On Inhabiting this Body

I have been having some unusual thoughts about our relationships with our bodies. How vital is our body to our identity? I was talking to a woman the other day, who I will call Ellen from now on, who said to me that she hates herself. Ellen feels sometimes that no one loves her. She is in her middle years, has a large body, and has suffered for years from diabetes. I didn’t quite know what to say to her. We talked about society’s messages about obesity. I and the other people around her assured her of our love for her.
There is a section in the book Falling into Grace that talks about our relationship to the body. Reading, I began to sense that my body is only a vehicle for me to get around on this material earth. I have no way of knowing why it is that I have the body I do. It isn’t necessarily the one I would have chosen, but it is the one I was handed like a set of clothes given a new recruit in the army. Only these bodies are not like a uniform…they are very diverse and they sometimes may have ragged edges or missing parts.
No matter what body we are walking around in, it is what we are walking around it. If nothing else came through to me as I read Falling into Grace it is the suggestion that we might as well accept life as it is because that is the life we are in and that includes our bodies, short, tall, pocked of skin, missing parts, prone to illness or addictions. None of these things about our bodies is who we are but any or all of its characteristics effect how we relate to the world around us. It also affects how the world relates to us.
Ellen’s experience is not unique. Our culture is brutal to people who are obese. The media supports young, thin, athletic and sexy. And these prejudices are supported over and over again in the job market and in the day to day encounters we have each day.
I remembered the TV show Quantum Leap in which a guy named Sam (Scott Bakula) finds himself transported into the body of someone in another time and space in order to solve some sort of problem. The first discovery is finding out whose body he has taken over. There is usually a mirror scene when he actually sees the person. He may be in the body of a person of another race, a female, a child or very old person, a person with a handicap or even of an animal…once he was in the body of a monkey destined to go into space. Very creative. The interesting thing about Sam’s story is that he may experience during his visit various negative attitudes and prejudices of the people he encounters but it is the Sam reacting to these rather than the original inhabitant of the body. Sam was not the person who had grown up in that body so he didn’t carry the baggage of the original inhabitant.
A further thought I had is that perhaps God gave us our individual body for a reason. If I am given a body prone to addiction, perhaps it is exactly what I need to bring me to consciousness or to compassion for others who suffer from addiction. Why is one person given a body that is healthy and able to handle a great deal of physical stress while another is weak and not able to maneuver about the world with ease as the other? Pondering this makes me think that there is a link between the bodies we inhabit and our mission in the world. My rusty old Ford vs. your jet plane. Where will you go, what will you do with your vehicle? How far can I get with mine?
I guess the one thing I want to get across to my new friend Ellen is that she is not her body, that the self inside is beautiful and precious because it is a part of God. All those people who have hurt her don’t know that. I would like for her to get to know and love this beautiful self. I believe that this is the self Jesus is referring to when he gave us the command to love God, our self and others as ourselves. If Ellen could see her true self, perhaps then all of the attacks and rejections over the years would feel less painful, for they are not about her. They are more about the blindness