I had the opportunity to read from Penelope Ayers with a wonderful group of women last night. They asked great questions about writing and reading and the ways in which coming to know Penny, my mother-in-law, changed who I am. One of the things we talked about, in the large group and then afterwards with a few individuals, was the way in which we as a culture would like to avoid, ignore, deny, overcome, our bodies.
Bodies are messy. They break down. They hurt. With advances in medical technology, why not do everything we can to avoid them? The reason, I think, that we need to continue to live in our bodies and care for other people in their bodies, is because although bodies are the conduits of pain, they are also the conduits of love.
Caring for Penny was physical before it was anything else. It started with helping her take a walk after her surgery, and proceeded into wound care and helping her in and out of the shower and eventually holding a bucket for vomit and spooning food to her parched lips.
Once my children were born, I was reminded of those moments with my mother-in-law. With infants, as with Penny, care began with the body. Poop and spit up and rocking and nursing.
In both cases, I couldn't remain neutral. The physical contact required a movement in my spirit. I would either be repulsed by the physicality of it all and run away, or I would move closer. In both cases, caring for people's bodies enabled me to begin to love them. The physical act led to the emotional response.
Love, I have been learning, is not abstract. It involves emotion, of course, but before the emotions, through the emotions, after the emotions, at its core, love is physical. Love is embodied. And here we are, in Advent, awaiting the birth of Jesus, the one who came in a body, the one who touched the lepers, the one who was wounded in his body. Here we are, awaiting the birth of the one who loves us.