I like to be naked. For reasons I’m not fully cognizant of I like taking off my clothes. Not at inappropriate places or times but when I’m alone or with my wife or in nature. I find it freeing to cast off my clothes and wearing only my birthday suit jump into a lake or mountain stream.
Many years ago while serving a church in Montana, I was hiking in the Crazy Mountains with several new friends. After a hot day of backpacking up the mountain we found ourselves sunning on a rock overlooking a beautiful alpine lake. As I lay on the rock I closed my eyes and felt the warmth of the stone easing my tired muscles and the sun on my face. Soon I heard a splash and then another. Opening my eyes I saw clothing cast around me and my companions now au natural swimming. What to do? Would I uphold my native New England reticence or take a dip? The water felt great.
Barbara Brown Taylor in her wonderful book, ‘An Altar in the World’ reflects on the Christian concept of the incarnation, the belief that the Word of God became flesh in the life of Jesus. She reminds us that this is radical stuff, that God the creator of heaven and earth would choose to make a home in the human body. Even more our tradition teaches that we are created in God’s image (Imago Dei). Understood in this way we are each a reflection of that great mystery we call God and hence have inherent worth and beauty. Do we believe this to be true?
In truth many of us don’t. We focus on our imperfections rather than our beauty, our limitations rather than our strength. Over time we acquire scars, nicks, pounds and wrinkles. Far to often we judge ourselves or others. We buy into ideals of what the physical should be forgetting that we too are God’s creation, God’s child.
As an antidote, Taylor writes: “I think it is important to pray naked in front of a full-length mirror sometimes, especially when you are full of loathing for your body. Maybe you think you are too heavy. Maybe you never liked the way your hipbones stick out. Do your breasts sag? Are you too hairy? It is always something. Then again, maybe you have been sick, or gone through surgery that has changed the way you look. Too many of us stay covered up or even bathe in the dark…This can only go on so long, especially for someone who believes that God loves flesh and blood, no matter what kind of shape it is in. Whether you are sick or well, lovely or irregular, 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.”
We live in a society that judges and objectifies based on appearance. Too often my Christian tradition has avoided focusing on the body as unseemly. We’ve focused on shaping the intellect and neglected physical, sexual and ecstatic expression.
Too often we’ve forgotten that David danced naked in the Temple. We’ve forgotten that Jesus held the leper with his oozing sores. We’ve forgotten that Jesus’ final instructions had to do with washing the feet of others and breaking bread. Physical acts that involve touch, cooking and eating together.
We all wear skin, initially smooth and with a healthy glow and if we are fortunate enough, in time we acquire wrinkles, moles and blotches. Whatever the condition of our skin we are invited to look at our self and others as beautiful because of the Creator from whom we come and to whom we will all one day return.
Note: For those who live in the North Shore of Massachusetts, the church I serve First Baptist in Beverly is spending the summer reading and reflecting on the book An Altar in the World by Barbara Brown Taylor. To learn more or watch a sermon podcast go to: http://www.fbcbeverly.org click on heading ‘Worship’.