The clock read 3.15 am. I swallowed, tasting the tinny residue left from the antibiotics I was taking for a lingering chest infection. My stomach rumbled. My mind refused to switch off as I mulled over future events. After a half-hour of tossing, I moved to the guest room, not wanting to disturb my husband. As I picked up Embracing the Body with its exploration of God in our bodies, I thought: “This is an enacted parable. Here I am trying to sleep, knowing tomorrow will be hard as I’ll be tired and cranky, and yet I haven’t tuned into what my wakeful body is telling me. I’m reading about embracing our bodies and yet my body is keeping me awake.”
Tara Owens has given us a lasting gift through her book, which was many years in the percolating and making. Indeed, hers is a book I didn’t know we needed, and yet it should be required reading for the Body of Christ. For we are all blood and sinew; fat and muscle; synapses and fluid and flesh. But in the church, we so often gloss over our bodies, out of fear or complacency. We elevate the spiritual to our detriment, believing that because of the fall of humanity, now our bodies are irrevocably fallen too.
Tara in Embracing the Body gently says no, pointing to a healthier way. A spiritual director, she calls us to discern “which bodily experiences lead us toward God and which lead us away” (p.89). Making a list of do’s and dont’s might seem easier in the face of the power of our appetites and desires, but such rules can cut us off from grace and healing. Such as the exercise Tara led in which the participants communicated about their day only through their hands, and through touching the hands of the one with whom they were paired. One woman grew more and more angry and uncomfortable, memories of the sexual abuse she’d suffered popping to the surface. She completed the exercise but burst with rage against Tara. Only after a week of wrestling with God and praying with her husband did she understand that she had closed herself off to any and all touch outside of marriage, whether hugs of greeting or a friend’s hand on her shoulder. Though the exercise had been painful, she realized afterward that God allowed it to break her rigid categories and to move into another stage of healing.
Do read Embracing the Body, but take your time to read it slowly; even better would be to read it with a group of friends, engaging with the fine body/spirit exercises at the end of each chapter. One to savor; one to be changed by.
Embracing the Body: Finding God in our Flesh and Bone, Tara M Owens (IVP, ISBN 978-0830835935). This review originally appeared in the Woman Alive Book Club.