On Being Bodied

My whole body wanted to cry. It must have been the twentieth time up and down the stairs tonight: the end of one of those days that bodies just don’t cooperate with the agenda. After dinner I had stooped, lifted, scrubbed, poured, dumped, wiped, and scraped my way through to 10 pm.

On my way down the stairs with the fiftieth steaming load of laundry, the husband, who was working on a talk in the next room, took the opportunity to sonorously quote at me about the essence of love from Kierkegaard’s Philosophical Fragments.

I’m sure it was really profound, but ain’t nobody got time for that.

I really wanted to be sitting down, quoting philosophers too. I wanted to be sipping ginger tea and pondering love and the incarnation, too. I wanted to not be dealing with bodily fluids for the first time today. I wanted clean hands.

But we are embodied beings, and our kids even more visibly so: we poop in bathtubs, we wet our beds, we take our older brother’s brand new kaleidoscopes and throw them into the toilet, just to hear the splash.

We are subject to the laws of entropy, to a dependence on Comet, Clorox Wipes, and endless handwashing. We are alive, and to be alive means to make a mess.

And then I realized: isn’t this love? And it was all so, completely appropriate, that this was what I was doing right now, carrying this basketful of someone else’s pee down the stairs.

And yes: there is a time for heady love. Jesus himself was prophet, priest and poet; he weaved metaphors like a master, he spilled over with Scripture, he preached, he proclaimed.

But he also healed. He touched lepers and hemmoraging women. He laid hands on the dead. He walked, he sat; he collapsed in exhaustion, he grew hungry and thirsty.

And he came to us not as a celestial being, some intangible force of supernature, all fire and storm. No, he came as a newborn, through blood and membranes, placenta, vernix, discharge, feces.

He left his life in much the same way.

And that was the plan, wasn’t it? That was the beauty of it: Jesus, God himself, wasn’t too lofty to be bothered with us messy humans. He became one of us, coming through the same bloody avenue, dropped into this world, wailing, suckling, spitting, soiling, crawling, tumbling, bleeding, dying.

Love doesn’t remain far off. Love gets itself dirty.

And maybe this is a mistake we make about motherhood: that it should be clean. That we should despise the bodiliness of it, that we should seek to control, dominate, sanitize, sterilize: that to evolve as humans is to escape our enfleshment, bring our bodies into submission.

Tolerate the bodiliness of these children we’ve borne: dispose of what’s not useful. The mistake of modernity. The bowing to profit and utility.

But what a miracle too, is this machine: that we can conceive life in our wombs, and sustain it with our breasts. That we can hold and rock, swing and shush, hoist a baby up, stoop to lay a baby down. Our arms, our backs, our nipples, our lips, teeth and tongue all involved in the task of loving, this work and this delight.

And that is part of the incarnation: that the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, despising not our bodies, but inhabiting them… in Mary’s case, becoming utterly dependent on one. But not stopping there; as fully God and fully man, he injected into human flesh what we couldn’t attain on our own, that of which he was overfull: grace and truth. And redeemed his creation, us, his creatures: birthed from the dust, bound to the earth, bending towards heaven.

So I stoop, once more: sweeping, scrubbing, washing clean. It’s the backside of being alive; it’s love, covered in filth. It’s real. And right now, it’s the truest kind of love I can give.


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