“I am soft and luscious… “
I watched an amazing YouTube video a few years ago made by an Australian woman named Taryn Brumfitt who went out onto the street to ask other women about what they thought of their bodies. Woman after woman stared into the camera and described how much they hated their bodies. “I need to lose some weight,” one remarked, while several described their bodies in one word, “Disgusting.”
As a child, growing up in the Southern Baptist tradition, that was the word I was trained to use to describe my body: Disgusting. You see, in Southern Baptist theology, this body is not our home. In fact, this body is to be seen as the enemy, because it is this bodily form that holds us here, in this foreign land, and keeps us from ascending spiritually into our eternal heavenly home with God.
During my childhood, I was taught that the body was evil — full of sin and lusts and other impure thoughts and actions. Without this body, I was told, we would not be the filthy, awful sinners that we are because it is with our bodies that we give in to temptations that cause us to defile ourselves. Needless to say, I internalized that lesson fully. I have always found my body to be disgusting and I have always felt like an alien inhabiting some ill-fitting flesh suit that I can’t wait to shed.
Of course, nobody told me that this wasn’t actually something that Jesus had actually said. In fact, this idea, that our body and our spirits are separate — and not equal — comes from the Greek philosopher Plato. He believed that spirit and matter were dire enemies and the two could not exist together for long.
Jesus, on the other hand, believed no such thing. The proof is in all of the healing stories in the Bible where Jesus heals both the body and the spirit of those he touched. If the body were an intrinsically bad thing, why would Jesus heal it? Why not just tell those ill people to buck up? After all, if they’re sick they’ll be out of those useless shells soon enough and home with God.
But, no, to Jesus the body is important. Jesus knew what A Course in Miracles would tell us thousands of years later: “The body is the means by which God’s [Children return] to sanity.” Our ego thinks this body is the cradle of safety and it proves it by, paradoxically, pointing to its inherent impermanence. If we think bodies are all we are, we’ll fight to keep them, no matter what. Jesus, though, understood the correct use of the body — to bring us into our right mind, into alignment with the heaven that exists inside of us in the state of our true, Divine Self.
In Luke 13, Jesus illustrates this contrast. Some Pharisees come to warn him that King Herod, who has already beheaded his cousin John the Baptist, is out for Jesus’ blood as well. Jesus has a warning for Herod in return: “Go and tell that fox for me, ‘Listen, I am casting out demons and performing cures today and tomorrow, and on the third day I finish my work.'”
What Jesus is saying is all those forces of the world — all that egoic energy around us that seeks to bring us out of our right, undivided mind into dualistic thoughts of “us vs. them” — have no power over us when we’re living fully as our true, Divine Self. There are no foxes — no egos — no matter how powerful, cunning or vicious they may seem to be — that can stop us from our work to bring ourselves back to the sanity of oneness and, in doing so, ending the separation we feel in the world.
Jesus is inviting us to use our bodies to live fully, love wastefully, and be about the work of healing the world of its ego-driven sicknesses of greed, hatred and injustice. We do that by becoming chickens — that mother hen that Jesus imagines himself to be — offering safety and security under his sheltering wings of Love — which is the only place true safety is found.
This is the purpose of our bodies — to live in our right minds that can offer shelter and be a source of redemption, love, and grace to everyone we meet. This world of ego is not our home — we are just visitors in the world of duality. When we can spread the wings of our true, Divine Self in the world through our bodies — then we understand we are all one and we can invite everyone to come on up to the house.
Enemies of the cross of Christ
Not everyone will appreciate our outspread chicken wings, however. That’s what the apostle Paul is telling the members of that early community in Philippi. There are some people he calls “enemies of the cross of Christ.” Now, it’s easy for us to start picking out the people we think are those enemies, whether they’re politicians, strangers, or even family members.
But, when we examine this phrase in Greek, what Paul is really saying here is that there are some whose minds remain closed to the “cross of Christ” — which in a metaphysical sense really means they are simply unwilling to let go of their ego and embrace their true, Divine Self. He goes on to describe what we all act like when we are caught up in ego — we are driven by our bellies, our hunger for the things of this world, its glory, its fame, its rich food and wealth.
We are “enemies of the cross of Christ” whenever we are living out of our ego instead of our true, Divine Self. And yes, it’s true, we destroy ourselves when we live from that place. It’s inevitable, because the ego is never satisfied.
“Our citizenship,” Paul writes in Philippians 3, “is in heaven.” Now, that doesn’t mean we’re not also citizens in this world. We have to go to work and pay the bills and feed our pets and make our beds and wash our dishes, at least once in a while.
But, when we claim that our true citizenship is in heaven, while living here in this ego-based realm, we’ve already accepted that invitation to come on up to the house, because now we realize that heaven is not some other place — it’s right here, already present in, through, and among us. When we realize this, Paul says, God “will transform the body of our humiliation that it may be conformed to the body of his glory.”
This is what the Course means when it says the body is a means to return to our sanity. When we can fully incarnate as a spiritual human being, we realize that our body and God’s body are one and the same. The same Greek word, soma, is used to describe both our body and God’s body. That means that when we return to our sanity — the knowledge of who we truly are as innocent beings — God can use this body to communicate love and joy in the world. Our “body of humiliation” comes when we forget that this is the right use of our body and instead follow the ego.
