The Key to the Entire Bible
The Spirituality of Being in the Zone

Thinking About Bodies...

I went to see Annie Leibovitz's photos at the Corcoran yesterday with Jan. Now I can't stop thinking about bodies.

Annie Leibovitz is famous for her dramatic portraits of celebrities, often staged with props (like a portrait of Leonardo DiCaprio with a swan wrapped gracefully around his neck) or in the midst of some kind of staged setting (like her famous portrait of Whoopi Goldberg in a bathtub of milk). But what struck me as soon as I walked into the exhibit at the Corcoran was not the theatricality of her portraits, but their physicality.

Right off, there is a stunning photo of dancer Bill T. Jones leaping, naked, against a stark white backdrop. But the photo also shows what stands behind the white paper--an urban rooftop with girders and bricks, their solidity as powerful a part of the image as Jones' grace. Then, turn the corner and you meet Leibovitz's mother, a sturdy, aging woman, dancing at the beach in a sensible bathing suit, her leg high in the air. A photo of her father and brother, also in swimsuits, grinning with their arms crossed in front of their chests, somehow exudes the same physical energy. A note nearby quotes Leibovitz as saying her whole family shares a kind of "physical vitality".

And then, suddenly, you can see it everywhere. Not just the dancers, and not just the criminally beautiful Demi Moore in her famous pregnant portrait. My favorite photo in the exhibit was a portrait of writer Eudora Welty, taken when must have been in her late 80's, shows her holding her coat closed with one hand and gripping the arm of her chair with the other. The energy in her hands is as clearly portrayed in the photo as the intelligence in her face.

Clearly, Annie Leibovitz knows and honors the vitality of the body. She knows how we live, not just as minds or as spirits, but as bodies. We show up to the world in our bodies, and we age and get sick and die in our bodies. Those photos are in the exhibit too, unflinching in the knowledge that bodies can torture us. They carry pain and trauma as well as exuberant passion.

I want to be a Christian, to be a pastor, with that insight. Ours is an incarnational faith--we dare to proclaim that God has been made known to the world in a body, one that grew and experienced pleasure and suffered and died. And one that rose again--somehow transformed, glorified, but still a body. But so often we think our ways out of the challenge of that story. It's easier to talk about ideas, beliefs, values, easier to relate to each other that way, easier to relate to God that way.

I want to show up to the world like people show up to Annie Leibovitz--alive and present down to my fingertips. I want to show up to God that way, because I know that I have seen God show up to me in my body, in the bodies of others, embodied in the world.

"That I was, I knew was of my body—and what I should be, I knew I should be of my body."
-Walt Whitman, Crossing Brooklyn Ferry


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When I was in Div school, everyone was going to spiritual direction. I thought I would give it a try -- me a trying to be Christian woman who had grown up Unitarian Universalist going to a Jesuit church for spiritual direction. It all seemed quite impossible. Since I was a grad student and we had no money, it was pure providence that there was a center for training spiritual directors one block from my house. The center NEEDED people to direct and all I had to do was go and interview with the director of the center and he would place me in direction with one of the students in the program.
He had a beautiful sunny office filled with books. I was a little nervous to be there, afraid I would be found out for the not yet even Christian I was. I decided to come clean and tell him how much I didn't know about being a Christian. I told him I understood God as Creator. I loved creation. That was easy. And I understood God as Spirit. I had felt those powerful winds blow through my life. What I couldn't figure out was Jesus. I wanted to know Jesus. He seemed illusive to me. It seemed that you had to have grown up singing songs to him and coloring scenes from the Bible in order to know him.
This wise Jesuit asked me a question that surprised me at the time. He said, "Do you ever find yourself in awe at the beauty of the physical world?" "Yes," I said. "I have a 15 month old daughter and sometimes looking into her face and holding her body in mine makes my heart ache for her beauty." He smiled knowingly and said, "You are on your way to knowing Jesus."
I thought of that recently as I helped my 6 year old son into his pajamas and soaked up the sight of his skin and his impossibly birdlike bones that look as if they would snap in my hands but somehow manage to gracefully take him up trees and across fields. Sometimes, if I can shut my yapping mind off just for a few seconds and simply love that body as much as I really do, I'm different.
So then the real challenge would be to love my body that much. Could I ever shut off the yapping about losing weight, exercising more, growing older, having freckles and find Jesus more fully even with this body?

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