The Art Of Praying Naked

prayer

I step out of the shower, wrapped in just a towel, and stand in front of the full-length mirror. Water is still dripping from my hair, creating a tiny puddle next to my feet on the shiny brown tiles.

“This is it,” I whisper to myself.

Slowly, I unwrap the soft towel from my body and let it fall onto the puddle of water on the floor.

I take a deep breath.

I look at my naked body – my dark chocolate skin, the tiny scars on my knee, the pink-ish pimples scattered on my face, the fields of hair on my arms, my muffin top and jiggly thighs, the curves of my waist, the feet I’ve never been fond of…

Then suddenly, I fall.

With roars of ferocious laughter, I knock myself down to my knees.

This isn’t any ordinary laughter — this is the snot-running-down-your-nose and tummy-viciously-aching and uncontrollable-wheezing and aching-facial-muscles and I-think-she’s-in-pain-call-911 kind of laughter.

This wasn’t how I expected any of this to go.

In her book “An Alter in the World: A Geography of Faith,” New York Times Bestselling Author Barbara Brown Taylor claims our bodies are temples, where our souls grapple with the divine in tangible ways. The practice of wearing skin is so poignant and beautiful, she says, it is one of the most underrated miracles there is.

When I first read this, I ached with understanding.

Our bodies speak to us when we hunger, when we feel cold, when we physically hurt, and when we emotionally hurt. Our bodies have the ability to give birth, to give pleasure, to heal from hurt. Our bodies are divine works of art, mastered by a brilliant creator. Barbara argues that Jesus understood this magical ability of our bodies to communicate what our souls couldn’t.

Jesus intentionally touched the leper, an act that not only broke social norms, but also expressed the deep love he has, to a human who thought he was untouchable.

Jesus physically broke bread, allowing his disciples to taste his faithfulness and provision — literally. Jesus got on his knees and washed dirty feet, a lesson words would be incapable to teach. Jesus knew our bodies were as sensitive to the Lord’s spirit as our souls are.

He knew this so well that he wore a layer of skin, so he could eat with the hungry, drink with the thirsty, and bleed for the weary.

I remember the first time I indulged in Barbara’s book. Her thoughts about bearing our bodies fascinated me. I was engrossed by every word she had written, and soaked each sentence like a sponge. My eyes moved from line to line, hungry for all she had to say…
Till she said something that made my jaw drop:

“I can say that I think it is important to pray naked in front of a full-length mirror sometimes, especially when you are full of loathing for your body.”

Wait, what?

Barbara went on to explain how our culture has managed to deem our bodies as sexual or private matters that aren’t meant to be celebrated. We spend most of our time covering our bodies, and only get to have quick glimpses of our bellies and thighs during a shower or while changing our clothes. But if our bodies are holy miracles, a gift from God that is meant to be cherished and loved, we need to truly treat our bodies like temples.

Barbara suggests praying naked.

I’ve indulged in many different prayer practices such as lection divina, breath prayers, prayer labyrinths, and Quaker prayers. But this was a new one. A strange one. An exciting one!

Yes, yes yes!

I was completely sold on Barbara’s idea of seeing our bodies as holy miracles. And so, this summer, I decided to do it.

And… well, things didn’t quite go as I planned

I tried to pray naked. But I couldn’t.

After seconds within studying my body, I was laughing. There wasn’t anything funny about my body or the situation, but I was hysterically laughing.

Barbara said this was a spiritual practice that was supposed to lead me to self-love and a rocking relationship with God. Why was laughter my response instead? Where were the Spirit-led prayers of adoration and thanksgiving?

I will confess: I have had issues with my body before.

I used to make rude comments about my “less-than-perfect” stomach and thighs. I did everything I could to stay away from bikinis and skin-hugging dresses. I enviously looked at magazines, dreaming of thinner days that would never come.

But somewhere along the way, thanks to the inspiration and courage of certain women in my life, I learned how to laugh and how to recognize the joy in my life. I allowed myself to eat an extra Oreo (sans the guilt).

I dared to wear shorter dresses, despite my thighs which do not stand perfectly still when I walk. I held my head up slightly higher from the ground.

