Knowing and Loving Our Bodies
After being diagnosed with Stage IV cancer, theologian and author Kate Bowler worked intensively to know and love her body and its ways of both serving and failing her. As part of her spiritual practice, she wrote this letter:
Sometimes, I hate you. You ache. You get tired sooner than I’d like to admit. You wake me in the night for no good reason. Your cells duplicate at unpredictable rates. New gray hairs and fine lines and silver stretch marks show up out of nowhere. You let me down just when I need you the most. . . .
Sometimes, I want a break from living with you. I’d prefer to trade you in for a newer model. A model that isn’t in constant pain, that fits better in that pair of jeans, that has more energy. With you, I am limited—bound by skin and bone and thinning hair. With you, I am fragile. . . .
But God knows what it’s like to live in flesh. . . . If God too lived in a body, then God knows the ache of growing pains and the feeling of goosebumps on a brisk day and the comfort of a warm embrace. He felt the gurgle of a hungry stomach and the annoying prick of a splinter after a day of hard work. He wept over the death of a friend. Ours is a God who sneezed and rubbed His eyes when He was sleepy. Ours is a God who knew longing, heartbreak, excitement, frustration—the full range of what it means to be human . . . [and] live in a body.
So when my own body drags me down, when my muscles ache, when my worries keep me up at night, when my fear for the future leaves me motionless, when I feel lonely and exhausted and burdened, I do not worship a God who is far off.
This is a God who knows my humanity inside and out. God has counted every hair on my head (Matthew 10:30) and bottled up every tear I have shed (Psalm 56:8). Not simply because the Word formed us (Genesis 1:27), knit us together in our mothers’ wombs (Psalm 139:13), was there from the very beginning . . . but because God wore our skin.
By embracing the wisdom of the incarnation, Bowler learned to listen to her body’s messages and be kind to herself:
Dear, dear body, I get it. Or at least I am starting to. You do not have an unlimited supply. You run out, and I need to listen. Maybe I really should go to bed a little earlier or let you off the hook for craving those extra salty chips. I need to sense when you are struggling, and gently acknowledge that you are actually changing. That time and love and grief and life have worn themselves into my skin. Day by day. This is the beautiful, terrible evidence that we have lived.