Monday, September 16, 2013
by Alicia Harris
I am a Christian woman, and I believe that my spirit is embodied.
The most beautiful nights of my life were spent in deep water under stars and clouds and without clothing on.
In so doing, I submit my most vulnerable flesh to the elements of the world. From doing this, I have learned about God and I have come to grow in sacred trust and belief in the greater good. I learned that my breasts float and that nothing would harm me in the still darkness of mountain lakes. I learned that the bodies of others are unique and beautiful when they are reflected in the moonlight. I have seen their pendulous bellies and arms flinging through water and then resting on wooden docks in the middle of the night. I have been scared and felt exposed, but I have always left these experiences feeling powerful and capable. I have never left a conversation about hemlines or necklines feeling this way. I have only left those feeling judgmental or judged.
I remember being very small and my dad reminding me that everything that was there in the dark was the same that was present when the light was on, and so there was no need to be afraid. I want to extend that assurance and say that everything that is there when your clothes are on is still there when they are not. There is no need to be afraid of the things you see when clothes are off, because that is all still with you even when you cannot see it. Naked dark enriches the spirit. It is where we learn to trust and know our bodies and trust the universe.
My favorite thing to do in the middle of the night is to float on my back in the quiet depths and let my belly, thighs and breast float above the surface. I don’t want you to talk to me when I am doing this because it is a form of prayer. When I am lying there looking at the underside of the universe from the water, I think about the thing that someone told me once: that our bodies are made from the cosmos, that we are literally made of star dust. Star dust has scattered and floated through the universe and settled on our humble planet and given life to the crops and animals that have fed me and given me life. The wind and air I breathe has risen up and settled into Earth’s atmosphere from the heights of heaven and the force of stars’ eruptions. This prayer is a prayer of communion with the entirety of the universe, and with the largess of God.
I am a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, and I have been endowed with many gifts inside the Mormon Temple. Because of that, I wear a reminder to nourish my body and my spirit under my shirt every day. In the naked dark, I feel nourished in both. In the naked dark, my body reminds my spirit that they are connected. In the naked dark, my spirit reminds my body that it is alive inside, and that it won’t be left to silence and covering.
I worship in the LDS temple in Winter Quarters, Nebraska, regularly. I am often struck at the depiction of Adam and Eve. Prior to their partaking of the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil (is that not THE longest name for a tree!?), they are undressed. They only become awakened to their nakedness by Satan’s pointing it out to them after they have eaten of the fruit, and thereby are capable of understanding the possibility of indecency. In this instance it becomes a shameful thing to be embodied because, in Mormon theology, Satan is disembodied. Evidently, therefore, there is power in the bodies that God has created for Adam and Eve, and Satan seeks to attack these very innocent and marvelous bodies before they are even expelled from the garden. It is literally the very first thing that is attacked by the force of evil. When God returns, He inquires about their covering, concerned at the sudden distance that His children have now experienced from His work (Genesis 3: 7-11). It is the first moment when the human family senses its distance from God. In the naked dark, I demand a return.
My family has never been one of shame for our bodies. My people are big. I never realized that I was bigger than my peers until I left for college and “body image” was the hip thing for girls to be concerned about. I moved in with three former pageant contestants who weighed themselves three times a day. I hadn’t ever stepped on a scale outside of a doctor’s office. It was startling to be suddenly situated at Brigham Young University as a bumbling 19 year old who was unaware that constant body critiques and calorie counting were a mandatory component of sociality. I didn’t know that you were a bad person if you ate a bagel. Weren’t we taught that we are Daughters of the God of the Universe? How could we claim our imperfection as integral to our selves? It was a stark contrast to the soft comfort of my mother’s breast, or the encouragement that my father gave me after a good long run that we often took together. My body was so much alive, until I was told that it was too big, too tall, too round, too brown, not brown enough, too stinky, too young, and now too old. I just wanted to go back to not knowing.
While I was raised in a family for whom body image seeks health, I was also raised to understand modesty, and the gravity of sex. There is power in these things, and I know that this power is embodied literally. But I contest that the over- and under-sexualisation of the body is removed from modesty. The claim that bodies are to be shamed, or in some way disallowed to be sexual, is a removal from their innate function. Further, the denial that bodies are capable of more than reproduction or use for gratification is a perversion. I believe that more is meant when we, as disciples of Jesus Christ, are asked to be modest. Maybe modesty isn’t even about sex at all. Maybe it is an extension of the entire mission of Jesus Christ: to further our love and reverence for one another. In being asked to view one another with respect; we are asked to protect the sovereignty of our fellows, and in so doing we reflect our own.
I do this in the naked darkness.