Somehow, I learned the joy of bearing my body, of wearing my skin.

But I didn’t realize I did… until I tried to pray naked. So maybe that’s why my laughter seemed to be the most appropriate response to my act of prayer.

Maybe laughter was my declaration that I love this body that does miraculous and wonderful things. Maybe laughter was my prayer, my proclamation that I like the way I look, so thanks be to God.

Photo Credit: Woupidy, Creative Commons

It is Good : An Ode to My Body

An-Ode-To-My-Body

The instructor at the front of the room arches her hands high above her head and jumps up and down in time to the music, some Top 40s hit I don’t recognize.

The class dances along in pace before me while I’m hoofing it at the back, missing half the moves despite how hard I’m concentrating. I’m a mess of sweat and wheezy breaths and heavy limbs and I’m a full measure offbeat, swinging my arms left when I should be going right.

My feet hit the wooden floor, stumbling into rhythm again just in time for our dance instructor, a tiny Asian woman with the energy of a rabbit and the voice of a drill sergeant, to yell,

“Follow my turn!”

We hop around at 90 degree increments and suddenly I find myself leading the whole class, flailing wildly out of sync as I crane my neck backward to keep my eyes on the instructor.

My plan to be invisible has failed miserably, not having accounted for the dance turns when I chose my spot at the back of the room.

I am front and center and burning with embarrassment plus a total inability to get oxygen to my lungs, but soon we turn again and all eyes are on the women to my right.

They’re maintaining some semblance of coordination, even the woman at least six months pregnant.

From behind you would not know she’s expecting, her moves are so fluid and unencumbered, her figure so tiny and toned, until she turns to the side and her basketball baby swings out in front for her like a magic trick, as if it’s always been there.

I will never be like that, I think regretfully.

I descend from a long line of women that get pregnant with every part of their body – nose, earlobes, wrists, ankles, pinky toes. I’m told that a sweet little baby comes out at the end of all that torture, but the body stays swollen forever, blessed genetics.

I feel heavy enough as it is and I’m not even pregnant.

I keep dancing along behind the instructor, hoping she doesn’t see my flails from the wall of mirrors in front of her.

This is why, even though I sometimes want to, I never join exercise classes – to save myself the embarrassment. But today I’ve been coercedinvited by my friend because her sister leads the yoga class after the dance session ends.

Confession? I’ve never done yoga either.

When my friend brought me along this morning, I had visions of stretching myself out on a mat after a couple of downward facing dogs and listening to soft trills of flute music, meditating until I’m trance-like, almost asleep.

But I’m in for a rude awakening once the class starts.

“Let’s pick a goal to focus on in our exercises today,” the instructor says as we lie down on our mats. She tells us to think about one part of our body or one thing we want to accomplish, like keeping our jaw relaxed or strengthening our core.

Me, I get a little philosophical about my goal.

I want to feel my body, I decide.

I’m not entirely sure what I mean by this, except that I know I don’t feel my body very often. I want to exercise regularly, but aside from my fear of embarrassment, I never seem to have the time.

Between my full-time job and writing a book and a blog, and, you know, life, I’m already operating at maximum capacity and it requires far less movement than I’d like, because I sit at a computer for 12 hours a day.

So this morning, I’m feeling my body like I haven’t felt it in a long time.

The stretches start out friendly at first, a warrior pose here, a tree pose there, but soon we’re twisting and bending and leaning into more complicated stretches, and I find myself with one leg up in the air behind me, one arm behind my back, and wobbling painfully on one knee, focusing every cell in my body on not falling directly on my head.

I’ve stopped breathing. I suck at this, I think with disappointment.

“Think about the goal you set at the beginning of the class. Is your jaw relaxed? Is your core tight?” the instructor asks.

Every joint and outstretched muscle yells at me from my twisted position. If my goal was to feel my body, then I’ve succeed, but wow does it hurt.

We shift into a less awkward pose and I exhale deeply. Here on the yoga mat, leaning into my elbows with my legs stretched out behind me, forehead pressed against the floor, I feel the full weight of my choice to protect myself feeling anything.

