Monday, April 11, 2011

"Let Your Body Learn to Bend"

Ric Masten says – “Let Your Body Learn to Bend.” And when I’m in my yoga class here on Tuesday evenings, I say – "I’m trying Ric… I’m trying."

I’ve been thinking a lot about the body lately – my body, your body,… every body; maybe because I had assigned myself this sermon to do on bodies. It’s made me more AWARE of bodies, and I think that’s a good thing, in moderation. In any case, I’ve been observing, googling, reading, feeling, gawking, dreaming, meditating, and writing on or about bodies this week; putting all my found treasures into that special holding place, the body folder on my computer desktop. Perhaps because I had written a letter to the editor about the young person who played for you last week – the young woman who had gotten straight A’s since 5th grade – it occurred to me that what I wanted us to do today was find some way to reach for that goal of having a “Straight A” Attitude when it comes to our bodies.

The First A is for APPRECIATION. We need to appreciate our bodies. Here are some amazing body facts that I found which may help us appreciate our wondrous bodies. Actually, some of this is pretty useless information – but it may be stuff that you don’t know – and I don’t want you to leave here without learning something new.

Tongue Print: Don’t stick out your tongue if you want to hide your identity. Similar to fingerprints, everyone also has a unique tongue print!

Shedding: Your pet isn’t the only one in the house with a shedding problem. Humans shed about 600,000 particles of skin every hour. That works out to about 1s.5 pounds each year, so the average person will lose about 105 pounds of skin by age 70.

Bone Count: An adult has fewer bones that a baby. We start off life with 350 bones, but because bones fuse together during growth, we end up with only 206 as adults.

New Stomach: Did you know that you get a new stomach lining every three to four days? If you didn’t, the strong acids your stomach uses to digest food would also digest your stomach.

Scent Remembering: Your nose is not as sensitive as a dog’s, but it can remember 50,000 different scents.

Long Intestines: The small intestine is four times as long as the average adult is tall. If it weren’t looped back and forth upon itself, its length of 18 to 23 feet wouldn’t fit into the abdominal cavity making things rather messy.

Bacteria: This will make your skin crawl: Every square inch of skin on the human body has about 32 million bacteria on it, but fortunately, the vast majority of them are harmless.

Source of Body Odor: The source of smelly feet, like smelly armpits, is sweat. And people sweat buckets from their feet. A pair of feet have 500,000 seat glands and can produce more than a pint of sweat a day.

Sneeze Speed: The air from a human sneeze can travel at speeds of 100 miles per hour or more – another good reason to cover your nose and mouth when you sneeze – or duck when you hear one coming your way.

Saliva Quantity: You may not want to swim in your spit, but if you saved it all up, you could. In a lifetime, the average person produces about 25,000 quarts of saliva – enough to fill two swimming pools.


So that gives you plenty to appreciate!

The Second A is Attend to and care for our bodies.

Now I don’t need to give most of you a lesson on this – and I’m not an expert anyway. Most of the folks in this room have a pretty good idea of what we need to do to attend to and care for our bodies. We need to feed them good food and drink, stretch them, exercise them, clean them, keep them from getting too cold or too hot, fulfill other needs when appropriate, and of course, help them to relax – and to sleep. So I’m no expert, but I’m good at finding experts – or at least folks who have interesting things to say – and here is what some of them say.

Our friend Paul the Apostle tells the Corinthians, “Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God? You are not your own, for you were bought with a price. So glorify God in your body.”

Our own Henry David Thoreau also used the temple metaphor saying, “Every man is the builder of a Temple called his body, nor can he get off by hammering marble instead.” 

The Buddha gave this advice: “To keep the body in good health is a duty... otherwise we shall not be able to keep our mind strong and clear.”

Here’s some musings from that distinguished Englishman of letters, Samuel Johnson. “Some people have a foolish way of not minding, or pretending not to mind, what they eat.  For my part, I mind my belly very studiously, and very carefully; for I look upon it, that he who does not mind his belly will hardly mind anything else.”

