I think it is important to pray naked in front of a full-length mirror sometimes, especially when you are full of loathing for your body. Maybe you think you are too heavy. Maybe you have never liked the way your hip bones stick out. Do your breasts sag? Are you too hairy? It is always something.
—Barbara Brown Taylor
Praying naked in front of a full-length mirror is a spiritual discipline I’ve never done. I imagine how difficult it would be. Never mind standing for the duration of the prayer and feeling cold, I would want to keep closing my eyes and that misses the point.
Every time I think of praying this way, I can’t get past having to look at my body and trying to convince myself that it’s beautiful. I know it’s not–not without deconstructing and reconstructing my concept of beauty and that feels like a lot of work.
I was thinking about what I’d say to God about my body when a question came to me gently: What would you like to say to your body?
I pictured myself standing there and not looking away. Day after day, this old girl schleps me around and is often ignored and pushed beyond her limits. I’m grateful that she houses my thoughts, feelings and desires and does so much with them. “Thank you,” I’d say, but that’s not all.
I’d also say, “I’m sorry. I’m sorry I haven’t taken better care of you.”
I began to realize that loving my body isn’t just an exercise in learning to love how my body looks. Being okay with the fact that my body is not fashion magazine beautiful is important. But this doesn’t give me licence to neglect it. We wouldn’t think of owning a pet and not giving it proper food and exercise, yet that’s what I do to my body.
It might help to stop referring to my body as an “it” and use the pronouns “she” or “her” instead. Perhaps loving her means loving what my body is, knowing all about her, and responding to what she needs to be well. It means treating this old girl with the honour and attention she deserves. To do that, I would need to listen to her and hear how unprocessed feelings affect her. I’d need to ask her what she wants to eat, what’s sore and needs attention, and what needs to be a part of her daily and weekly rhythms.
I would need to make her a priority. Now, that’s big. I couldn’t imagine delaying a blog post or rescheduling a spiritual direction session so I’d have time to do my core exercises. That’s not going to happen. But I could make sure she doesn’t get squeezed out of my day. That requires reconfiguring what I think of as a valuable use of my time and not being so quick to do whatever strokes my ego, entertains my imagination . . . or tempts my taste buds.
I was about to defrost a bun to go with my pasta dinner. I stopped for a moment and asked my body what she wanted. “That’s a few too many carbs for me,” she said. I left the bun in the freezer. I know I won’t always be so compliant, but I’m grateful the moment that I was and hope this will happen more often.
Thursday morning as I listened to Pray As You Go, I was reassured that “the Word planted in our hearts always does its work.” That word is Christ, and it is God’s desire that I love and care for my whole self. God has begun this good work and will accomplish it (Philippians 1:6).
I don’t want my apology to my body to be empty words. So this is what I pray as I imagine myself standing naked in front of the mirror. Lord, help me to trust your good work. May you “produce fruit in keeping with repentance (Matthew 3:8).”
But the fruit of the spirit is kindness.
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Fred Rogers did a lot of love mischief with his message “I love you just the way you are.” In this clip from the 2018 bio-documentary, Won’t You Be My Neighbor?, officer Clemmons sings, “There are many ways to say ‘I love you.'” One way we communicate our love for someone is by including them and honouring the bodies they’ve been given. Mister Rogers did that, and we hear in this clip what a powerful effect it had on