Maybe a memoir, maybe a book review of Mudhouse Sabbath by Lauren F. Winner
Honoring my body, it is safe to say, is something at which I have failed. Gratitude for this conglomeration of blood, bones, organs, skin, tissues that God bestowed upon me has not been high on my priorities. Indeed, it would be also safe to say that I was taught to use it but not pay too much attention to it. Mom taught me to call certain body parts by made-up words. No doubt she was continuing a tradition her mother taught her and who knows who taught grandmom? Thing is, I thought those words were the correct ones which led to an embarrassing incident in fifth grade when we girls were locked in the auditorium with black paper over the glass so the boys couldn’t see in. We were to watch The Movie, you see, and I was astounded to find the narrator using other words for Down There.
Up until fifth grade, I don’t recall actually thinking about my body too much though. I have one memory as I sat on the toilet to defecate, I leaned over to peer in between the rim of the toilet and the seat to watch my poop descend. Maybe I was six. But as I said, I never paid too much attention to it as long as my body did what I wanted it to do: run; walk; play; master the bicycle (what a challenge that was); leap over the hopscotch chalk; hide during hide and seek; seek during hide and seek; chase balls; chase the dog; chase the cat; attempt to climb the maple tree in the backyard until the All-Seeing Mom stopped me.
All this carelessness changed in fifth grade. My younger brother and I were transferred from the Roman Catholic private school to public school. In public school, we had gym class. We girls had to change our clothes in the auditorium with black paper over the glass so the boys couldn’t see in. Where the boys changed, I no longer recall. From thence we were lead to the playground upon which lay a bunch of sticks, mostly straight but with a foot on them. The other girls ran to grab a stick and the teacher had to tell me what to do. We are going to play field hockey, you see, which I had never played. Those girls knew how to play, knew the rules, and I just stood there. For the first time, my body didn’t know what to do.
I was a complete failure in gym class until freshman year in high school when we learned to play basketball. None of the other girls knew how to do that either and for the first time in gym class, I was equal to them. In fact, I excelled at basketball and despite being the second shortest kid in the school, I played center forward because I was really good at basketball and had an extremely reliable layup shot. The teacher, who was once our gym teacher for fifth and sixth grades until she was promoted to the high school wanted me on the school’s basketball team but by that time, I despised all sports. I had been miserable at them all until basketball and by then the habit of being failed by my body and me failing to respect my body was entrenched.
So it went for a number of decades. Oh, there were exceptions when I enjoyed having a body and enjoyed the body of another, but on the whole, the purpose of my body was to contain my brain and that I valued.
However, this habit of failing to honor my body has caught up with me and the end result of is a lymphedema issue which requires, among other treatments, that I take a diuretic. I am sure we all know what the natural result of that is and to tell you the truth, I resent having to interrupt my intellectual pursuits to honor my body and deal with the logical consequences of taking a diuretic.
One morning, though, I thought to do something different. Since I had to sit there, why not read? I have no idea what Ms. Lauren F. Winner would think, but I have been reading her book, Mudhouse Sabbath, during these moments. Ms. Winner is a convert from Orthodox Judaism to The Episcopal Church. Well, I betray my Episcopalian chauvinism. She is a convert to Christianity, of course, who chooses to be one within TEC.
In this book, she talks about various rituals and observances of Judaism, compares them to the teachings of Jesus and the early church, as she reflects upon their meaning on her life today. It is riveting. It grabs my attention, fascinating me while at the same time increasing my admiration and understanding of certain rituals and practices of Christianity, particularly within The Episcopal Church.
It happens to be Lent as I experience both the effects of failing to honor my body and as I read this book. Reading this book, perhaps more especially because of when I am reading it and what my body is doing as I read it, tells me I have been wrong to live ignoring my body. Christianity is, after all, an in-the-body religion. It is all about God being in a human body. God honored the human body enough to be born into one so who am I to simply inhabit and use mine? Christianity is such an in-and-of-the-body religion that we in spiritual form eat God’s body and drink God’s blood. Hard to beat that for honoring and respecting the body.
In every chapter, Ms. Winner discusses how in-the-body is Judaism and Christianity. The body is a part of every Jewish spiritual practice. The body becomes something much freer than the sum of those individual parts of blood, bones, organs, skin, tissues that God bestowed upon each of us. We use it not only when we eat but when we worship, mourn, are hospitable, pray, fast, age, celebrate weddings, and pass through doorways. Body, mind, soul, and spirit are a unified whole and I have been very wrong to think of mine only as a vehicle for hauling my brain from point A to B.
Thank you, Ms. Winner, for writing so deftly, in a manner that not only challenges me but unashamedly shares your own challenges. I’ve had a Salami Sandwich moment of my own.