catapult magazine

catapult magazine

Vol 12, Num 24 :: 2013.12.27 — 2014.01.09


Coming home to my soul’s address

It seems that Michelangelo, in his own way, allowed himself to be guided by the evocative words of the Book of Genesis which, as regards the creation of the human being, male and female, reveals: “The man and his wife were both naked, yet they felt no shame.” The Sistine Chapel is precisely — if one may say so — the sanctuary of the theology of the human body. In witnessing to the beauty of man created by God as male and female, it also expresses in a certain way, the hope of a world transfigured, the world inaugurated by the Risen Christ.

Pope John Paul II


What I mean to say is that I do not trust my body.  It causes all sorts of trauma and distress in my life, from my earliest memories.  The first thing it did upon entering the world was to separate me from my mother by disguising itself as a respiratory ailment.  The whole seven-plus pounds of it insisted upon being driven by ambulance an hour through a blizzard in the Adirondack Mountains — away from any familiar human — to live within a fluorescent hospital nursery for seven days. It caused enough commotion as to be separated from my mother to spend its first week in the air of earth with complete — and I imagine, brusque — strangers. 


I’ve wondered often what a difference it might have made if, growing up, I’d worshipped every Sunday beneath the shameless nudes of the Sistine Chapel rather than the plain white paint overlooking our ankle-skimming denim skirts.  One friend of my mother’s said she didn’t want her husband to see the shape a woman in pants revealed.  My grandmother wore pants and loved Jesus — and her husband — so I felt like I wasn’t hurting any poor man’s eyes wearing my floral-print Gitanos.


We didn’t study art history in our Christian school.  Too many nudes.  In health class we talked about counting calories and planning the perfect wedding. The only sex ed happening was what the boys were learning in the back corners of the school van after basketball games.  Even then, we were all groping blindly.


One slumber party when I was twelve and huddled in my friend’s rec room, we pointed a flashlight over the pages of the human sexuality illustrations in her parents’ encyclopedia.  We could have stopped at the muscular-skeletal drawing without flipping the illustrated plastic over top, revealing the male skin.  I only glanced, but I felt guilty for years.


Almost all the good Christian men I know look at porn. At least they used to and now they’re trying really hard to stop. And by “good” and “Christian,” I mean both in the truest sense. Some of them just stopped looking at women altogether. I’m not mad at them any more.  I pray for all of us to know the power of true beauty. I wish maybe they could have gone to church under the Sistine ceiling, too.

There comes a time when it is vitally important for your spiritual health to drop your clothes, look in the mirror, and say, “Here I am. This is the body-like-no-other that my life has shaped. I live here. This is my soul’s address.”

Barbara Brown Taylor


Some say the human form is God’s masterpiece — the crown jewel of creation.  Too bad I’m so afraid to look.  And, really?  Have we taken a good look lately at the Blue Ridge Mountains at twilight?  Almost no one sins looking at those curves.


One time when I was praying about my body, I heard God say that He made me and that He likes me.  He gave me the idea that the skin stretched and pouched here forms a kind of archeological dig of life-giving. I thanked Him for saying something so nice.  Then I asked Him if He liked me so much, why did He let my little girl body get intruded upon by grown-up male trespassers?  Why didn’t He protect the archeological treasure from so much looting?


I’m still waiting for an answer.  Except that He sees.  And He knows both the power and the glory of wearing skin.  And for that reason, I am not scandalized or fragile. I am saved and being saved and will be saved.  I tell this to myself on bad dream nights. Also, on bad eating days.


I — finally — allowed a massage therapist to see my skin. I imagine myself on that table lying underneath the shameless skin of the Sistine chapel. One of the therapists, while rubbing my trapezius with scented oil, said, “Your body responds well to touch.”  I thought, “You don’t know the half of it, sister.”  Then, as she kneads out each knot stored in my body for decades, I pray that she would exorcise the shame, too.


May I know the courageous, surrendered body and spirit of Mary, the mother of God.  And of her son Jesus who became flesh and dwelled among us, full of grace and truth.  May my soul’s address be more like him and more like what He imagined from the beginning even as it becomes more like what He’s imagined for eternity.  Amen.

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