do I have enough energy not to quit my business as soon as I started it?
  • If this doesn’t work, then what next?
  • To what extent can I heal?

The questions are real.  And yet so is my growth.  So is all the risk of this year, so is all the loss.  A very human adventure.  With many twists and turns, decisions I wasn’t ready to make and yet was thrust in a certain direction anyway.

Here’s to more risk.  More adventure.  More growth.

 

Why I Wrote About My Assault

To be honest, one day I just starting writing different scenes down-and out they came.  None of those posts took a long time to write at all.

I’m learning to lean into my body and my intuition, and my intuition simply told me that it was time to write.  I had been quiet long enough.  And I was ready.

Quite honestly in being publicly quiet for two years, I felt the weight of patriarchy.  I felt that those in power wanted me quiet.  When a lawyer-and a female lawyer at that-wouldn’t take my case, I was faced with the powers that wouldn’t take a case unless they knew they could win.  I was faced with the politics and the money, and the question, “Who will speak for me?”  The answer that became real to me as I healed was that I must speak for myself.

I’ve been following the Larry Nassar case since last fall.  Too many details were the exact same.  And USA Gymnastics’ headquarters are in Indy.  Both of the details mattered to me.  I knew that I lived in a state where a lot of cover-up was happening.

As I engaged in yoga, meditation, and started going to a massage therapist, I was able to be more grounded in the present and let go.  I could write about the assault and not have it scare me so much.  It still was painful, but dealing with trauma and injustice always is.  However, I could separate from the past and present-which was absolutely necessary before I started writing.  I also learned to trust being in a healing space which was actually healing.  I learned to let my body speak and direct me again.

I wrote to heal  myself.  I also wrote for all those who have experienced sexual assault at the hands of a doctor.

Also, I believe that vulnerability encourages vulnerability.  I may never know the effects of sharing my story, but that part doesn’t really matter.  Showing up in our story makes all of us more human.  I wrote because it was time that I show up in my story more fully, to let my intuition guide me, rather than follow culture’s lead of living in my head.

Vignette #4

This is my fourth post about my sexual assault by a doctor.  The posts do not necessarily go in chronological order, but it’s helpful if you first read my post on healing ,  Vignette #1 , Vignette #2, and Vignette #3.

I went to talk with a female lawyer, based upon a referral.  I sat in a big conference room in her office building in downtown Indianapolis, and waited for her to enter.  With warmth and ease, she greeted me, and told me that I could take my time and she would be taking notes.

She noted every comment of sexual harassment, the assault itself, and any detail about the setting and the doctor’s demeanor that I could remember.  Then came the dreaded question, that I knew was going to be asked, although she pulled it off well.

“Did you tell her to stop?”

“No, I didn’t.  I told her I was in pain, but I didn’t tell her explicitly ‘No’ or ‘Stop.'”

“Why?”

“I knew that she wouldn’t.  Two sessions before, I told her that she was using too much pressure when she massaged my leg, but she ignored my comment and kept using the same amount of pressure. She didn’t seem to have too much consideration for the amount of pain I happened to be in.”

Before I was left, I was told that they would contact the clinic for my medical records, especially from that session, and that I would be getting a letter stating whether or not they would take my case.

I waited several weeks.  No letter.  I knew that the lawyer’s assistant, who was a nurse, had research to do about whether or not what was done to me was a “legitimate” medical procedure.  So I waited some more.

Finally, it came.  About a month later.  She would not take my case.

I remember just staring at the letter for about 5 minutes wondering,

What do I have to do to be believed?

How do you live and heal with a lack of justice?

I felt in my body extreme tension, especially in my jaw and shoulders.

The weight of being a victim.

The weight of feeling powerless.

The weight of knowing that choosing to tell my truth would be an uphill battle.

