Your Body is Welcome Here
By Rev. Catie Scudera, Published on November 24, 2017
At our annual ministry theme brainstorming meeting, First Parish staff members and lay leaders discussed the desire for worship and programming addressing “whole health.” We understood the theme of “Wholeness” to mean that we would encourage church members toward self-care and communal support for each of our unique bodies, minds, and souls. Wholeness was understood in that conversation as something every person can strive for through personalized care of an individual’s physical, intellectual, emotional, and spiritual health. However, as we now enter into our monthly theme of Wholeness, I am reminded that many are belittled and discriminated against because of the so-called “brokenness” of their bodies and health status. I wanted to be sure to acknowledge this cultural problem, in case it was unclear what the intent of “Wholeness month” was.
Particularly as a woman who grew up in the United States, I am acutely aware of the damage inflicted upon those with “non-normative” bodies and health status. One need only go through the checkout line at the local supermarket or watch a video advertisement to become well-versed in all the ways human bodies are expected to display “wholeness,” when that term is misused as “normative perfection and purity.” Magazines champion cosmetics and an ever-rotating set of diets (rarely for women themselves, but to accommodate what British feminist film critic Laura Mulvey first described as the heterosexist “male gaze”), and TV ads feature overwhelming white, able-bodied, and thin models (who still need diets and cosmetics to be “beautiful,” apparently!). Around the world, young people are trained to view their bodies and mental health through a restrictive, judgmental cultural lens, leading to lifelong low-self-esteem and even self-hatred.
This false kind of “wholeness” is not what we intend to promote at First Parish!
Black queer activist and poet Sonya Renee Taylor founded the website The Body is Not An Apology and the associated movement in 2011, the name coming from her famous spoken word poem. Her movement promotes radical self-acceptance and –love, and pushes back against societal norms that devalue and oppress certain bodies and abilities. Taylor’s organization is also sensitive to the complexities of intersectionality, wherein “non-normative” bodies and minds can be denigrated for multiple “flaws” simultaneously, due to racism, heterosexism, cissexism, ageism, ableism, etc. Taylor recently spoke at Boston College, where she encouraged students to reject the dominant culture’s narrative about “good” and “bad” bodies and offered them “ten tools for radical self-love.”
As we support each other in our search toward wholeness this month and beyond, please know that First Parish in Needham supports happiness, healthiness, and wholeness for all people, who we know are embodied in diverse and wonderful ways. I am reminded of this poem by UU minister Rev. Sean Neil Barron:
“Your body is welcome here, all of it.
Yes, even that part. And that part. And yes, even that part.
The parts you love, and the parts you don’t.
For in this place we come with all that we are
All that we have been,
And all that we are going to be.
Our bodies are constantly changing, cells die and cells are reborn
We respond to infections and disease
Sometimes we can divorce them from our bodies,
and other times they become a permanently part of us.
Your body and all that is within it, both wanted and not wanted has a place here.
Our bodies join in a web of co-creation, created and creating.
Constantly changing, constantly changing us
Scarred and tattooed, tense and relaxed
Diseased and cured, unfamiliar and intimate
Formed in infinite diversity of creation
Your body is welcome here, all of it.
So take a moment and welcome it
Take a moment to feel in it.
Take a moment, to be in it.”
Each of us will go through periods where we feel more satisfied or more frustrated (or even pained) by our embodiment, but I hope we can each practice gratitude for the many gifts embodiment brings. I encourage you sometime this month to “take a moment and welcome” your body, “to feel in it, to be in it” — and, even to strive to love it as well as you can, in defiance of whatever cultural norm has previously told you that your body is “not enough.” We shouldn’t feel that we must apologize for our bodies — instead, we should celebrate them together!