Inge Spencer’s yogi, B.K.S. Iyengar, says: “The body is your temple.  Keep it pure and clean for the soul to reside in.”

But I think I prefer Shakespeare’s metaphor from Othello. “Our bodies are our gardens - our wills are our gardeners.”

In the early days of the automobile, John Kendrick Bangs wrote:
“What fools indeed we mortals are
To lavish care upon a Car,
With ne'er a bit of time to see
About our own machinery!”

I’ve taken that advice to heart, and just as I get regular oil changes and tune-ups for my Prius, I now get a monthly massage. For as Robert Brault shares, “Massage is the only form of physical pleasure to which nature forgot to attach consequences.”

And one thing I need to do better with is SLEEP. D.H. Lawrence writes, “And if tonight my soul may find her peace in sleep, and sink in good oblivion, and in the morning wake like a new-opened flower then I have been dipped again in God, and new-created.”

If you say that you're dying to get a good night's sleep, you could mean that literally. You can go without eating for weeks without succumbing, but eleven days is tops for going without sleep. After eleven days, you'll be asleep -- forever!

So we need to appreciate our bodies and attend to and care for them. But let’s not fool ourselves! While our bodies are wondrous – they can wreak havoc. They are far from perfect. In fact, if we are, indeed, created in God’s image – then God is not perfect. In fact, God got some problems. So our third A – is that we need to Alleviate pain and suffering in our bodies if possible.

It seems that our precious, wondrous, bodies are constantly being attacked. Yes, attacked by such things as viruses, bacteria, cancer cells, allergens, disease, and lately for me – poison ivy. And, of course, the aging process kicks in with some aches and pains as well. Thank God – or the gods & goddesses (take your pick) or the healers and scientists for the wondrous powers of medicine and medical procedures! Since the dawn of humanity, people have sought ways through magic or medicine to alleviate pain and suffering.

I do not understand the religious groups that reject medical help. However, I’ve also become aware that our society has become somewhat paranoid about having every test possible done for every little thing – and taking medication that we perhaps do NOT need – and indeed where the risks and costs don’t make sense.

Like many advances in our society, we can use them in a healthy manner – or not so healthy. And indeed, addiction to pain pills in now a major concern. While traveling to Florida, you see billboards advertising pain clinics which are little more than small offices in strip malls. “Often the cash-only clinics require just a cursory exam — if any — before a doctor will prescribe large amounts of narcotic pain medication such as oxycodone and hydrocodone, which can be highly addictive. Some of the clinics have in-house pharmacies to fill the prescriptions, says Rusty Payne, a spokesman for the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA). The DEA and local police call them pill mills. It’s a serious problem.” ( Yet, when we really need the medication, I’m the first to shout, “Hallelujah for drugs.”

Medical science is a wondrous thing – and possibly a slippery slope for disaster when we are not careful. Like most good things in life – it becomes a balancing act. There CAN be too much of a good thing. Somewhere it turns – and you know what I mean. It’s up to us to learn to recognize those turning points.

Our 4th A is --- believe it or not – Alter your body if it’s reasonable, healthy, and meaningful to do so. For example, I’m glad that we have ways to replace body parts now. We have folks in our congregation who are able to participate more fully in society because of this. Again, Hallelujah!

But then there are other ways to altar our bodies that may not be as acceptable to some folks. As some of you know, I was raised in a beauty shop. My mom made a good living by altering people’s hair. She curled straight hair, straightened curly hair, colored gray hair, and bleached dark hair. She also plucked and dyed eyebrows, and painted finger nails. Women walked into her shop feeling depressed and walked out feeling beautiful. Maybe that was also because my mom gave them a good head massage with their shampoo and listened as a good therapist to their stories. In any case, growing up in that environment probably gave me a more open view to folks making shifts and changes in their appearance. Of course the possibilities for doing that were much more limited in Statesboro in the 50’s and 60’s. With the growth of plastic surgery, tattoo parlors, and other industry primed to get our dollars in return for modifying our appearance – there are greater and more expensive opportunities. But again, my philosophy is one of permissiveness – with caution and moderation. Now what is moderate for some – may not be for others. And sometimes we have to work on being more tolerant about this.

