bodies

Every Temple Falls

Photo via Timothy King
Photo via Timothy King

The fate of the Temple of Artemis, the fate of any temple, is one that need not be feared. Death, and collapse, have lost their sting. This process of decay is not an inherently ugly one. There was beauty in those remaining stones and still value in the ones that had already returned to the ground from whence they had been pulled.

Whether human or stone, from dust we have come and to dust we shall return.

Hope Matters

Walking on a beach. Image via mimagephotography/shutterstock.com
Walking on a beach. Image via mimagephotography/shutterstock.com

It is Holy Week. And I must admit I’m challenged by it. I’m the kind of person who is much more comfortable in my mind, in words on pages, and in thoughts strung together. I am much more comfortable there than in my body, in my own feet stepping down the street, in my own hips, thighs, calves, swaying arms cutting air, swinging, bobbing, Reebok-ing anywhere.

This wasn’t always the case.

There was a stint in high school, and again in college, and again in grad school, and again in the other grad school when I believed in my body’s capacity to excel — and so it did. I sailed around that high school track multiple times without stopping! I dove for the ball in the students v. teachers volley ball tournament, and I danced: jazz, tap, ballet! In college I rode my bike everywhere. In grad school I did interval training and in the other grad school I did power-walking — and Jenny Craig.

Mind you, all of these periods came in short bursts that propelled me forward for a time and then I would slow down, go into myself, and come out again with another burst in a year or two.

But my last big burst was about eight years ago. I haven’t swayed anything or bobbed anywhere for any significant amount of time since.

I felt it coming on. I knew it was happening when it was happening, but I had no idea I would become consumed by it.

“I just don’t feel like getting up to go walking,” I’d tell myself at my normal walking time.

“What if today is the day I get jumped and raped in the park?”

So I stayed home, convinced I was safer in my bed. Then I moved to a city I didn’t know and the rationalizations took deeper root.

And so, for eight years I have lived like a dualistic gnostic — pushing myself toward spiritual renewal while allowing my body to grow stagnant, stiff, and bloated.

What triggered it? I’ve asked myself that question many times over the years.

A recent event in my life crystalized it for me: Loss had stifled me. A loss locked my feet and knees and would not let me move forward. This loss was loss of hope.

Most of us have that area of our lives where we struggle to hope. For me it is that space down deep where I hide the dream of a family: a loving husband and laughing children and a rockin’ writing and speaking schedule — yeah! It’s my dream.

Telling the Forbidden Truth

THE WOMEN IN Talking Taboo: American Christian Women Get Frank About Faith aren’t just frank. They are courageous, clever, and wildly passionate.

This anthology, edited by Erin S. Lane and Enuma C. Okoro, asks 40 women under 40 to respond to the question, “What taboos remain in the church at the intersection of faith and gender?” The result is a collection of stories by women of faith (Baptist, Presbyterian, Mennonite, Catholic, Unitarian Universalist, and more) in a variety of roles (pastor, mother, writer, teacher, student, and more).

The women share times they have felt shamed, alienated, discouraged, or alone as women seeking a home in the church. From addressing domestic violence to lust to pregnancy to the role of a woman pastor’s body, the stories are raw in the way first-person narrative calls upon honesty and vulnerability to trump perfect prose or style.

Anthologies often stick to one structural extreme: Either they are rigid and theme-driven, or loose and nomadic. Talking Taboo follows the latter. Lane’s introduction promises no arc of narrative, no solid take-away message. The stories are here, she writes, because women are agreeing to “speak for ourselves.”

The prompt “taboo” itself calls for a loose interpretation, for what is defined as taboo ultimately depends on both the writer’s and the reader’s cultural references and relation to faith. One reader may find Amy Julia Becker’s struggle to understand headship within marriage familiar, but Patience Perry’s call for faith-based menstruation rites shocking. Another reader may affirm Kate Ott’s understanding of sexual pleasure as divine, yet wonder why Amy Frykholm feels more empowered when she conceals her body behind a monk’s cloak.

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The Vagina Dialogues

It’s profoundly disheartening to see people in political leadership and positions of cultural influence whose understanding of women’s anatomy—and that it is possessed by human beings, not mythical prototype “whores,” “virgins,” or “martyr mothers”—hasn’t progressed much past pre-adolescent hooting at drawings on the boys’ room walls.

Don’t get me wrong—I’m not actually looking for excuses to chat about vaginas or hormones with strangers or friends. I’m fairly comfortable with prudish reserve in daily life, especially when the alternative is coarse humor that’s usually not very funny. Then again, if you watch TV sitcoms or contemporary comedy films, hearing the word “vagina” outside of a gynecologist’s office isn’t the surprise it once was. As Ann Hornaday noted in her March 13 essay in The Washington Post, the word is now so prevalent, “it’s hard to believe that, just six years ago, Grey’s Anatomy producer Shonda Rhimes made ABC standards and practices executives so nervous about the word that she substituted the far more playful ‘va-jay-jay.’”

By contrast, when Eve Ensler’s “Vagina Monologues” debuted in 1996 it was controversial theater for a number of reasons, the most obvious being the first word in the title. The play was groundbreaking in its forthright exploration of women’s experiences—the brutal, the ecstatic, the ambivalent—in relation to women’s distinctive anatomy. It helped many women reclaim the language for their own bodies in the public sphere, rather than being limited to euphemisms and crudities deployed by others. The play opened up more space to talk about sexual abuse and violence against women, a step in weakening the shame that is part of any abuser’s arsenal.

Language is important for both literal health—knowledge of something is the first step toward caring for it—and the health of society. Our bodies are, as the psalmist writes, “fearfully and wonderfully made,” not inherently a source of shame.

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