I grew up in a small midwestern town where almost everyone I knew believed in God and most of them went to church. Sunday was the Lord’s Day and if the church doors were open, you were there. That meant twice on Sundays and Wednesday nights too. Potlucks were a monthly ritual that included a lot of casseroles and if you went to the hospital the prayer chain kept everyone informed. Somehow in the midst of these very bodily experiences (gathering for worship, sharing meals and caring for the sick) I acquired a belief system that not only disregarded the body but often viewed it as a liability.
I am on a journey of reclaiming my understanding, appreciation and celebration of what it means to live in a human body. My faith continues to inform me and I’m grateful for a tradition that believes and teaches that our bodies are made of dust (the earth) and that we are both body and spirit; equally embodied souls and ensouled bodies, not emphasizing one over the other. We have the unique ability to know upward communion with God, mutual relationship with other bodies, and a sacramental stewardship with the rest of creation. This gives a unique dignity and worth to the human body. The body is not merely a shell that contains the ‘real’ person; rather, the real person is embodied.
Yoga continues to play a significant part of this reclamation of my body. It invites me to a deeper awareness and appreciation for my body’s many components; my breath, the strength and flexibility of my bones and muscles, the quietness of my mind, the desires and passions of my heart. Yoga helps me to embrace my body and to acknowledge it’s vast capacity as well and its limitations.
Yesterday was Ash Wednesday, a Christian Holy Day marking the advent of Lent. Although the service is often characterized as somber, I generally look forward to it. What is more bodily than acknowledging one’s mortality? Rising from one’s seat, walking forward and standing before the priest, one waits. And as ashes make the sign of the cross on my forehead, I hear the words, “Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return.”