Reflections from Rev. Emily Gage
What Does It Mean To Be a Community of Emodiment?
One of the things I loved best about studying for the ministry at Harvard Divinity School was that there was both a large Unitarian Universalist community AND a very widely diverse (religiously speaking) community. So we had an opportunity to build deep relationships both with and beyond our own religious communities. Once a week, there was a Unitarian Universalist worship service, during which we seminarians took turns leading and preaching. It was a great way for us to practice and to minister to one another. I distinctly remember the very first time I preached for that service. After the service, we had our usual shared lunch, and I came home, laid down, and found that I was pretty much unable to move.
My dear friend Jan, studying for the Presbyterian ministry, called that afternoon to check in on me. “How are you?” She asked. “I am just. Totally. Wiped. out.,” I said “Well, of course,” she said, “The spirit came down upon you and then it went away.” I don’t remember exactly what I said in reply, but I know that I was completely taken by surprise. Brought up in a mostly rational humanist kind of Unitarian Universalist congregation, an idea like this, so mysterious, was a brand new concept. But her words stayed with me. And as I continued on my journey towards ministry, her words began to feel right.
This was the first thing I thought of when I learned our theme of May was to be embodiment; this not-completely-understood physical and spiritual experience all mixed up together. It is something that is almost always part of leading worship for me, or other types of ministry or particularly meaningful interactions with the world or people. I remember one particular experience of feeling upset about some health news of a family member, and laying down on a quiet grassy field. As I lay there, my arms spread out, breathing and looking up into the stars, I felt some connection that calmed down my inner turmoil and gave me new comfort and strength. There have been so many times when hugging a person has been just what the spirit needed. My list goes on. I’m sure you have your own stories.
Our history and culture has passed on all sorts of problematic messages about bodies, and so sometimes we struggle to celebrate the gifts that our bodies are, and the gifts that through our bodies we experience. Our bodies change, too, over our lifetimes, and that provides challenges (and opportunities) as well. But it is often through our bodies that we experience a connection to something greater than ourselves. It is worthy of our attention and celebration.
On the southbound side of Lake Shore Drive, on the way to Hyde Park, a drive I make on a fairly regular basis, there is a giant sign that says: “You are beautiful.” It makes me smile every time. You (yes you!) are beautiful. Just the way you are. May we take this month to celebrate our beautiful bodies and the experiences they provide us.