I’ve always prided myself on eating healthy, gobbling up fresh produce, avoiding things like potato chips and Hot Pockets.

I don’t even consider myself lazy or fat.

I’m not the kind of person that makes awkward comments about hating my body when everyone gathers for a group photo or when my friends and I head to the beach in our bikinis.

But the truth is, my lifestyle says otherwise.

I sit at my desk for most of the day, park myself on my couch late at night for a rerun and a bowl of ice cream, and tell myself that I just don’t have time or energy or coordination to challenge my body with physical activity, and it’s a way of hiding from the parts of me that I don’t love, like my clumsiness and belly flab.

I numb myself of all the things I’m afraid to feel, like years of shame and fear of my genetics and the physical pain of an imperfect body.

And in my attempt to not feel all the bad stuff, I stop feeling the good stuff, too.

I don’t feel energy or endorphins or adrenaline, all the things that signify the goodness of God’s creation in me, the way He made my muscles to flex and my lungs to gulp air and my heart to race and my feet to dance.

God created our bodies to feel things and I’ve been subconsciously trying to avoid all of that.

But if I want to my body to be a temple of the Spirit, I have to learn to fully dwell in it myself. If I want to worship my Creator, then I have to care for what He created.

We’re reaching the end of our session now.

We arch and stretch our torsos back, together rising up like the sun.

I glimpse myself in the mirror. The mental mumbling about how uncoordinated and weak I am fades until I can barely hear it, and I whisper to myself, I am strong.

My muscles strain to meet the pose, and it burns like a candle lit in the darkness, like the dawn of a new day.

It is good, I hear Him say, and for the first time in a long time, I feel it.

[Photo: choiyak, Creative Commons]

Cutting To Stop The Hurt

Cutting To Stop The Hurt

DISCLAIMER: This story contains strong imagery surrounding self harm. If you or someone you know is suffering self abuse please seek council, and tell someone you trust. Search for the best resources in your area here. __________________________________________________________________________________________

She was in my husband’s class.

She’d transferred from another school and cutting was her way of keeping from hurting. Of dealing with the sadness.

Trent came home one day and told me she’d come to school with marks all over her body and she’d come up to him at recess, had shown him the cuts on her arms. She was tired of pulling her shirt sleeves over her pain.

She was tired of not being seen.

I sat down to write her a letter. I pulled out some old loose-leaf, and I wrote:

 

Dear ________,

My name is Emily. You don’t know me but I’d like to know you.

I hurt too. But when I hurt, I starve myself.

I would love to know your story.

e.

 

And she sent a letter home that day and we wrote the rest of that school year, her telling me about her dad who punched her and shoved her around, and her mom who called her stupid and handicapped.

“I like feeling the relief I feel when I get home as I take that blade and drag it across my skin,” she wrote. “I like watching myself bleed. But then the guilt comes and I just feel like I just let everyone down. Like a failure. Like I’m a disappointment to everyone….”

We eventually started chatting on FB and she would come on late at night sometimes and tell me she’d cut RIP into her leg, and I would pray for her and speak love to her and this is all we have, isn’t it?

These dangling conversations which are our lifelines.

And I wished her parents could see their daughter. I wished they would start knocking on her bedroom door.

One morning she passed out, because she’d bled and not eaten and no one found her. She told me later on Facebook, and my heart hurt for her because I know what it feels like to not feel seen. So I just listened. And noticed. And cared.

And eventually she just started sharing every-day life with me and I went to see a play she was in and I kept praying for her and one day she wrote—

I talk to God more often. I can take so much more stress now before I break. I’m not cutting everyday now. The scars on my wrists are fading. Just my upper legs need to heal.”

She wasn’t healing because I’d said the right words to her.

She was healing because she felt heard.

All I had were my prayers and my stories of how I felt invisible growing up and how anorexia was my razor and how Jesus’ scars had healed me. I had God the father to tell her about, and how much he loved her and who she was to him.

How he cried for her, hurt for her, saw her lying there passed out on the floor.

