I rise every morning and spend at least an hour moving. I break fast with last night’s rest and I spend one uninterrupted hour investing in my health. While I bend and walk and complete rep counts, I experience my body as holy. This body, holy! Without make up or fancy clothes, an almost-30-year-old frame that has held a lifetime of trauma and of healing.
I stretch over my legs and I bless my body — I speak life over it for all the years I did not know how to; I redeem the untruth spoken about it by men, ex-boyfriends, presidents, and other women.
I have lived inside this body on both sides of baptism. I am a lifelong dancer and only now, three years after Jesus, do I know with confidence this body is a temple. It is the holy ground on which the Lord has done miracles. It is the holy ground on which I overcame and then became — I became who I was created to be and I discovered I actually loved her.
I experience this body as holy, now — but I did not always think that way. And I know so many other women who have more or less divorced their holy spiritual selves from the holy experience of their physical selves. I think this grieves the heart of God. I know that it grieved me — the seasons I spent hiding from my body, the times I lent it to unhealthy activities, the years I spoke harsh words over it, staring in mirrors watching the imperfection of my unbending, un-arching feet. In those years I thought I was a proponent of women’s bodies. I was purposeful (I was angry, with right to be) and had a lot of opinions and I did whatever I wanted with the body I was given — but this was not freedom. This act of independence was still just a reaction to hurt. And haven’t so many of us experienced this? The wound that made us foreign to ourselves as we grappled for redemption and power in every place besides the one that could provide it?
I’ve heard it said in church and I’ve read it on the pages of holy text that our bodies are a temple, made wholly pleasing to our Lord. Not a temple to be made holy, as in perfected by my behavior or performance. But a temple in which God himself resides. Made, past tense. Holy, now. Nice enough for him to live in.
We sometimes teach purity like war strategy. We paint the body, a holy temple, as a fortress or conversely, a fragile flower, both in need of defense. But lately I’ve been wondering: what if our bodies are not just temples we present to the Lord, but temples he presented to us to be the safe, sacred refuge? Not something I need to protect — which requires performance, which requires self-sufficiency, which we requires skepticism and clever thinking and many tall stony walls against advancements — but something already protected? Which would require little but surrender; could provide serenity, could provide joy.
Rather than just a shell that will pass away one day, a fleshly weakness that would lead us and those around us into deathly sin — what if our bodies were a gift to us to be the safe space in which we would get to grow and experience love? I wonder if our current rhetoric around what it means to use it for honor or glory points more to fear and control than it does to the redemptive love of an all powerful God, who himself has said I am no longer a sinner but a powerful child of Grace.
If our bodies were the safe space the Lord gave for us to learn about him and who he was, it would make sense why it’s so damaging when these holy frames become unsafe. It is against his nature for us to feel anything but power and peace inside these selves. Yet how many of us feel constantly unsafe in our bodies? Self-conscious, uncomfortable, awkward? Or, like me — have we at some point turned against our body as an enemy? It’s the thing that brought the pain in the first place — who has use for that?
For so many of us, the security and refuge and sanctity of that place got stolen. We experience abuse (verbal, physical, sexual). We experience neglect, causing our resilient neuro-pathways to never expand to hold a capacity of joy or acceptance. We experience the stares, the freedom with which our physical self is discussed and debated like an object, rather than a holy piece of our humanity God designed to set us free.
What if this grieved God? If, like a kind father, he hovered over our existence and saw evil advance upon the temple he himself created and sanctified, saw his children devoured by fear and retreating in control? What if the thing that has hurt you the most — even if it were a pastor from the pulpit doing his very best to discuss purity and how much you matter — what if that thing also hurt God? And not because you had failed or sinned or brought someone down with you or somehow, proved scripture wrong and were the only exception to the redemption of crucifixion — but because this wasn’t his best for you? What if — he saw the temple overtaken and he wept?
So many of us grow up learning our bodies are unsafe. What God intended as a refuge is violated, often at a young age when we have no ability, no wherewithal to protect ourselves. So we retreat, not just into the body but into the psyche. When the physical walls fail we will always pull in further to the walls we can control in our hearts and minds. I remember that place — it felt safe there, until I knew there was a better way.
I can count higher than the fingers of both hands all the many ways I was taught, especially as a girl, that I actually wasn’t safe in the body I had. That the very temple and safe place I was given was being watched, could be invaded at any point. At the same time, my future sisters in Christ were being taught their bodies were landmines, spoken to like the adulteress in scripture rather than the redeemed son.
We all live in a world that has space and opportunity for rape. Where sex and trafficking are used as weapons of war in other countries on TV. In a society where children are abandoned, women are beaten — sometimes within the dark, hidden memories of our own childhoods. I know so many women that grew up in that house. And I’m sure anyone reading this and breathing knows someone who did, too, if it’s not themselves.
We have been taught so many untrue things about the nature of who we are by a world informed by fear.
I wonder if “purity” is not about striving to be more holy (so I can be judged fit enough for God or fit enough for a husband) but about experiencing the abundance of God’s love. Not living from fear to protect my fortress, but living in peace because I know it is already protected.
When we know we are already holy a temple fortified and safe and secure, maybe it would get easier to interact with others — to feel safe with other people, to feel safe with myself. Which in turn would allow me to make better, healthier choices, naturally. I am not a fort to be defended, I am a temple that brings the holy presence of God wherever I go.
If I am a temple, not a fortress or a flower, I am already holy (no striving) and I am already protected by Heaven (no fear). Rather than pushing people away or constructing self-defense mechanisms, I could receive others and give freely of myself without fear. Rather than shutting down my sexual desires or enjoyment of my beautiful, physical self (a body that can dance and work out and walk down the street and feel everything; the sun on my skin, ground solid beneath feet, humidity that threatens to smother and see the butterflies, everywhere this time of year flapping) I could experience my living body fully and all it was designed to desire and to experience.
“Purity” as an action — the boundaries and the process of learning healthy relationships and saving sex for a time when it will matter and not be thrown away — all of that could become more than rules or strategy. It would be an overflow of the gift of this holy temple in which I, and God, reside. Learning to trust within the safety of a relationship with God, which then equips me to trust others and to trust myself.
I might come to know myself as holy — wholly pleasing to a holy God. I might speak words of love over this body, I might begin to enjoy feeding it nourishment and spending time with it — I might stop squirming in my own skin. I might overcome some of the greatest lies that were ever taught me. I might walk a path of identity, become who I was always meant to be — and learn along the way that I love her, this powerful woman of God. Exactly as he made me to be.