FROM: Winnipeg Free Press, November 05, 2005

by Karen Toole

We live in our bodies. At first glance that statement is about as obvious as it could get. Of course we live in our bodies. Of course we are mortal. But many of us don't live as if we are. It seems we spend a great deal of time in our lives trying to alter our bodies, trying to ignore our bodies, and even trying to get out of them. Many religions and spiritual practices have contributed to this destructive "out-of-body" idealism and morality. Without going too deeply into religious history we can find endless examples of "flesh equals sin" and "spirit equals holy" theology, doctrine and judgmental teaching. Religion has often given the body a bum wrap(excuse the pun).

In the past months there have been two excellent articles in this newspaper featuring pictures of two separate groups of very attractive, very
realistic women revealing the skin they were born in, and reveling in the joy of it! The first was an article about a fundraising effort on the part
of a group of women involved in the St. James-Assiniboia Senior Centre Inc. [St. James-Assiniboia is a Winnipeg suburb (JK)]. What the women chose to do was create a calendar titled Beauty is Timeless.

The second article was about a new ad campaign by Dove that features full-figured women [see for more background concerning this innovative advertising campaign (JK)]. As Free Press columnist Lindor Reynolds wrote in that article, "These women are attention-grabbers only because we're not used to seeing ample bodies in any of our advertising." And the same can be said for the first group of women. We are used to seeing almost naked women, but what we are not used to is seeing older women, or full figured women, short, well rounded, realistic women who love the bodies they are in.

And that is what brings these two articles to the Faith page. If you look at the pictures in the calendar, what you see are women enjoying their
physical manifestation. In faith-based language, what we are speaking of here is incarnation. Both examples I've cited show woman after woman proudly pronouncing that this is their body, and it is good! But how dare they!

Older women cannot presume for a moment that they are attractive! And as women who are not half-starved, stick figures, how can they think that their full-figured form can be attractive? We all know we're too fat... or too wrinkled... or too curved... or too short, or angled... just fill in the blanks with the words of rejection that have somehow pushed us away from embracing this incarnate love of self.

We ask people to love the world and everyone in it, we ask them to seek justice, and do good, and yet at the same time we do not allow for the physical love of the physical self. Recently I heard an aboriginal spiritual teacher say to a young man in turmoil of self-hatred and fear,
"You need to find a mirror. You need to stand in front of it, and gaze deeply into that face, for there is the face of your creator."

We have made gods of some kind of ideal normal physical image, or we have pursued the disembodiment of self in order to find spirit, and neither quest will lead to the blessing of indwelling at peace within our created reality.

Most of our major world religions have in their traditions the stories of creation, and in those stories we find a creator who gives shape and form to this human life, and the pronouncement in those stories is that this is not only good, this physical embodiment is the very shape, form and image of the divine in this world, for this life, and it is meant to be cherished and treasured as a priceless gift.

So why is it that we have turned these stories upside down and wrapped women in coverings of shame, and portrayed men as helpless in their sinful sexual urges? The female incarnate form is an image of divine beauty, and our sexual selves are simply expressions of our desires to be fully alive in body, in mind, and in soul.

Apparently the Dove ad has drawn all kinds of criticism for its honesty in portraying the reality of women's bodies. Apparently the calendar from St. James-Assiniboia Senior Centre has met with some criticisms concerning the alluring nature of these women, and the implications of this type of invitation.

As long as we continue to somehow define our incarnate image as something to hide, we will not engender respect for that image. In fact, the opposite will be the result. Secrecy breeds both shame and fear, both denial and lies. It denies the joy of an adult human being loving the form they are in. Pornography is exploitation of that form so that it is seen and used as an object, and not an incarnate human-divine life, worthy of respect, care and honest love.

In the Christian faith, this affirmation of the fullness of incarnation stands as the central and most pivotal teaching of the religion, yet all
too often we refuse to practice it in our bodies. God chose flesh as the form of entering into the fullness of this world.

Jack Kornfield, Buddhist monk and clinical psychologist, puts this truth into these words: "...if we do not have the courage to enter our body
fully, then life itself may simply insist that we do." Kornfield refers to this entering of the body as embodied courage. Again in his words, "When we listen to our bodies, our bodily wisdom grows. We can feel the body's urge to move and honor its cycles of rest... we can meditate and dance, we can respect its need for solitude, we can allow it lively senses, and we can know its pleasures and limitations. Instead of fearing our body... we honor it."

I know for a fact that is what these women involved in the calendar project have been doing. They have entered into the act of courageous embodiment and incarnational awe, and shared their beauty for a good cause.

I can't be sure of the same altruistic motivation with the fulsome figured models, since it's for advertising. But I can be sure of the results of
their pictures for all of us as uniquely proportioned human beings.

There is a lullaby for the inner child that puts it clearly into the form of a deep spiritual question: "How could anyone ever tell you, you were
anything less than beautiful. How could anyone ever tell you, you were less than whole."

Let's enjoy the wholeness and holiness of these women in their incarnate embodied courage and beauty. They risk for us a whole new model of the body, mind and soul of divine creation, in the flesh, and that is an awesome gift.