Vignette #3

This is my third post about my sexual assault by a doctor.  The posts do not necessarily go in chronological order, but it’s helpful if you first read my post on healing , Vignette #1, and Vignette #2

After I sent my letter into the clinic, the HR person reached out to me and told me that she, the head doctor, and the physical therapist would like to meet with me.  She told me that the physical therapist wanted to apologize for any harm she may have caused, and was sorry that I misconstrued what she was doing.

I took a few deep breaths and told her that I would only come into the clinic if the physical therapist was not in the meeting and that I wouldn’t see her at all in the building. I didn’t want to hear an apology from her.

I went in a few days later to the meeting with an advocate, who mainly just listened, as she could stay more objective than me.

I hated the huge feeling of pressure, that what I said could potentially be used in court, that notes were being taken.  That I was supposed to be objective, but I was still living in trauma.  It was hard to sit in the room I was diagnosed in, to just be back in the building in general.

Honestly, I don’t remember much of the conversation.  That’s also very true of trauma.  Some parts I remember every detail, some parts are hazy, and some parts I remember almost nothing at all.  This meeting fits into the hazy category.

The doctor asked me if there was anything else I wanted to say outside of what I said in the letter.

“I felt violated.  I believe that I was sexually assaulted under the title of medical treatment.”

Then I heard a detailed speech about how intravaginal techniques can be used to treat the pelvic floor and that it was a legitimate medical procedure both in physical therapy and osteopathic medicine.

“Why was she alone?”

No answer.

“Why didn’t she have clear consent? Why did she spring this on me mid-session and not explain what she was going to do? Why didn’t I fully understand how this treatment fit into why I was seeing her?”

I started to cry and I didn’t have any more stamina.  I wanted to try and get through the meeting without crying, but I couldn’t stand to hear her defended again and again.

Once I caught my breath I asked:

“If you don’t believe I was actually sexually assaulted, then do you believe there was sexual harassment occurring?

“I believe that she should have said some things differently. I will make sure I talk to her about the comments she made.”

I was done.  As I kept crying, the head doctor wanted to give me a referral to a therapist.  I said, “I already have one.”

And in my head I thought, “I will never take a referral from you ever again.”

I left knowing that I must leave this clinic and never come back.

Even if that meant I got more sick and had to wait a long time to see another doctor.

 

Vignette #1

This is the first of several posts describing the events surrounding my sexual assault by a female doctor. I feel at this time writing serves as my outlet to utilize my voice, not for the sake of pity, but because living as a survivor who has been institutionally silenced becomes suffocating.

There are many ways I have healed in these past two years.  If you want a glimpse into this, read my previous post here.  

I feel privileged that you would read this.  May you be able to hold all the love and evil in the universe together, without forcing yourself to make sense of it, and then let it go.  If my post stirs something up for you personally, I hope that you are able to feel what you need to feel, sitting with these emotions, yet with extreme compassion and love towards yourself.  I stand in solidarity with you.

I remember walking out of the room, down the hallway, and to the check-out lady to pay for my appointment. I was in a daze and just wanted to get out of the office.

As I walked down the hall I distinctly remember thinking 3 things:

  • “This is not the first time she’s done that before.”
  • “Was I supposed to know that was going to happen before I walked in there today?”
  • “Why do I have to pay for this appointment?”

I paid anyway, and I got in my car and sat for 2 minutes, catching my breath. I still needed to walk into the pharmacy attached to the doctor’s office to pick up my supplements. But it was hard to make myself go in. As far as I was concerned, I didn’t want to walk into that building ever again.

I drove home in a daze, but stopping at Aldi to get groceries first. Before I got out of the car, I slammed my fists onto the steering wheel three times and just burst into tears.

Somehow I went about my day. I talked to my counselor on the phone, and I couldn’t really get the words out. I was still trying to figure out what had happened to me.

I stopped eating and I wasn’t sleeping. I called a few trusted friends and told them what happened.

I told the wife of the family I was living with at the time, in case I seemed more withdrawn, sad, or overwhelmed.

Per my counselor’s suggestion, the next morning I drafted a letter to my clinic; the head doctor and the human resources personnel. It is understated to say that it’s difficult to draft an objective letter when your brain still feels hijacked, yet you know that your potential in being believed is all wrapped up in this letter.