Recently I came across this girls’ blog. In it, she writes:

at the emergency room last night, there was a nurse named eric. i don’t know why but he was the type of person that you can’t lie to. he asked me lots of questions about myself and it wasn’t the typical doctor bullshit—

it seemed like he was genuinely curious about me and what i was doing all cut up in the e.r. around 2 in the morning.

when he was cleaning the blood off me and getting me ready for stitches i had to show him all the superficial cuts on my hips and boobs, and instead of being professional and cold like e.r. doctors usually are when they see, he went “wow, there are so many.” like really sadly. it was weird cause it seemed like it actually affected him…

obviously he’s never going to see this, but i wanted to thank him, and if anyone does read this to the end i want you to know that there are rare people out there who really care.

not cause they’re a therapist who’s paid to listen, not cause they’re your friend who’s worried about you, but for no reason aside from they are an exceptional human being.

people like eric from the bethesda north emergency room and like every other stranger who’s ever tried to help me.

they are the people we should listen to, not the monsters in our heads who tell us we are not good enough.

 

When we care, we scare the monsters away.

I wrote my friend from school the other day. I said, “I‘m very, very proud of you for not cutting, honey. You are worth more than gold.”

And she wrote back and she said, “Thank you.”

[Photo: Thomas Leuthard, Creative Commons]

Starving for Attention

Starving For Attention

DISCLAIMER: Today’s post discusses disordered eating. If you or a loved one is struggling with an eating disorder, please call the confidential National Eating Disorders Helpline at 1-800-931-2237 or visit the National Eating Disorders Association (NEDA) website.

_______________________________________________________________________________________
I don’t want to write this. That’s how I know I need to. If it write it, it becomes real. If I write it, and people read it, then it’s really true. Then everyone will know, and ask questions, and try to be helpful.

Sometimes I starve myself.

It started out as a response to extreme stress and emotional upheaval. It’s a natural response to lose your appetite when bad things happen.

But it grew into a way to control.

When everything else in my life feels out of control, the amount of food I consume is entirely up to me. No one can make me eat. When I don’t eat, I feel different. I look different. People notice. Good or bad, they notice.

Some even seem jealous.

When I look too thin, I’m seen. I’m talked about. I’m talked too. And I’m in control.

It’s sort of a game. How little can I consume and still be functional? How much can I demand of my body? When will people start to notice?

When I eat so little and still work out, it looks like I’m all muscle. Everything is visible and more defined. There’s no cottage cheese cellulite. The truth is, I’m only muscle. My body has used up everything else to keep going.

I’m not just lean; I’m unhealthy.

The woman I see in pictures doesn’t look like the woman I see in the mirror.

The woman in pictures looks angular, boney, paper thin, sad. The woman in the mirror looks lean and fit, even though her clothes hang on her.

I go through seasons with eating. At its worst, I literally have to choke down food. My appetite is gone. Sometimes the smell of food even makes me feel sick to my stomach.

These are the days my life is in complete turmoil, my world is spinning out of control, and I have to keep repeating to myself, “I can make it through today. Just one day. I can do one day of this.” Other days, when life is more settled, I pick and choose.

I eat what looks good. My emotions are pretty stable. It’s just about control.

I will never be one of those people who over-exercises. That’s way too much work. I don’t think I could actually starve myself to death; I have a serious sweet tooth.

I just love baked goods too much, and on the lowest days, I give myself permission to eat whatever looks good.

Instead, most of the time, I live in the balance of just healthy enough and a bit too thin. I have always been that girl…the one who only eats when she is actually hungry, the one who is more comfortable a little hungry than too full, the one who buys the smallest size the store carries.

The truth is I love being that girl.

In my rational brain, I see just how unhealthy these thought patterns are.

I look at pictures and see a mom who is too thin to be healthy. I want to set a good example for my own kids and for my students at school. It kills me to see my middle school students skipping lunch because it’s cool to not eat. I don’t want that for them.

How can I want it for me?

Jesus and I talked about this once. When I was ready to listen, He told me He wants me to delight in the food He provides for me. Delight! I’m not sure I know how to do this.

Some days it’s easier than others, but I’m getting there.

What are you battling that you might need to seek help with? What is God asking you to delight in?

