I have a love/hate relationship with my body. One the one hand, my body allows me to enjoy all of things I really love: bacon, sex, music, coffee, beer, hugs, writing, cuddles, etc… But on the other hand, it’s also the primary indicator that I am dying a slow and painful death, day in and day out. In science fiction there is a trope where someone, usually a villain, puts their consciousness into a machine of some sort. Remember Armin Zola from Captain America? q
That’s the dream, right? My consciousness without any of the messy biological functions? Perfect.
Okay, I’m not usually this anti-corporeal. I have a fairly incarnational theology, so I actually think that being in a body and embodying our ideals is pretty damn important. What has taken a backseat, though, is maintenance of my earthly vessel.
I am heavier now than I have ever been. The last time I was close to this weight was when my ex-wife was pregnant with our daughter. I engaged in something that I called “Operation: Sympathy Weight”. I conducted said operation for both kids. In both cases I was pretty intentional about packing on weight alongside my wife. I would love to tell you that I am intentionally gaining weight now. I would love to tell you that all of the weight that I have gained has been muscle. I would love to tell you that sloth and undisciplined eating are not a part of my daily routine. I would love to tell you all of those things. They are not true.
I saw an article on Facebook the other day about “DadBod”. Think Jason Segel. I guess I fall firmly in the dadbod category. Well, not firmly. I fall kinda squishily into the category. It’s not quite skinny. It’s not quite fat. It’s the body of a person who knows how to work out, probably did work out a lot at one point, but now is too tired/busy to work out. It is categorized by a doughy midsection and muscles on the verge of losing their definition. That is me. I have the body of the average 35 year old with two kids who loves beer. Slow march toward death.
I have, for most of my life, been skinny. As a child, I had a chess player’s physique. I played football for a bit in junior high, but then I began wrestling and never was able to beef back up enough to play football at the senior high level. My wife fattened me up a bit after we got married. She took pride in that. I started running a year after my son was born and was probably in the best shape of my life just a couple of years ago when I ran a half marathon. Sick as it may sound, I thought my body looked the best after I caught a stomach bug in Haiti. Yes, men can have body issues too. Exhibit A.
My issues extend beyond being a little pudgy. I’m an anxious person and I carry my stress in my back. A few months ago I started having tingling in my right arm. An MRI and a visit to a physical therapist confirmed that the muscles in my back are so tight that they are putting pressure on the nerves in my back and neck, hence the tingling. Stretching out my back helps, but it hurts like hell. I’ve been running less because my back hurts when I run.
I’ve been writing a lot about loving myself in recent months and while there are most definitely emotional, psychological, and spiritual components to that, there is also a physical component that I think that I have largely ignored. Were someone else to come to me with the stuff I just wrote, I would first tell them to have some grace for themselves. Then I would tell them that they know what needs to be done. Eat better. Get more sleep. Stretch or do yoga. Even if you can’t run, take walks. Find other ways to exercise. Cut back on the alkie-hol and caffeine. Get massages. In short, love your body…
… and relax. My physical therapist told me “you’re not very good at relaxing”. She’s right. I’m tied in knots because I’m constantly anxious. I’m learning that my stress level are just as hazardous to my body as they are to my mind. A week as anxiety-producing as last week’s has had my body in agony. It’s time for me to relax, breathe, and let go of the things that bind me up.
One of my all time favorite books is Barbara Brown Taylor’s An Altar in the World: A Geography of Faith. The premise is simple, but she writes in such a beautiful way; our bodies are the means by which we experience the holy and sacred in the things that surround us.
What is saving my life now is the conviction that there is no spiritual treasure to be found apart from the bodily experiences of human life on earth. My life depends on engaging the most ordinary physical activities with the most exquisite attention I can give them. My life depends on ignoring all touted distinctions between the secular and the sacred, the physical and the spiritual, the body and the soul. What is saving my life now is becoming more fully human, trusting that there is no way to God apart from real life in the real world.
So, I’ll walk the dog in the morning, hug my friends, work in the garden, fold clothes, try to sleep, and savor my food. I’ll embrace all of the things that enfleshed living has to offer. I’ll not stress about being a little pudgy. I’ll let my aches remind me that I am still alive. The Word became flesh, reminding us that flesh, all flesh, is worthwhile.