As I wrote the letter the questions that plagued me, and I imagine so many other women across the country, were:

“Why try so hard, when the likelihood of being believed is so slim anyway?”

“Doesn’t the medical establishment just protect their own?”

The Summer of Damp Buildings

I go into a damp building, and then I leave three minutes later. My head already clogged, my emotions dampened, even though the exposure was slight. As I walk back to the car, I have a decision to make—do I let go or do I cling to the emotion of disappointment?

Learning about the complexities of my illness is an every day endeavor. Nothing gives the invitation of self-awareness quite like chronic illness does. My emotions laid raw, because my life is indeed changing. I so want to hold onto this activist life of my past, but I can’t go into many of the building where the poor or the marginalized inhabit. Many churches, schools, and non-profits are housed in buildings that are often older and ones that I unfortunately cannot tolerate. What do I do?

I’m thankful to say that I’ve found the contemplative path. One that brings me back to this every day decision of letting ego—of seeing my ego for what it is, and letting it go. I’m both needed and not needed, and that is freeing.

My decisions are often simpler now. I’m friends with people who see my gifts and accept my limitations, ones who stick with me when a new symptom appears and I don’t know what to do. I’m friends with people who don’t lather on sunscreen around me, and who will meet in a building that’s suitable for me. I’m friends with people I practice yoga with, because we all are growing in self-awareness together—trying to bring a little more light to this world by going inward.

I eat simply. I rest often. I read poetry and I teach kids who live with a lifelong limitation too, in the form of dyslexia. Mostly I interact with people one-on-one. I read the latest research on Hashimoto’s to take care of myself as best as I can, and try to include others in this process.

The sentence that has seemed to find me these past few weeks is,

“Your greatest work of activism will be in relentlessly caring for yourself.”

I must let go of how I view my external world and how I hoped it would change when I healed enough to venture out of my home. But this vision is coming crashing down. I don’t truly decide if I can hang out in a group, what events I can attend, where an event is held, if I will need to leave once I show up.

My body tells me, and I listen. I take a deep breath and learn to let go.

I’m learning to develop a healing vision that my act of letting go isn’t just about me and my healing. It somehow touches the world. I will never know how me leaving a building before an event even begins to protect my body blesses the world. But that’s not the point.

It has taken years for me to experience that letting go doesn’t have to mean loneliness and isolation. For solitude is not separation. My solitude that I cultivate as I let go invites me to experience Oneness. I don’t have to be physically present at an event to experience connection. The Divine can be found as I let go—as I don’t resist the depths I was made to enter.

And yet, there are many times I resist letting go, and I sense separation. I have created an illusion that I’m on the outside. Sure, that’s how it feels. No doubt about it.

But the more I practice yoga, meditation, and centering prayer, the more I see that letting go in real life becomes a bit easier. I practice daily letting go on my yoga mat and in centering prayer—but the results come in my active life.

My own life that quickly shows me my judgment, anger, and resentment. But there always exists an invitation to perceive differently. That I’m always connected to love. That there are bounds of creativity within me, even when brain fog makes it hard to believe that there is a creative bone in my body.

I will enter plenty of damp buildings in my life. And I will leave, hopefully knowing that I’m not truly alone. Maybe even daring to believe that I can even give love from my absence as well as my presence.

Eavesdropping

Last week, I was eavesdropping on a conversation in a public library while I was waiting for my tutoring student.

I knew quickly that the woman answering the questions lived with a chronic illness.  She was describing in vague tones, how her poor health was affecting her entire life.  She spoke of the struggle to still see what she had, not only what she had lost.  She still had her husband and her part-time job.

The conversation shifted slightly when the older woman asked how she experienced God right now.

Her response was simple, but telling.

“I want to know that He’s looking out for me.” 

There was a raw honesty in her pain and desperation.  For this is what we all want.  This is what we all forget.

