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.

Having Kids and Selling Out

This week I’ve been listening to “How to Survive the End of the World,” a podcast by Autumn Brown and adrienne maree brown. It’s fantastic. Check it out.

In listening to their conversations, particularly about child- birthing and loss and raising, I realized that I’ve been struggling with my identity as a mom and someone who cares about and works for justice in the world.

Having S. corresponded with a shift in my work and life. I was starting seminary with a hefty commute, my partner’s organizing job was getting way more demanding, and a baby adds a new level of financial and emotional need. I had finished my time at Vanderbilt, where opportunities to plug into social movements abound, and where, as a student, I had the flexibility to give time and attention to those movements.

The emotionally intensive facilitation work I really got into before and during pregnancy went to the back burner. For the most part, we can only afford to have childcare for hours during which we are working or at school, for me).

Social movement spaces aren’t always conducive to young families — it’s a lot of long days and evening meetings for a baby or toddler — and I regularly choose consistent nap time and slow evenings and dinners for my son over, well, just about any other option. Especially at the beginning, his sleeping and eating was so easily throw off track, and a bad afternoon nap meant lots of night waking, lots of exhaustion.

But is that just a list of excuses? Have I sold out?

There’s obviously part of me that thinks so, or I wouldn’t be writing this. But Autumn and adrienne have been reminding me that the small stabilities and consistencies for my kid are also a form of movement work. I chose the part time hourly cubicle job that pays the bills and frees up my heart and mind, so I can replenish those emotional resources to respond to a toddler with patience and re-read that bell hooks picture book 17 times. That is the work of dismantling the patriarchy, for him and also in myself.

I’ve internalized the devaluation of (traditionally women’s) labor that focuses on the home and child, even within a framework that explicitly values the feminized and vulnerable, that claims liberation for folks to be able to do exactly this work: raise a child with peace and connection, take time to tend emotional intelligence and body and family.

The movement work will go on. There will still be groups to facilitate. There will be books to write. There will be gardens to plant and protests to join and classes to teach and hospital visits to make — all those works I have loved to do and will love to do again. Not now doesn’t mean never.

And now I can choose to remember and recenter the truth that this little guy — and the small moments like this morning, drawing circles and singing “peace like a river” while putting on his shoes — he is my daily work of justice and freedom.

Talking with kids about Martin Luther King, Jr.

I have the great joy of working part time at St. Augustine’s Chapel in Nashville. It is a beautiful community of people who are actively seeking healing for themselves and the world.

We’re a predominantly white congregation, and in preparation for our participation in Nashville’s Martin Luther King, Jr. Day March, I developed this quick sheet for talking with kids about King and the Civil Rights Movement. For well intentioned white folks, it can be a struggle to know what words to use, because many of us were taught that to speak of race at all is a racist thing. The last thing we want to do is mess up and instill harmful ideas in our kids. But studies have shown that not talking about race replicates our white supremacist social structures about as well as outright racist propagation. So however muddy and difficult, white people of faith and goodwill, we’ve got to do our work around race, and we’ve got to start at home. Talk to your kids. Read the books. Head out to local MLK Day events, and for heaven’s sake don’t let that one holiday be the end of it. Keep an eye out for ways to plug in with Black Lives Matter. Pay attention to local legislation that might replicate injustice for people of color and the poor. Patron black owned businesses on purpose. Listen deeply to the world. Take your kids with you, and keep talking about it.

This is written with white families in mind, and I wanted to share on the off chance that it can be useful to your family or faith community.