A Body God Loves: How My Faith Impacted Bath Time

2 comments Written on June 23rd, 2015     
Filed under: Testimonies and Stories
New PictureJon Lemmond is Pastor for Congregational Life at Montecito Covenant Church, Santa Barbara, CA and an adjunct professor at Westmont College. Jon received a M.Div. from Fuller Theological Seminary and a Ph.D. in early modern European history from the University of California, Santa Barbara. His research focused on the issue of domestic abuse during the Protestant Reformation. He is married to Marianne Robins, a full-professor at Westmont College, and they parent four children: Jeremie, Emma, Jordan, and Lea.


We live in a world where our bodies are often experienced as burdens – a world where advertisers seek to alienate us from our own bodies by describing them as always lacking, desperately in need of some fixing or enhancement. Unfortunately, this is also true of many churches where sin is so closely defined by our bodies and where our souls and minds are envisaged as being our true selves. More than ever, the church needs to find ways to embody and reclaim the Biblical truth that our bodies, all bodies, are wonderful creations of a loving God. As a pastor and parent, I have come to learn that we will never be able to come close to gender equality without attending to the sacredness and vulnerability of our bodies. The ability to see one’s whole self as loved and empowered by God needs to be more than a mental task but also connected to tangible practices which help us envision all aspects of our lives as sacred.

The beauty of the body is everywhere found in the Scriptures. The Old Testament is replete with praise and wonder at our bodies as God’s good creation. Even a cursory review of the Psalms acknowledges the myriad ways our bodies are spiritual vehicles made for relationship with God: flesh longs for God (Ps. 63:1), can come to God (65:2), cry out for God (Ps. 84:2), and bless his holy name (Ps. 145:21). In one of the most well-known Psalms on the body (Psalm 139) – Leslie Allen translates vss. 13-14 – “Indeed you yourself created my kidneys; you wove me together in my mother’s womb. I give you thanks because you are awesomely wonderful, so wonderful is what you have made.” The wording of Leslie Allen’s translation is helpful. The Psalmist does not praise God because he (the Psalmist) is wonderful. He says that we are wonderful because God is – “you [God] are awesomely wonderful, so wonderful is what you have made.” God, the Psalmist declares, is the One who is the source of wonder for our bodily life. This means that bodies are not precious because they are beautiful or thin, well-groomed with straight teeth, muscular, controlled, or sleek. Your body – every body – is precious because it is the Lord’s. This shouldn’t detract from a sense of wonder about yourself – you are wonderfully made – but vs. 14 says that the wonderfulness of your body connects directly to God. So the task of the church is to help people creatively connect, love and serve one another in a way that protects the body, delights in the body, and cherishes the body as part of God’s good creation.

Not surprisingly, we also find the importance of the body throughout the ministry of Jesus. He regularly used the body to impart lessons on grace, forgiveness, and love. But more than mere illustrations, Jesus saw people’s bodies as fruitful places to advance the work of God. He consistently refused to follow protocols of cleanliness by touching lepers and women who were sick – placing his hands on us, embracing our humanity, our gender and sexuality, in startling ways. And yet I believe that Jesus would find most of our congregations quite lacking in the physicality of his own ministry – noting our failure to welcome, touch and incorporate all kinds of bodies (sick and healthy, young and old, male and female, straight and gay) into worship, community life and care. This is why we must remember that in one of his most challenging teachings (Matt. 25:21-46) Jesus claimed that when we honor the bodies of others, we honor him. And when we dishonor the bodies of others, it is him we wound. It is the conviction that everybody is worthy of blessing and that in caring for the body we enter into a relationship with God. So we need people, like Jesus, who see bodies as sites of grace, refusing to separate the material from the spiritual. To do this I can think of no better resource than Stephanie Paulsell’s book Honoring the Body which has shaped my own thoughts on a Christian vision of the body – eating, dressing, bathing, exercising, etc.

What might such physical expressions of grace look like? Here is one of many brief examples of how I have tried to honor the body of one of my children so that she could see herself as worthy of honor and respect. When my daughter Lea was young I was responsible for her bath. Wanting to express to her God’s love for her whole being and daily existence, I wrote a bathing ritual on 3X5 cards that I laminated to make them tub friendly. Every evening as I would bathe parts of her body I would ask her the same question, “What did you do with your (arms, hands, feet, legs, tummy, mind) today? And she would tell me how she swung on the jungle gym, or painted a work of art, solved math problems, or ate a delicious sandwich. And as she would tell me these things I would respond, “Oh, God made you strong and loves it when you use your arms on the jungle gym.” “God delights when you eat good things.” “God loves it when you use your hands to create beautiful pictures.” At the very end, as I rubbed her dry, I would read a verse that spoke of water and God’s gracious activity (there’s quite a few) – reminding her of her baptism, her body, and God’s love. Because God made her, I assured her with words, touch, and ritual-like care – she could discover that “wonderful” was what she was.

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2 comments “A Body God Loves: How My Faith Impacted Bath Time”

Beautiful, John. Just plain lovely. Thank you. You might also enjoy Tara Owens’ new book, “Embracing the Body.” I’ve got it and hope to read it soon. (like when???)

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Thanks, Diana. I will check out the book. I’m very passionate about the topic and continue to believe that we have much to discover about our bodies and their critical role in our relationship with God.

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