Our transformation doesn’t require anyone to get on a cross and shed their blood. We are redeemed by this one miracle — that shift in perception that makes us realize that within this walking, talking, belching, and farting mass of molecules, we are the whole universe because, in Reality, there is only one of us here.
Oh, but the ego wants redemption to be about struggle and sacrifice. And oh, how we love to tell our stories of challenge. They all start the same: We were just living our lives like normal and then, bam, somebody lost a job, the car broke down, the parents got divorced, a pandemic started — and seemed to have no end. Then, we tell the story of how we persevered and overcame those obstacles and emerged into an even better life.
Here’s the thing, though: Our story is everyone’s story, but the ego doesn’t want to hear that. We’ve all started out trapped in these ego bodies and we all have the means to recognize the divinity within if we’re willing to receive the miracle. We don’t like it when we’re told that our suffering is not special, because our ego says we are special, especially in our suffering.
“What I had to overcome was harder than what someone else had to overcome,” we say. “Some people just have it easy.” But, like Jesus says, we are just like Jerusalem. We kill every messenger who comes to us bearing the good news that we are not all separate egos, but one divine creation.
As the Course says, we resist this good news of redemption because if we actually did overcome our fear of transcending our ego we would be compelled “to answer [God’s] call and leap into Heaven.” The ego hates this idea because the ego believes that message denies the mental, physical and spiritual struggles that we all encounter in these bodies. So, we fight back because if we acknowledge our true citizenship is in heaven, then we lose our identity in this hell we’ve created with our ego and these bodies.
The Holy, though, is tirelessly giving us the invitation to step out of this ego world, to recognize that heaven is already within us and come on up to the house.
“I am soft and luscious”
At the end of the video where all those women were describing their bodies as overweight and disgusting, there is one woman who looks straight into the camera and describes her body as “soft and luscious.” It was hard to understand her at first because she slurred her words. You see this woman, who said her body was soft and luscious, had a body that was riddled with deformities that left her confined to a wheelchair, unable to walk or talk clearly.
Here, the one woman who had every reason in the world to hate the flesh suit that she had been given to endure for this physical life, instead found it soft and luscious. This is what it looks like to make right use of the body.
It’s not about what we look like or our abilities or disabilities. It’s about realizing that while we are in this body, our task is to remove all of the barriers to Love. This woman has done that. She knows, no matter what she looks like, she is “soft and luscious” because that’s what our true, Divine Self is — it is soft and luscious and all it knows how to do is Love and end separation.
The Course says when we realize this the body becomes holy because we know that we are here to use it to embody love for ourselves and others. This was the point that videographer Brumfitt was trying to make. She talked about how she hated her own body many years before and — in an attempt to feel better about herself — she became a professional body builder. She sculpted what the world calls a “perfect body” — but, she says, even though she won competitions in body building, she was still dissatisfied with how she looked.
Brumfitt currently gives talks where she uses a picture of herself in a bodybuilding competition as her “Before” picture, and a picture of her now more curvaceous, and less toned, body as her “After” picture. She says that she’s realized, just as that woman in the wheelchair knew, that she was always beautiful — she was always soft and luscious — no matter how she looked on the outside.
Her film epitomizes what the Course calls us all to do — to use whatever body we’ve been given to reach out to our siblings and show them that they, too, are soft and luscious, because they were created in the soft and luscious mind of God and because that’s where we all continue to live in eternal unity. We are all citizens of this heaven.
Jesus, Paul and the Course all preach the same thing: We perceive our body as being one of “humiliation,” something to keep in check or under control. This is the ego’s ploy, to keep us addicted to its purpose for our life which is to “seek but do not find.” As bodies, we find a few things satisfying for a short time, but we’re always seeking the next thing outside of ourselves we think will bring us happiness.
Our bodies, though, are not meant for competition, but for connection and communication — to be constantly sending out signals of Love that allow all of us to find true safety, that place where no fear can exist. We are called to be that mother hen that draws others under the wing of our own true, divine Self so others can recognize that they, too, are divine chickens who are also called to offer the true safety of Love to the world.
We identify with whatever makes us feel safe, as the Course says, so I invite you to examine what makes you feel safe. Do you feel safest when you’re striving and competing out in the world, trying to secure some financial, romantic or other bodily security? Or, do you feel safest when you surrender to the unity of Love that assures us that if we use our body rightly, if we allow Spirit to put us in our right mind, everything we need in this bodily world and more will be drawn to us as we draw closer to those around us?
“Identify with love,” the Course says, “and you are safe. Identify with love, and you are home. Identify with love, and find your Self.” This is an invitation to “come on up to the house” — that heavenly place within each of us where we are all welcomed home — and we all get to say: “Oh, Yeah.”
Music for the journey
Sarah Jarosz performs the Tom Waits song, “Come On Up To The House”
Republished with permission of the author.
Whosoever founder and Editor Emeritus Rev. Candace Chellew (she/her) is the author of Bulletproof Faith: A Spiritual Survival Guide for Gay and Lesbian Christians. She earned her masters of theological studies at Emory University’s Candler School of Theology, was ordained by Gentle Spirit Christian Church in December 2003, and trained as a spiritual director through the Omega Point program of the Episcopal Diocese of Atlanta. She serves as the spiritual director of Jubilee! Circle in Columbia, S.C., and blogs at Motley Mystic.