This week’s Monk in the World reflection come from Claudia Mair who blogs at Ragamuffin Diva and is the author of God Alone is Enough: A Spirited Journey with Teresa of Avila (as well as many novels including the Amanda Bell Brown Mystery Series). I’ve been online friends with Claudia for several years and always am moved by the honesty of her writing. She has the heart of a monk: willing to embrace humility and speak truth.
If the body is the temple of the Holy Spirit, mine has fallen into disrepair, which is why I surprised myself when I decided to chronicle my journey to turning 50 by creating 50 self-portraits. These would be no vanity, duck lips selfies. I wanted the photographs to be sacred pauses, capturing moments in time in a year in which the Spirit was moving. They would be an exercise in tracking grace in my life, as well a way to practice radical self-acceptance. I had the best intentions, however, the spirit was willing, but my flesh was being photographed. By my third self-portrait resistance set in.
Suddenly I didn’t want to take my picture. Excuses multiplied like they do anytime it’s time to pray or meditate: I’m having a bad hair decade. My clothes look a hot mess. I’ve fallen and I can’t get up. Anything to keep the focus off so. Much. ME!
I had the loftiest ideas of how this discipline would go. Unfortunately in my mind it was more like I’d be taking shots of my aura, completely bypassing my body. I found out rather quickly that photographs can be troubling truth tellers. There was my temple of the Holy Sprit looking more to me like a crack house, its image frozen on a screen, paint chipping, shutters hanging willy nilly, debris littering the yard. I could hardly gaze on it.
I bemoaned my flaws. Why did I let myself get so fat? When did I start looking so old? How did I get jowls??? These questions and more buffeted me, stealing my focus from the real purpose of my quest, to chart God’s movement in my life, and yes, to photograph someone God made.
Always we begin again, St. Benedict wisely reminds us, and so I began the practice again, this time remembering I’m a monk in the world with a camera and special effects apps, and each portrait I dare take of myself is an opportunity. Yes, I’m photographing myself, duh Claudia, that’s what a self- portrait is, but this spiritual discipline is so much more. I don’t judge flowers. I enjoy them, and I too am a flower in God’s garden. Here’s that radical self-acceptance I hoped for, hard won, if the truth be told. Just enjoy the process, including the subject. And what I perceive as flaws can always, always be viewed with the soft eyes of grace. Herein lies the gift of transformation: the resistance points to the cracks. The cracks let the light in. My body is not a crack house, but truly a temple it pleases the Spirit to dwell in, pretty mind-blowing stuff! I can use photography to take it all in, the beautiful and the terrible, knowing that even if I have trouble accepting it, God loves my body.
Whoa! Where’d that thought come from? But it’s the truth, the beginning of a shift in my perception. God. Loves. My body. And there is no capturing moments in my grace filled life without said body. God’s love for us is all encompassing. He loves us fat, aging, and with jowls, just as we are.
And that, my fellow monks, even the idea of it, changes everything.
Claudia Mair lives, works, and takes pictures of herself in Lexington, KY. She believes St. Benedict said, “Always we begin again,” with her in mind.