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.
Kate Bowler and Jessica Richie, Good Enough: 40ish Devotionals for a Life of Imperfection (Colorado Springs, CO: Convergent Books, 2022), 156, 157–158.
Explore Further. . .
- Read Barbara Brown Taylor on “God Loving All Bodies.”
- Learn more about this year’s theme Nothing Stands Alone.
- Meet the team behind the Daily Meditations.
Image credit: Kazuo Ota, Untitled (detail), 2020, photograph, Unsplash. Nick Moore, Untitled (detail), 2018, photograph, Richmond, Unsplash. Jordan Whitt, Cataloochee river (detail), 2016, Cataloochee, photograph, Unsplash. Jenna Keiper & Leslye Colvin, 2022, triptych art, United States. Click here to enlarge image.
This week’s images appear in a form inspired by early Christian/Catholic triptych art: a threefold form that tells a unified story.
Image inspiration: There is knowledge in our muscles and bones. When our body encounters the world, a door into deeper understanding can be opened.
Story from Our Community:
Fake it ’till you make it — this piece of advice is common in AA. Even when sobriety doesn’t feel right, you should not give up as the program will make sense with time. But is not the same as simply being optimistic. It asks you to embody intention with actions.
Prayer for our community:
God, Lord of all creation, lover of life and of everything, please help us to love in our very small way what You love infinitely and everywhere. We thank You that we can offer just this one prayer and that will be more than enough, because in reality every thing and every one is connected, and nothing stands alone. To pray for one part is really to pray for the whole, and so we do. Help us each day to stand for love, for healing, for the good, for the diverse unity of the Body of Christ and all creation, because we know this is what You desire: as Jesus prayed, that all may be one. We offer our prayer together with all the holy names of God, we offer our prayer together with Christ, our Lord, Amen.