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Honoring the Greater Body

I am very touched by the response to my post yesterday both in comments and in email.  I knew opening up this vulnerable place would begin to shift things in me again, move me again to that place where honoring my body is a gift rather than a burden.  I am always struggling in some way with the tension between the limits of my body and the calling of my creative inspiration, but it occurred to me that this tension sets up an antagonism between the two which I don’t at all mean to build. 

I believe deeply that caring for the body is central to caring for my vocation and calling, the two knit are together so that I can’t separate how I treat my body from how I respond to the ways God calls me into the world.  I nurture Sabbath rhythms in my life and resist as much as I can the hold a culture of doing can have on me.  

But I am beginning to ask the question of how I might not just see caring for my body as woven together with how I care for my vocation, as the body is the vehicle for my expression in the world.  I am beginning to see the care of my body itself as the primary vocation, regardless of how that facilitates our doing, something I am sure I have thought or said before, but as with all great truth it sometimes takes time to sink down into your bones. 

Perhaps learning to live in our bodies, and I mean to truly embrace both the profound dignity and pleasure, as well as tenderness and sometimes excruciating vulnerablity is the most important work we can do. To make sure the needs of bodies are cared for: that all bodies are well-nourished and touched in loving ways, given shelter and medicine they need, and not blown to bits with guns and bombs and other violence or neglect.  Or addressing the more subtle ways we do violence to our bodies through overwork and pushing ourselves, eating food sprayed with pesticides.

In this act of honoring bodies, we also honor the Greater Body, that wonderful phrase Wendy used in her comment on the last post.  If we took bodies absolutely seriously, these very delicate containers of flesh and fluid, wouldn’t we also begin to love the wider body more deeply of which we are a part?  The communion of all people and creation?  That one Great Body which pulses and breathes with the presence of the Creator? Isn’t that what the incarnation is all about?

-Christine Valters Paintner

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8 Responses

  1. Yes Wendy, you said that very wisely. We do need to give space to our lament over our limits rather than deny the frustration. But then move into the space of living and loving into our limits.

  2. I agree (about the post qouted). That’s why i thought it was a much more healing response that you had to your limits instead of that sort of judgement. Yet the frustration we tend to feel at our limits like in that post is SO real. The trick I feel is to allow that natural frustration–but without the judgement layer. There really is an innate desire to want to create beauty and order and when you want to do that in the ways you are drawn (art, cleaning etc) and your body says no it really feels (as I’m sure you know) just horrible. We can’t deny that–but we can stop adding insult to injury by relaeasing the judgement part. I have long loved the thought of healing by actually letting our limits guide us somehow (“the care of my body itself as the primary vocation” as you said so much more beautifully) instead of judging them…

  3. Thanks Cathleen, I know you understand the struggle.

    Songbird, I am delighted to hear you opened that window of self-care. It really is a struggle to put the needs of our body first. I support you wholeheartedly in the effort!

    Blessings, Christine

  4. After four weeks of listening to the inner cues I need to hear while adjusting to a new work schedule, yesterday I listened to what the body needs. My husband asked if I wanted to go out and walk the dogs with him, and I was thrilled by the suggestion, despite the snow and the cold and the aches and pains of a sacro-ileac injury I have been nursing for several months. I always feel better when I have been outside and walked. Always. My head is clearer, I am clearer. It’s so simple. Why is it so hard to take that little bit of care for myself? I’m going to try and listen more.
    Thank you for the words and images of these two posts.

  5. Christine and Wendy, Your words are profound, stirring something deep that has no expression with words right now. But thank you for sharing this struggle… Cathleen

  6. Thank you Wendy and Bette for your very thoughtful responses.

    Wendy, the post you mentioned is definitely a good example of what I consider to not be a healthy relationship to the body, the body’s limits as something to be gotten over.

    Bette, that insight about stealing time away from your own nurturing is such a key one. I think when we begin to see how everything we say yes to also means saying no to a number of other important things, we can begin to be more intentional and careful with our yeses and no’s.

    Love and blessings to you both, Christine

  7. Very interesting and important discussion. I take my healthy (for the most part) body for granted. Nurturing my physical and mental is connected to my spiritual. If one of these is ignored, it affects the whole.

    Because I have gained some weight back, I feel bitter at myself, and it all just snowballs from there. I take my creative ability and desires for granted and have gotten out of the habit of scheduling art-time in my studio with the “Do Not Disturb” sign on the door.

    Everyone is different, but my problem last year was taking on too many volunteer jobs/projects and now I realize that I actually STOLE time AWAY from my OWN nurturing.

  8. I really loved this post Christine, and what jumped out SO strongly was this: “I am beginning to see the care of my body itself as the primary vocation”.

    I’ve been following this thread that caught my attention on another blog that ties in here. A young wife who lives in Scotland on a farm (I’ll put her links at the end) is suddenly faced with an injured ankle, and even something so short term like that has turned things upside down for her. She keeps talking about the frustration, such as:

    “Please pray for me that my ankle heals so that I can be the housewife God meant me to be. I am so tired of my house being a wreck because I can’t stand, squat, lift not-even-heavy stuff etc. This ankle is seriously getting in the way of my LIFE. And my house, though slowly being de-cluttered, shows the results.

    PLUS I can’t go for walks nor can I get out and visit and I can’t drive a stick-shift car, which is all they have here. I’m beginning to feel the effects of severe cabin fever as well as inactivity. My back and my knees are aching so bad from me sitting around all of the time!! I’m turning into a blob…”

    “I hope this ankle heals. I’m starting to get depressed from sitting around inside of the house day in and day out. That happens when you are doing nothing with your life and your house needs lots of work done so you can move in but instead you have to let it sit there. Erlend (her husband) is getting stressed too. He knows I’m suffering from the cabin fever (and sore rear) but we can’t solve the problem…”

    And this is just for a temporary thing that heals and goes away, it doesnt even touch what someone goes through when these limits are ~chronic~. What you said about “I am always struggling in some way with the tension between the limits of my body and the calling of my creative inspiration, but it occurred to me that this tension sets up an antagonism between the two which I don’t at all mean to build” REALLY speaks to me. And its what I felt in the Scottish post as well. Because there is this innate desire deep down, this incredibly deep desire, to create beauty and order out of the chaos (art is one way, cleaning another, etc, a good post on the latter is here: and it is just torture when you have in your head what you want to do there and your body simply can’t do it.

    Your feeling that tension (which is huge!) but still, rather than judging, saying “I am beginning to see the care of my body itself as the primary vocation”, feels SO deeply healing. That in listening to the limits of our body, caring for our body, we are somehow doing what we are supposed to be doing and can release that tension somehow. Because truly, caring for one’s body is about healing, and healing is just as ordering and beautifying and that certain intangible something as is creativity and homekeeping and the like. The desire itself for order and birth and beauty is rooted in the drive behind incarnationalness to begin with I feel, and so that same desire is IN the body–so how can we go wrong in the end by focusing on our body?

    The links for the Scottish posts were the two below:

    And thank you BTW for the mention, I really appreciated that. Something about the image of the greater body feels important to me too.

    Blessed Week : ) Wendy