[Photo: Angelo González, Creative Commons]

It’s Too Bad I’m Fat

it's too bad i'm fat

On the evening of my sixth birthday, I rode my bicycle to my friend’s house down the street. I pedaled my pink bike slowly along the pavement, considering the day’s events and the new outfit I’d been given. It was a green skirt with yellow sunflowers on it, and it came with a matching jacket.

As I drew closer to my destination, I looked down at my skirt and thought, “It’s too bad I’m fat. I really like this outfit.” This is my earliest memory of believing that I’m not enough. Six years old.

From kindergarten through high school, I experienced intense bullying.

The full arsenal of mean comments, slander, and practical jokes were directed at my heart – and with every passing year, the hole in my soul widened.

You’re fat. You’re stupid. You’re not funny. You can’t be our friend. I hate you. Ironically, as the years passed, I said these words to myself more than others said them to me.

Seven years later, I took matters into my own hands. I was sick of feeling like I was always behind, like I didn’t fit in, like I was falling apart at the seams. So I turned to food.

I worshipped food. It was my comfort and my source of peace. I religiously counted calories, and restricted my intake to the lowest possible amount. I exercised for hours each day, often skipping school to get more time in on the treadmill.

I slimmed down until you could hardly recognize me anymore. I lost my shape, my curves, and my spark. As I withered, the hole in my soul grew to a massive size. I was controlling everything that went into my body – and even with my new look, the new attention, the new clothes, I still felt alone. I still felt invisible.

When I left for college, I thought moving to another city would help me climb out of the hole.

I signed up for classes with vigor, changed majors, went on backpacking trips – I tried on new versions of myself in hopes that they would fit, that I’d finally be enough, but nothing worked. That’s the maddening thing about our insecurities and our fears – they follow us no matter where we go and who we pretend to be.

My eating disorder defined me. It was the beginning and the end, and it made all my choices. It calmed my anxieties, soothed my fears, and made me feel almost-but-not-quite-whole. If I was feeling ambitious, that meant I couldn’t eat. If I didn’t feel valued, I binged until I was ill.

It was an unending cycle of broken promises and abandoned dreams.

A year ago, I was laying on the floor of my best friend’s room. It was the night before her bridal shower, which, as her maid of honor, I had planned and had flown to Boston for. Though I was exhausted from traveling for close to 10 hours, insomnia was in full force, and my stomach was cramping wildly, as it had been for weeks.

I got up and went to the bathroom to splash water on my face, and when I flipped on the light, I barely recognized myself.

My eyes were sunken, the skin beneath them dark. My weight had fluctuated so much over the last few months as my eating disordered worsened, and my skin was rough and patchy. The almost-whole feeling that my eating disorder had always promised was gone. I was really, really broken, and it showed.

As my eyes welled with tears, I wondered, “Does this have to be my life? Does this have to be my existence? Do I have to change myself to be liked, to be loved, to discover what I’m made for, to follow my dreams?”

It was the first night in my 18 years of self-doubt that I challenged the dark and powerful voice in my soul that told me I wasn’t enough.

What if I was?

Today, I am a person in process. I make mistakes, I fumble, I judge, I forgive and am forgiven.

I am in recovery from a 10-year battle with bulimia, anorexia, and binge-eating disorder, and learning to believe and truly embody the words “I am Enough” is a conscious choice that I must make every. single. day. Breaking the unhealthy habits, stopping the self-criticism – it’s an uphill battle.

But the sense of peace and freedom and true love that I carry in my heart today is worth every drop of sweat and every pang of anxiety.

The gaping hole in my soul is closing.

Two nights ago, I pedaled my bike around my neighborhood. I considered how my arms, my legs, my feet felt on the bike – how strong I felt, how connected I felt to this bike that I bravely rode up the west coast of the country.

I am courageous.

I looked up at the scene around me, the Rocky Mountains towering over my neighborhood. I am thankful. I looked down at my clothes, an expression of who I am and not a definition of what I have to be.

I am enough. And then I pedaled home.

Have you ever felt the need to change yourself to be liked or loved?

[Photo: Cia de Foto, Creative Commons]