HILARY WRITES ABOUT THE INTERSECTIONS OF WOMANHOOD AND SPIRITUALITY.

Embodiment

I grew up in a church tradition that was highly embodied- the Pentecostal church. For some, "embodied" worship might be the smells of an Orthodox church or the standing/sitting/kneeling/call and response of a Catholic church, but for me it was much more wild, much more spontaneous. There was a general structure to the whole thing of course, and standards of behavior even when the Spirit moved. But within those expectations there was a great deal of freedom.

 I still have vivid memories of sitting next to my mom in church while she swayed back and forth to the music, hands raised, a language I couldn't understand dripping from her tongue, one I had no way to decipher but could repeat with perfect precision. I remember dancing in the front, tambourines held high, ribbons flying, leading a processional as though I was marching around Jericho. I remember when the guest preacher would come through town and things would get really wild. Usually the evening services were when things lit up. The ushers were ready with their modesty cloths, because we all knew what was going to happen that night- people were going to fall out. Men, women and children alike. The sermon came to an end, and the altar call began.

This was not just an invitation, no, this was a summons. Only the resistant and doubtful wouldn't want to be up front, getting blessed. And blessed we were. Blessed right onto our backsides, rolling around in holy laughter, grown men and women in knee-length cotton skirts, starched to perfection, rolling around on the floor and bawling like rabid toddlers, lying still as though they had been knocked out cold, basking in the glory. There were the catchers, whose sole responsibility was to make sure noone suffered a concussion by hitting the floor to hard. It was a sight to behold, and in spite of the madness there was something so holy and personal about it. I knew God was touching that person where they lay on the red church carpet. Either that or they were just faking it, which in that case God would deal with them directly. 

I never understood how different this was growing up, and I never made sense of how my church experience drew me into embodiment. How it was physical, it required something of me. My voice, my hands, my movement, my trust of the visiting preacher and the catchers, my safety inside a community that could watch me present my deepest hurts down front and be ministered to in the midst of it. This experience was separate from my lived experience in my body as a young girl, because noone talked about it. Outside church, things hummed along as usual. My gym teacher had the young girls sit in his lap, neighbor boys made their comments and attempted to touch places I wasn't even comfortable touching yet. Women's bodies were only free at the altar, and even then still covered in modesty cloths, still shrouded in the gaze of deacons and visiting pastors with sweaty palms and heavy gold pinky rings. 

To be a woman and to wish to be pious, holy, or set apart in some religious manner is an effort. Your very being draws you into the more ecstatic and indulgent aspects of existence. The curves of your body, be they large or diminutive, draw eyes toward you in ways you didn't invite but have no power to reject. Your entire physical being represents the volatile, the primal, the seat of life and the one thing man cannot control.  The attempt to be a woman who is holy is ultimately an act of disembodiment, of severing the connection. This was what I believed for so long. Because my body was something to be hidden, something to either be used as a tool or brought into submission. It took me so long to recognize that it was a vessel, all this time.  A vehicle for God's glory, presence, miracles. 

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