My last year of seminary I was part of a small group of friends and neighbors that formed an almost instant deep sense of community. The kind of community that you imagine when you hear that buzz word these days. It is a time that was clearly deemed “for such a time as this.” It helped that we were all students, single, new in that town. Our needs for friendship, our free time, the way we spent hours together with books or laptops in front of us made us all fit well together.
But one of the first things we did together was eat.
On Sunday nights we crowded chairs around a table, pulled out mismatched dishes, and took turns cooking a meal to be shared with everyone. I don’t recall anyone ever “apologizing” for their food choices – making a comment about how they would get fat if they had the desert, that they would need to run to work off the delectable homemade bread, or any other number of all-too-common conversations that normally surround tables of fellowship.
Our meals together were free from the demons of self-doubt and anxiety that so often accompany our food. When we actually had a french toast feast when the snow trapped us inside for a day, some people added the chocolate chips and powdered sugar, some didn’t, no one said a word. Our meals were typically healthy – full of greens and veggies and whole grains crafted from scratch. It wasn’t a food rule we were following though – most of us loved to cook and to share. Sometimes the week was busy and stressful and we all sat down to a greasy pizza and gave thanks and laughed and shared our night of togetherness just like every other week.
No apologies. No mea culpas for the calories or the cholesterol. Just food and together and life lived right now.
When we talk about faith and bodies – embodiment explores the idea that our very bodies are sacred given that they hold the divine image of God, imago Dei, and that Jesus was incarnated in human flesh. The concept of embodiment finds its scriptural origin in the first chapters of Genesis in which God creates humans in God’s own image. Pope John Paul II wrote at length on the body and points out that Genesis shows that human “became the ‘image and likeness’ of God not only through [our] own humanity, but also through the communion of person which man and woman form right from the beginning.” In other words, embodiment is not just about one’s own body, but it is about community, particularly as it relates to our interactions with and about our bodies, the bodies of others, and God. Because we worship a triune God, a God of Father-Son-Holy Spirit communion – the image of God is community and that should be reflected in our own selves and relationships.
Christ is alive in our bodies and has not deemed a single one uninhabitable. Yet, we live with thoughts – both secular and theological – that seek to “make” a holy body rather than to live into our embodiment.
We are bombarded with instructions on how to “look right” from every possible news source. Learning to accept or “live in” our bodies is a common quest because despite the fact that we are always a body from our very first moment, we are constantly questioning and wondering what our specific bodies mean or do not mean. More often than not, it seems that we find our bodies lacking or in need of transformation.
This obsession with appearance finds a home within churches and Christian conversations as well. Countless faith-based diet books and groups exist and offer a theological endorsement of this attempt to have a slim or acceptable body.
I firmly believe that our desire to (or not to) conform our bodies is a result of our understanding of the imago Dei in our own bodies and the bodies of others. And our understanding of that impacts how we live with each other, what kind of community we have. One of the overarching themes of scripture is a picture of God calling us into life together in the name of loving God and our neighbors.
When our attempts to “make” our body disrupt that ability to draw together in community, we are disrupting the Kingdom of God.
When we draw together in community and disrupt the fellowship of eating together with negative body talk and the constant anxiety and comments about how the food will affect our waistline, we are disrupting community, we are disrupting the image of God, we are causing harm to individual bodies and to the communal body of Christ that is the church.