My son Fred got his first tattoo when he was in high school – too young to legally get one, and without my permission. But he’s always looked older than he is. Even now! Because he was thin and always wore a shirt when he went swimming to cover up his skinny body (or at least that’s what I thought), I was totally unaware of the tattoos. Eventually they moved further down his arms though – and by then, he was a grown man. It frustrated me at first – and I was not at all understanding. But you know, these tattoos are all special to him, and they have somehow helped him to feel better about himself. Now – it’s just a part of who he is, and I actually have gotten to the place where I can enjoy them – not that I want any myself.

And then there is my friend Elijah – who has given me permission to share his story and use his real name. Elijah is his REAL name – because he had his name changed legally – but it’s not his birth name. Yes, Elijah is a transgender person. I encouraged him to write his story – and he’s begun that process. Here is what he sent me recently.

“I knew I was different from an early age. I never really did the ‘girl’ thing. I didn’t play with Barbies, I didn’t wear dresses, I didn’t like girl things. I always did ‘boy’ things. I was the ultimate tom boy. I did all of the ‘boy’ things. I climbed things, I played in the dirt, I got into fights, I played basketball, and played video games with the boys in my neighborhood, I played with Hot Wheels, I played outside, I even had a ‘boy’ haircut and I had way more male friends than female friends. That has flip-flopped now, though.

“Growing up I just dealt with what was going on because I knew better than to voice anything about how I felt. I came out as a lesbian at the age of 15 and dove into the GLBT community that I fond online. I found a queer chatroom and met a few transmen that were in it. After talking to them for a while I realized that I was transgender. I didn’t come out as trans until I was 17 years old. When I first came out I really didn’t have a support system. My family was freaking out at the time…. It has been 5 years since I first came out and they are still not dealing well with it. My father and I don’t have much of a relationship due to his ignorance and not accepting me. All of my family members refuse to call me Elijah. There isn’t much I can do about it.”

Elijah has now begun the T process – which is taking male hormones. That will ALTER his body to be more of a match for the person he feels that he is. He would also like to have a mastectomy – but that’s very costly and it will probably take him a long time to save up the money. He says, however, that his girlfriend helps him to feel better about his body, and that he is happy finally being able to take hormones.

Elijah no longer lives in Statesboro, so I share with him on the internet and facebook. I am hopeful that one day he can have a body that more clearly matches his gender identity. But then, as he points out himself, none of us can be totally satisfied with everything about our bodies – and we have to learn to accept some things. And YES, that is the 5th and final A.

Accept your body! There are some things we might change – but there are others we may not. You can probably think of these right now for yourself. Are there some physical activities that you could do at one time, but are now difficult for you? Yeah -- . Well, maybe it just takes a little longer. But in any case, when it comes to our bodies, that serenity prayer of accepting the things we cannot change is valuable. Not only have I learned to accept that my physical abilities are different than they used to be, I also need to accept that my body – no matter how much I exercise – is not going to look like it used to look. And I’ve decided that’s okay.

Recently I caught a glimpse of myself in the mirror after stepping out of the tub. And I thought, “You know my body looks like those in those Renaissance paintings. I could join Reuben’s ‘Three Graces’ and fit right in! The women in those Renaissance Paintings had real substance! Yes, (I decided) I’ve become a woman of substance – a Renaissance woman!”

I later shared that revelation with my friend Amelia on the telephone and she responded, “Jane – you have ALWAYS been a Renaissance woman. Your body is just now catching up.”

So how is your report card – Are you making straight A’s on your attitude about your body by:
* Appreciating your body,
* Attending to your body,
* Alleviating pain and suffering,
* Altering your body in when it’s meaningful and healthy, and
* Accepting your body .
Yes, I sing with Ric Masten, “Let your bodies learn to bend”… but I also say, not too far! When it comes to bodies, I join with Reinhold Niebuhr, the author of the Serenity Prayer – and wish for you "the SERENITY to accept the things you cannot change, the COURAGE to change the things that you can, and the WISDOM to know the difference."

May it be so!

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