With my work schedule at Laurelville, “weekends” tend to fall at odd times — this week, it’s Tuesday and Wednesday — and we’ve come to my parents place for a couple of days. This morning, I was sitting at breakfast feeling the aches and pains of work — “wearing skin”, as Barbara Brown Taylor calls it. I’ve got some minor tendinitis in my elbow, and I’ve stoved (staved?) my thumb, both from moving firewood around, I think. A yellow jacket sting on my ankle has been a major annoyance. My hands feel swollen from the summer heat and humidity.
But it wasn’t all bad. There was also the joy of slowly sipping a warm almond mocha. Coffee is one of the best simple pleasures of wearing skin.
If one of our orthodox beliefs has no corporeal value, if we cannot come up with a single consequence it has for our embodied life together, then there is good reason to ask why we should bother with it at all.
After all, God “so loved the world” and its bodies that God took on a body, too. In affirming the Incarnation, we affirm that our bodies matter.
Mennonites have always done well in this affirmation – at least, in theory. When we pray, we stress “on earth as it is in Heaven”. We confess with James that “faith without works” — in other words, faith without a corresponding bodily action — is dead.
Nevertheless, this chapter of An Altar in the World made me uncomfortable — uncomfortable because I’m uncomfortable with myself. Mostly, it’s this ongoing battle with the extra weight I’m carrying around. I just don’t want to be reminded of it. And then there’s an awkward relationship with sexuality that I imagine a lot of Mennonites have. Could we have a switch to turn it on and off?
My discomfort aside, there is much wisdom in this chapter…
One of the truer things about bodies is that it is just about impossible to increase the reverence I show mine without also increasing the reverence I show yours.
And I’m reminded that by showing reverence to your body, I show reverence to Christ (think Matthew 25, which has become a focus of faith for me). So in this one practice of wearing skin, I may simultaneously learn to love myself, my neighbor, and my God.
A few days ago, I confessed to my wife that I didn’t have much use for a faith concerned only with a life after this one. If my belief doesn’t have much to say about here and now, I don’t have use for it. That is why wearing skin (and this chapter) are important for me now.