Is he really a friend?  Does he care? Will he show me that there really is light in this world, not just darkness?

The woman  in chronic pain held back tears as she said, “it’s so hard to find daily support right now.”

 

 

As I listened, I got teary-eyed.  I’ve had that exact conversation so many times.  And yet this time being an observer, I experienced such appreciation and love towards both women.

The gift the woman with chronic illness gave was honesty and desperation.  The gift the older woman gave was a calm, empathetic presence and knack for listening and asking timely questions.  She gave the space for silent hope to be born. She is hopeful for the younger woman who can’t be hopeful for herself right now.

What I experienced in that ordinary moment of waiting was Christ on earth. Nothing less.

Two women both giving and receiving.  Both women willing to sit in sadness, to accept reality. Yet in their talking, hope, this invisible force was growing.  This space the women created was beautiful.  A space that Christ can be seen for who He actually is. One woman at the end of herself, another willing to affirm silently to herself that this is really where life begins.

I was assured as these women left, that this space they created together, was actually the incubator for joy. Not culturally-defined joy with bubbly, extroverted personalities, and an overabundance of laughter (although none of these attributes are wrong!) But a deep-seated joy, that can only begin as one lets go.  As chronic illness tends to strip away the people and work and facades we cling to, there is always the opportunity to begin again. To let go, to accept, and to begin again.

I am thankful for this moment of eavesdropping.  To see how close the Divine was to these women, even though I’m certain that he felt so far away.  I can only hope that some people experienced the closeness of God, as they witnessed me over the years angry and crying in many coffee shops across the city.

–For all those who have listened to me in my hopelessness, who hoped for themselves and for me.

Simple Questions

Last week I listened to a podcast, where the person being interviewed expressed that the words of her yoga teacher were still rattling around in her mind:

“How tender do you want to get? How soft do you want to become?”

Those words made me stop.

I want to be a person who can receive. Someone who can be present, accepting the simple moments as they come and go. I want to be able to be still myself, so I realize what I need and want, and not be so terrified of my fatigue.

I want others to know that they are so important, that I’m willing to get close enough so that they change me.

And yet I’ve lived enough to know that this vulnerability is costly.  My generation values authenticity and vulnerability and yet it’s hard to be the first person to speak, the person to say, “I’m not okay.”

These months have been ones of seeing myself more honestly, seeing my protective walls, and knowing that they don’t just come crashing down in a moment.  It’s more like a slow melting away.

Receptiveness doesn’t mean being a push-over, just as sacrifice means that one must first recognize that there is a self to sacrifice. Without a discerning eye, receptiveness could look like people pleasing and helping could be avoidance.

So I keep returning to stillness, to myself and the Divine, to see how much my ego actually is at work and to see my own goodness and worth more clearly.

Sometimes receptiveness looks like receiving love, being affirmed, being reminded of how valuable I am just for being me. It could mean a hug, a compliment, being still enough to receive this moment, and the unknown that comes with it.

In order to be soft, I want to live into my body, knowing its joys and its pains.  I want to feel what I’m actually feeling, when my jaw tenses up, when my shoulders scrunch to my ears, or when I can actually touch my toes! I want to know when my breath is shallow and when its full. I want to listen to the emotions that rise up in me.

As I daily pay attention to myself, I will be more attune to others, having extra capacity for laughter and tears.

For in times of vulnerability, there is a shared tenderness, and we both could become softer as a result.  Of course, the choice is ours.  We have to be willing to sit “on the mourner’s bench” as Nicholas Wolterstorff likes to say.

The one who is tender speaks bravely, inviting everyone else in the room into a softer, gentler place.

Into a more expansive view of the world.  Into a new emotion, understanding, or empathy.

But there is no force. She could be met with unhelpful silence, misunderstanding, pet answers.

But she also could be met with love and acceptance.  There is great risk in seeking to be tender.

Yet there’s also an invitation to everyone else in the room.

Do you want to be tender and soft too? Will you join me on this journey of honesty, risk, and feeling deeply?