My Body and My Faith

Ahnnalise Stevens-Jennings

Maybe don’t read this if you are sensitive to discussions of abuse, sexual assault, or self-harm.

I have a bad relationship with my body. I guess I should say that I have a bad relationship with myself. This is often hard for me to deal with, but I have to remember that as a Christian who stands by the ancient creeds of the Church I believe that my body and my soul are one. “I believe in the resurrection of the body,” says the Apostle’s creed, and I say that too, or at least I should.

I have recently joined a group of my friends from seminary in a weekly podcast that they have created called Colloquy Interrupted. We talk about a lot of things, and our last four episodes have been on eschatology. During those conversations our old friend Gnosticism decided to raise his ugly head. I know he’s no good, but I have to be honest and say that I like to flirt with him. You see, he tells me something that I really like to hear. If you don’t know, Gnosticism is an old school Church heresy that is alive and well today. It is all about how the god who created the world wasn’t actually the god we worship. This false god somehow managed to get a little bit of the real god into humanity, and all we have to do is escape the material world to gain the real and secret knowledge that the real god has waiting for us. Gnosticism tells me that I can separate my soul from my body. My body is bad. I have been trapped in it, and one day I can be free of it. Oh man, that sounds great.

I didn’t learn to hate my body on my own. I have internalized a lot of fun things like racism, sexism, and fat-phobia and all of them have helped me on my self-hate journey. I have also had the unfortunate experiences of sexual harassment, sexual assault, and abuse at the hand of a partner. All of those things together have made me feel like I wish I could just step out of my body and experience the world as the person I was supposed to be.

Somewhere trapped in my body is a person who is considered beautiful in Western society. She is taller than me. She is much thinner than me. She has lighter skin, straighter hair, and lighter eyes.

You know, that girl.

She has never had inappropriate advances directed at her. No one has ever made her feel cheap or dirty. No one has ever made her feel worthless, or ugly. No one has ever hit her, or forced her body do to anything she did not want to do. She has never starved herself and then felt guilty when someone complimented her weight loss. She has never enjoyed the feeling of breaking her own skin. I like to imagine that girl is trapped in here somewhere and that all I have to do is wait for her to emerge like a butterfly. She’s the one who sings “I’ll fly away, oh glory! I’ll fly away”.

It is such a beautiful illusion. It is so easy to imagine and to find hope in. I sometimes want to just give into it, and if I’m honest there are days that I do. It is hard to spend your life thinking your body is a burden and then find hope in the idea of a bodily resurrection. But I have an advantage that some other people do not have. I have a community of people who are trying to tell me a different story about who I am. I have a faith that tells me that I was made in the image of God. I have friends that remind me that the things I have come to believe about my body and myself are not true. They are lies. They are the result of the fallen-ness of the world. They are sin and sin’s result. They are death, and they have been defeated. Even now God’s reign is at hand; it is already and not yet.

I glimpse the hope of the coming Kingdom when I experience love, grace, mercy, and justice from God and the community around me. I see it in the way that my husband respects and cares for me as a whole person. I always imagined that if I ever found someone who loved me, they would only ever be able to love my mind, my heart, or my soul. That simply isn’t true. I am loved as a whole being. I didn’t know that was possible.

Dear Church, as more and more people come forward and talk about the ways in which they have been sexually harassed and assaulted, please pay attention. The effects of that kind of treatment are far reaching. They are interconnected with so many other things. They like to play with racism, sexism, homophobia, ableism, and fatphobia. They are friends with the abuse of power. They harm people as a whole person, body, mind, and spirit together.

We have an opportunity here to speak truth where there have only been lies and to speak life where there has only been death. We have a God who is perfect relationship. We are witnessing, and many of us are the survivors of, broken relationship. The hope that we have to bring in this moment where light is being shined into some of the places of deepest shadow in our society should not be a lost opportunity for us. Do something. And do not let Gnosticism into the narrative. He is a liar. He will want to tell us that all we have to do is wait for the moment to escape. Instead, we have to do the opposite. We have to run towards, not run away. We have to get involved and help heal ourselves and those around us. We have to teach others and be willing to be taught how to accept grace and love when we have been made to feel like we are not allowed to have either. We have a chance now to offer a different possibility to those who like me have been treated like they do not matter. Don’t miss this chance to share the hope found in this Christian faith.

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