This Is My Body

Have I got a recommendation for y’all.
A few weeks ago I was given the opportunity to read an upcoming book from Upper Room Books, This Is My Body: Embracing The Messiness of Faith and Motherhood by Hannah E. Shanks.
Oh my goodness. That’s only all I ever seem to talk about.
In her book, Big Magic, Liz Gilbert shares her theory on Creativity, who comes along and taps you on the shoulder with an idea. If you won’t or can’t give life to the idea, Creativity moves along to another soul who is willing or able to make the Creative Idea come into the world. When I read This Is My Body, I thought of this theory immediately, as Hannah Shanks has put to the page so many of the prayers and conversations my mama friends and I have been having. This Is My Body is the absolute book of my heart, and of so many other mama/theologian hearts. It’s the story of my past two and a half years, of so much of coming into motherhood. It’s a book as universal and exceptional as the experience of motherhood itself.
Hannah is a brave theologian. She wades into nitty-gritty, concrete, gross and glorious embodiment. Incarnational theology, ironically, is so often approached as an abstraction. But grounded in the minutia of physical changes in pregnancy and birth, this Christology can’t help but keep its skin and blood, its placenta and colostrum and sweat and mucus. This courage reminds me to muster my own, to remember that I, too–my life and motherhood and ministry and theological reflection–I am united with Jesus in all my bodiliness. Her theology roams beyond the initial topic of motherhood, dealing with fundamental feminist questions of belonging and equality, asking, “How, in a religion where God incarnate was physically borne, supported, and raised by a woman, did we come to a place where women were seen as secondary to men in carrying the gospel?”
And Hannah is a brave mama. She names conflicting emotions and the gut-wrenching mind/body connection of pregnancy pains and fears, postpartum struggles, and the mind-numbing exhaustion of life with a newborn. This courage reminds me that I, too, felt those things and hid them, worried about my solitude in my worry and ambivalence. The connections between pregnancy and postpartum with prayer practice and faith also connected with my experience. To be sure, breastfeeding all night felt like a vigil of hours, but that prayer was offered with unapologetic tiredness and sometimes, frustration. Hannah describes with so much grace and honesty how all of these feelings and experiences are bound up together.
Reading this, I found myself thrown into body memories, brought to tears and belly aches in recollection of the body immediacy of pregnancy, of labor and delivery, of nursing. My body was just so loud to me then, so demanding and strong. What’s more, as I read, I suddenly became aware of what I no longer know about God, aware of insights about Eucharist, even about myself and my son that are no longer known and lived in my flesh. That knowledge of “this is my body,” so acute, so sacred and earthy and bloody, has faded. I knew because my body knew. Now, “this is my body” means something else. The book left me with an invitation to discern what this life stage and embodiment, so different that the last, might have to teach me about God with us.
Thoughtful of her audience, Hannah Shanks acknowledges her social location and particularity as a cisgendered and reproductively able-bodied woman. She acknowledges the limits of her story. But a story told well, in its particularity, is a story that points beyond its teller to connect with many. She writes, “The parts of myself that I don’t want to reconcile aren’t left out of God’s radical work…Turns out, being made one with Christ means being made one with ourselves, too.” This good, hard news of grace and bodiliness and integration into God is good, hard news for us all, not just for the mamas. This book casts a vision for all of us to have space to say, “This is my body.”
The book will be out from Upper Room in May (preorder here) and I’ll be clamoring about it on facebook and instagram with links to buy. Get it for yourselves, for baby shower gifts, for your midwife, for anyone who likes to talk about bodies. There’s even a discussion guide in the back if you decide to go wild and make it a book club. Hmm… that’s a thought.

Just a little grounding love wisdom

When I neared the end of my pregnancy with S., I had this horrible thing called prodromal labor. Basically this means that for the last three weeks of pregnancy, I would have contractions off an on, ten minutes apart and lasting for hours (even a day or two) that would suddenly… stop. Nothing.

If you haven’t had this, there is absolutely no way to explain how maddening and exhausting it is.

The midwives cheerfully told me that my body was hard at work and the baby would come in time. Yeah yeah yeah. They said, “If you think you’re in labor, go for a walk. Then drink a big glass of water and eat a snack. Take a bath. Take a nap. Then wait. And then, if things are still happening, you might be in labor.”

This was the most annoyingly simple, obvious, and profound advice. And as much as I spiraled through emotions, bouncing myself silly on a labor ball, absolutely willing that baby out, this list of fundamental mind-body caretaking never failed in revealing what was happening. And of course, eventually I did all these things, the contractions continued on, and I had a baby the next morning.

Aside from the temporary plague of prodromal labor, I also contend with a more long-standing struggle with anxiety and Really Big Emotions. When things are a little out of balance and I’m not caring for myself, anxious thoughts and Big Emotions can feel like reality (when they’re usually just, well, thoughts and emotions). Over the last several months when I feel this coming, I return to the midwives’ advice, and in these small acts of bodily nurture, I can listen to my spirit, hone back in on wise mind, and see what is really happening.

So, how are you doing? Is it too much to manage? Does it feel like things are out of control or changing too fast?

Go for a walk.
Drink a big glass of water.
Eat a snack.
Take a bath.
Take a nap.
Wait.

Nurture your flesh. Listen to your spirit, the Spirit.

Diffusing some Grounding essential oil blend: white fir, spruce, ylang ylang, pine, cedarwood, angelica, juniper