by Carmen Renee Berry
"Don't tell me," Carl's angry
voice cut through Terri like a knife, "you've got another one of
your headaches. At least come up with something original!" Terri's
fingers massaged her pounding temples as tears of frustrated pain came
to her eyes. "Oh Carl. Please. . ." "Don't patronize
me," he snarled, snatching his pillow. "I can't stand sleeping
next to you another night." Terri watched her husband disappear
into the hall as she cried, "Why do I get these headaches whenever
he makes love to me?" Her head throbbed and her heart ached.
"What is wrong with me?"
We all long to be loved and accepted completely. Too few of us,
unfortunately, feel loved in our entirety. Since we are spiritual
beings, no human being can fully satisfy our needs. We need to
experience acceptance from God. And, since we are physical beings, this
acceptance must include our bodies. . . our entire bodies.
Religious Body Bashing
Unfortunately, few of us feel fully accepted. Rather than feeling wholly
loved, we may be splintered by assaults on our bodies, feelings and
spirits. While all forms of abuse are hostile to the body, I am stunned
by the many Christian writers who are outspoken and unyielding opponents
of the body. In toxic religious circles, this attitude is common, and
rarely subtle, as spirit is unabashedly separated from and elevated
above the body.
While "splitting" a person into two competing parts may be
touted as a religious virtue, psychological studies illustrate that the
process of splitting is an extreme, self-mutilating response to an
intolerably painful or threatening experience. ". . .In situations
of acute bodily terror, the psychic sense of 'being' can be protected by
seeming to be separated from the physical body. This preserves the sense
of 'being' and guards against the dread of 'not being.' . . .In very
insecure children. . . the psyche and the soma have seemed to be split
Without the all-encompassing love of a personal God, we can become
"insecure children" indeed. Both our bodies and our spirits
Our bodies suffer because spiritually wounded people are almost always
at odds with their bodies. In his sermon, "To Celebrate the
Self," Alexander LaBrecque observed, "A lot of us have been
taught theologically that to think badly of ourselves is a spiritual
thing to do. . .In some quarters of the Christian church, a test of
orthodoxy is how badly one thinks of humanity."2 When the body is
separated from the spirit, the body either becomes overly eroticized
(all touch becomes sexual touch) or the body becomes especially
shameful, dangerous or even evil. As a result, various forms of sexual
alienation are common among spiritually wounded people. Some have
difficulty being sexually intimate with their marital partner because of
body-based shame. Others seem to think of inappropriate sexual activity
as the only "real sin" a Christian can commit.
God as Cosmic Shamer
Our spirits also suffer because, as spirit is split off from body, many
of us develop a distorted view of God - as body hater, rigid judge,
cosmic shamer. Afraid of a God who hates our bodies, we may take pride
in a spirituality "above" flesh-and-blood concerns, ignoring
our physical needs for rest, nutrition or sexual intimacy. Others may
relate to God as an Absent Parent, who hovers over the world as spirit
but has no tangible impact on our lives.3 Many have wondered,
"Where was God while I was being hurt? Is God concerned about what
happens to me in the 'real' world?" Losing faith in a God who cares
about our physical well-being, we can feel isolated, unprotected, and
We don't need to separate ourselves from ourselves in order to be safe.
Spiritually, many of us are like children hiding in a corner with eyes
closed, pretending no one can see us. Healing begins when we open our
eyes and look into the loving eyes of our Higher Power. Within the
intimacy of this personal relationship, we can experience acceptance of
our whole selves.
Our bodies can be included in our spiritual journeys. As creations of
God, our bodies are designed to respond to divine communication. For
example, we are warned of excess stress through back pain and head
aches. We are guided to trustworthy people through relaxed body posture,
or informed of danger through sweaty palms or shortness of breath. We
are called to rest through droopy eye lids, and energized to play
through an excited pulse. Our desire for intimacy is supported through
passion and sexual desire.
Both Terri and Carl, like many of us, need to know that their bodies are
good gifts from God. God communicates our specialness through delicate
blood cells coursing through your veins, muscle tension in your
shoulders, sexual longings, the beating of your heart, each breath you
take into you lungs. It's as clear as the nose on your face. . .you are
loved, every part of you.
1. Tustin, Frances, The Protective Shell in Children and Adults(New
York: Karnac Books, 1990), 39. 2. LeBrecque, Alex, "To Celebrate
the Self," Sermon delivered October, 1992, Pasadena, California. 3.
Berry, Carmen Renee and Mark Lloyd Taylor, Loving Yourself As Your
Neighbor (San Francisco: Harper and Row, 1990).
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author is prohibited.
Go to Carmen
Berry's Articles in STEPS Magazine.