“Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, and before you were born I consecrated you; I appointed you a prophet to the nations.” Jeremiah 1:5
“In you, O LORD, I take refuge; let me never be put to shame.” Psalm 71:1
The Old Testament lectionary reading for today actually comes from Jeremiah (linked above), but it reminds me so much of another verse in the Psalms.
“For you created my inmost being;
you knit me together in my mother’s womb.
I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made;
your works are wonderful,
I know that full well.” Psalm 139: 13-14
Both of these verses (Jeremiah 1:5 and Psalm 139: 13-14) speak to the intimacy of God as Creator, as an artist. I don’t knit. But I know quite a few people who do. And they tell me that knitting is an embodied experience. It’s tactile. It’s visual. You feel the yarn, the needles between your fingers. And from knitting usually comes something like a sweater, or a hat, or a blanket, or a scarf. Something warm and comfortable against your skin.
Knitting is a labor of love. It takes a lot of time and concentration. And so, like most artists, knitters can get quite attached to the things that they make. That’s why when someone gives you something that they knit for you, it means something. But as much as knitters love this thing that they’ve made, they also know it. Intimately. They know the parts where they had to rip out and try again. They can see the missed or loose stitches. The knitter knows things about the piece others don’t know or can’t see. Yet despite, or perhaps even because of that intimate knowledge, the knitter loves the finished product even more.
So often these verses about wombs and creation have been used to subdue women and to shame them by coercing women into pregnancy.
I believe that what these verses are really saying to us is quite the opposite. When scripture is reminding us that God knew us and formed us in our mother’s wombs, it is radically pushing against industries and systems that seek to control bodies, to diminish them and erase them and subdue them through shame. And it subverts these systems and industries by pointing to bodies as GOOD and touched by God from the beginning.
Our culture shames bodies through abuses almost too numerous to name: by closeting LGBTQ+ people, by perpetuating and allowing sexual assault, domestic violence, and state violence.
The weight-loss industry and the fashion industry are multi billion dollar businesses that seek to make a profit off of women’s insecurities by pumping us full of fear and shame, telling us that we cant take up space, that we cant age, that we can’t have a body. And so we try to tame and shave and nip and tuck and primp and preen and smooth and shrink our bodies into their unachievable goal of non-existence.
And there’s the institutional church, which has a history full of slut shaming, of modesty culture, purity culture, homophobia, transphobia, which has told us that our bodies must be contained and covered because the things that we do with our bodies are dirty and wrong.
We have a criminal justice system and a government that says that if your body is Black the rules are different for you than if your body is white. There’s places you can’t go, mistakes you cant make.
These are all issues of bodies.
And yet while society calls those bodies evil, and does so for profit, God reminds us that our bodies are beautiful and good because God Herself created them that way. And God continues to remind us of this by coming to us in a body as Jesus Christ. A body that was every bit as human as ours, a body who was knit together in a mother’s womb, who was born from a mother’s vagina, who drank a mother’s milk, and who, when he was crucified, was bathed in his mother’s tears.
We remind ourselves of the Body of Christ every week in our worship on Sundays. Each week during the Eucharist, we bring our bodies to the altar, and alongside other bodies, we consume God’s body with our own body. We chew it up with real teeth and tongues and swallow it with real esophaguses and digest it in real stomachs. Our recognition of God’s thing for bodies is why I gravitate towards liturgical traditions….because our worship is meant to be embodied and experiential. Its about sights and sounds and smells and tastes and touches.
Our worship is about bodies because God has a thing for bodies.
And God’s thing for bodies is why I’m a Christian.
But I can’t write about the way we try to subdue and tame and shame bodies and about Gods great love for our bodies without saying Gynnya
Gynnya McMillen died January 11, 2016 in a juvenile detention facility in Kentucky. She wanted some control over her own body. She refused to take off her sweatshirt. She refused to disrobe.
And I cant think of anything our sinful systems hate more than a Black girl with rights over her own body, a Black girl who resists, a Black girl who says “no.”
And so they fought to subdue her. They ignored that despite whatever reason Gynnya was in juvenile detention, God had created her. God had seen her and known her. God had intimate knowledge of all of her mistakes and that despite, and maybe even because of those mistakes, God still called Gynnya McMillen and her body “good”.
The officers at this detention facility ignored that fact. They ignored that Gynnya was beautiful and good and created and loved by God. They wanted dominion over Gynnya. And so they sought to silence, subdue, and shrink Gynnya’s body. They did this by physically overpowering her. Several of them. Grown men, trained officers. And then they wrestled her shirt off her body, her holy precious body. The body that was knit together by God Herself.
And after that shame, after forcing Gynnya into that smallness, they left her body alone in a cell to die.
But even though our systems failed Gynnya, even though we left her alone to die, Gynnya was not alone in that cell. Because we worship a Jesus who came in a body, and died in a body, and then, in solidarity with the abused, ROSE AGAIN with a body in victory. And that same Jesus who experienced shame and scorn and a broken body Himself was with his beloved Gynnya in that cell as she took her last breath and died.
God is in the business of bodies. And as the church, the Body of Christ, knit together with our many parts, beloved despite and even because of our flaws, we have the power and the responsibility to do something about this injustice.
These systems are so big and they are so enslaving and enticing. And so because these sins and sinful systems are traps that are so sticky, justice for Gynnya and for all of us….rape survivors, closeted queers, hungry children, people of color, girls with eating disorders, teenage prisoners…has to come from God.
And our God is in the business of bodies so Gods plan is to use us, the Body of Christ, the Church.
That’s the plan. Us.
God knows the Body is a mess sometimes but God says the Body of Christ is beloved and up for the task because the Body of Christ is claimed and loved by God.
And so let us go out and declare boldly the Good News we proclaim on Sunday mornings: that God created us, God knows us, God loves us.
Let us embody those Truths in the world. For Gynnya’s sake and for Christ’s.