The Inner Voice of Who Knows What

the pilgrimage: Henri Nouwen and my own topsy-turvy little heart

Day 8: Safe in your own skin.

Henri, Bring Your Body Home:

You have never felt completely safe in your body. But God wants to love you in all that you are, spirit and body. Increasingly, you have come to see your body as an enemy that has to be conquered. But God wants you to befriend your body so that it can be made ready for the Resurrection. When you do not fully own your body, you cannot claim it for an everlasting life.

How then do you bring your body home? By letting it participate in your deepest desire to receive and offer love. Your body needs to be held and to hold, to be touched and to touch. None of these needs is to be despised, denied, and repressed. But you have to keep searching for your body’s deeper need, the need for genuine love. Every time you are able to go beyond the body’s superficial desires for love, you are bringing your body home and moving toward integration and unity.

In Jesus, God took on human flesh. The Spirit of God overshadowed Mary, and in her all enmity between spirit and body was overcome. Thus God’s Spirit was united with the human spirit, and the human body became the temple destined to be lifted up into the intimacy of God through the Resurrection. Every human body has been given a new hope, of belonging eternally to the God who created it. Thanks to the Incarnation, you can bring your body home.


Mary, blessed mother and bold courageous daughter, at the center of Incarnation as your body and your love bring Jesus into this world – I wish your body was revered as much as the body of those on billboards and on film and in the Victoria’s Secret fashion show. I wish my family of Protestants would embrace you as much as we embrace the lie that we are not beautiful enough.

Henri Nouwen – I wish you were the cover feature of Cosmopolitan, a special guest writer in Seventeen Magazine, Vogue’s premiere photoshoot, or perhaps even Maxim’s most refreshing centerfold. (Ha!)

I wish every young girl could read your wisdom. I wish you could speak a blessing on every Christian woman who has been taught to reject her body for the ‘unholy’ things it desires, and on every prostitute that walks down my street who has been taught to become numb to the superficiality, and forget that underneath all that exploitation she is a temple that is home to that new hope.

You have never felt safe in your own body.
I cannot speak for all humanity’s experience, but I do know this sentiment rings true for so many women… bombarded with images of what you should or should not look like, feel like, smell like, act like… who spend so much time investing into transforming our bodies into someone else’s body. We are told to be anti-age, to cover up our flaws, to flatter our bodies with manipulation and Spanx.

Growing up in this Christian American subculture, we learn that the body, and matters of the body, really don’t matter.
We learn that ‘modest is hottest,’ and any attempt to feel good about your body might as well take a back seat. A very far back seat, in the 15-passenger van of priorities. (Just ask my outfit the first day of high school. Overall shorts were never a good idea.)

We learn that it is rare (maybe even impossible) to be both beautiful and smart, or beautiful and kind, or beautiful and godly, or beautiful and NOT boy-crazy, or beautiful and good.
We learn that it is wrong to be both Christian and a sensual, sexual woman.
Let us not forget that for all her reverence, the distinguishing characteristic of Mary is her pregnancy –  the very manifested fruit of sexuality.

The lie is in needing to choose to believe one of the elements over and against the other, so we grow up believing that it’s not too important to feel beautiful. And perhaps if we do someday recognize this need to feel beautiful, it betrays a secret superficiality that must mean we are not “Christian” enough to overcome such an earthly trivial desire.

The lie is that we fool ourselves into thinking we’ll never need that affirmation of our bodies as beautiful, if we just believe hard enough that our spirits are beautiful. That being dualistic will get us through.

Oh, is this a lie.
Incarnation, please reconcile us with our bodies.


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2 thoughts on “Day 8: Safe in your own skin.

  1. your words… awesome.

  2. Take the following comment with a grain of salt. This coming from a middle-aged white guy who is (barely) above the cultural ‘beautiful body’ fray…

    You had me until ‘modest is hottest’… at this point you seem to fall back into the pit of Glossy Magazine’s definition of ‘beauty’ and and spend to rest of the post trying to scramble out (unsuccessfully). I don’t believe that contesting cultural ‘body’ beauty and embracing spiritual beauty is ‘dualistic’. It might just be necessary to counter the culture and replace it with a deeper and more intrinsic ‘body’ beauty to compliment the beauty of the spirit and reclaim a love for the body – every body (so very non-dualistic… matter matters!)

    What if beauty were redefined and internalized so as to make it encompass the makeup-less 15 year old girl in overall shorts and the withered old woman who, in her long life, has experienced cancer-induced breast removal and still endures chronic neurological distortions to her face, voice and limbs? (I happen to know each of these people and find them each exceptionally beautiful.) What if beauty could be found in the misshapen burn victim and the newborn baby?

    Considering beauty as primarily a sensual and sexual quality (even one that compliments intelligence and purity) appears to lose the power of beauty in physically-expressed humility, modesty, compassion and otherwise global trans-gender, trans-age and trans-ethnic qualities. It may come as a surprise, but old white guys like me can and do still struggle with body-love (albeit, without the intense external pressures seen in the idealistic notions of American female youth culture).

    To be so comfortable in one’s body (sexually and otherwise) so as to simply be unaware that one is NOT beautiful by external cultural standards may just be the height of beauty itself.

    To be unashamed of the body is an innocence of childhood (or
    Eden-hood). I wonder if it is possible to leave this kind of shame-less-ness intact when carried into adulthood despite the incredible amount of cultural body/beauty baggage we impose on one another. What if we were able to upack the baggage of shame in ways that allowed us to travel lightly and freely through the all-encompassing land and human-scape of pre-existing beauty?

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