A reflection on Liturgy of the Ordinary: Sacred Practices in Everyday Life, by Tish Harrison Warren. Chapter Three: Brushing Teeth
“Last week, I met Shawnessey for a tour of the Botanical Garden. When I arrived, she was sitting out front with a wheelchair for me. Since I hadn’t seen the garden before, she wanted me to experience the whole of it without getting too tired to enjoy it. The wheelchair was a blessing because, honestly, just getting myself ready and to the garden that day had worn me out. I willingly submitted to riding and was quiet for the first little while as Shawnessey pushed me down paths and I got used to this moment in my life. The moment when, after being alone and mostly quiet inside my apartment for days, I came out and took a seat and here was all of this wonder. Something about me being in a wheelchair and that day feeling so… unabashedly, adolescently fresh brought tears to my eyes. This was a moment so beautiful, it hurt to look at it. I fell in love with the garden, but maybe also with an imagination of going back someday when things are in bloom, and I can feel the muscles in my legs as I walk and walk and walk.”
I wrote that paragraph on October 29, 2014, three weeks after my last chemotherapy infusion. Having submitted to life-altering surgery and six months of chemo for ovarian cancer, at 38-years-old, my body was ravaged.
Talking about embodiment is complicated.
Honestly, to make it through that time, there was some necessary separation between what my body is and who I am. Now, 3+ years post-treatment, I am trying to make sense of it, to glue some of those broken bits back together again.
We who get to grow older will all eventually face some aspect of the frailty I felt that afternoon in a wheelchair in the garden. The knowledge of what that future holds makes me shy away from embracing the connection that inherently exists between the “disembodied spirits-floating-on-clouds spirituality” (38) that Tish warns against and this real-world fallible imperfect humanness that I inhabit.
Then there is Jesus. Incarnation. Sweat “like drops of blood falling to the ground” (Luke 22:44). Or, as Tish writes, “He slept. He ate. He groomed. He took naps, got his feet dirty…” (39). “The Word made flesh” (John 1:14).
God, in a body, getting it. Now, there is something to think about…
Several weeks ago, when Bo first preached something about our bodies as sites of worship, I went to him in wonder, told him that this idea was so resonant for me. Little did I know that this series, this book study, this particular chapter was coming.
Do you ever get the sense that you’re in the right place at the right time? Not because it feels good and safe and perfect, but because there are voices around you saying what you know a place deep inside you needs to hear?
I have been, for the last few years, trying to take my life back from cancer. I have felt the muscles in my legs walk and walk and walk. I have taken time to smell flowers, to cup them in my hands. I have stopped to stare up at the way sunshine comes through the leaves above me. I have put my arms around trees and felt the moss against my cheek. I can feel God in nature, in the very physicality of the world, but still, part of this idea of my spirit has remained safely tucked away from my physical embodiment because… I know how precarious that embodiment is.
Maybe it’s time to come back to a middle place. Maybe this is another step in that direction: writing this down, exploring in community the idea that my “skin and muscles and feet and hands are more sacred than any communion chalice or baptismal font,” that my body is “a worship space more wondrous than the most glorious ancient cathedral,” that I am “standing before the Grand Canyon or the Sistine Chapel” and covering my eyes (45).
Tish continues: “So, I will fight against my body’s fallenness. I will care for it as best I can, knowing that my body is sacred and that caring for it (and the other bodies around me) is a holy act.”
This is not an easy conversation – I don’t think examining the way we treat our bodies ever is – and I honestly can’t quite make sense of how any of us put our broken Humpty-Dumpty selves back together again, but we can embrace the truth that, by the grace of our persistent, present, life-giving Creator, someday, over time, God will.