This is My Body
Once upon a time, what feels like long time ago, I used to wear a two-piece bathing suit. It was super cute and with boy shorts it wasn’t terribly immodest, although yes friends, I could have done better. I have a picture of me wearing it while swimming in a Vermont river bed. Strong, flat abs, tanned and toned arms and legs, and a smile like I had no idea what was coming.
I didn’t… the good (so much good) and the bad (just a little bad). But human as we are, we can sometimes dwell on the bad, and think the bad is bigger than it is. The bad that I’m confronting lately is something that all women must face, and women who have lots of babies have to face it faster. It’s the giving up of our bodies. Slowly it happens, and despite our best efforts or lame efforts, we see the signs of age, and signs of wear on these beautiful baby making machines that we walk around in. I remember after baby number five I was trying on some clothes in a dressing room and in the multiple full length mirrors I saw… my bum. I didn’t recognize it. It looked more like the rear end of one of the lunch ladies that I had stood behind as a kid in public school, than something that belonged to me. This is my body? I thought.
It kept happening. Most of us know what becomes of breasts that have been nursed many times. In use they look great, out of use they can be a sad little sight, resembling deflated balloons. This is my body?
I’ve inherited problematic varicose veins that are especially bad with pregnancy. I generally cover them up, but one recent day in the heat, I walked around the house without any leggings under my above-the-knee skirt. My 12-year-old son noticed them for the first time, and without thinking blurted out “Ugh! What’s wrong with your legs?” My husband immediately reprimanded him, and good boy that he is he felt awful about it. I fought back tears from sensitivity, and we had a nice talk about how it’s a small price for me to pay for this new baby, and how we must watch what we say when we see things that repulse us.
This is my body.
You might guess where I am going with this. Jesus is teaching me a lesson and He is teaching you a lesson and He reminds us of it at every Mass. He was in the prime of His life when He offered his sacred flesh for us, and He did not spare Himself. His figure on the cross repulsed many; even some of those who loved Him didn’t want to witness the grotesque picture of the crucifixion. Yet it is that bloody, messy, fleshy, gruesome, drama that wins our birth into heaven, and proves him the best kind of King, not one that rules without care for His people, but one that loves them to the point of death.
Besides nausea and vomiting, fatigue, stretch marks, swelling, skin irritations and a possible temporary diabetic state, getting pregnant is an invitation to almost any weird and unfavorable condition (Drew Barrymore grew a goatee!) Sometimes humorous, but mostly uncomfortable, we must remember that we are fortunate that we get to so closely imitate our Redeemer in our self-donation and physical sufferings. Our lives as mothers can be living witnesses to the Last Supper and the Crucifixion.
I recently read of a woman in Massachusetts who jumped out of the window of a burning second story apartment building with her 18 month old son to escape death. She landed in such a way that he was not harmed, yet her own spine and legs were so damaged that she may never walk again. When she woke up in the hospital and heard the news, her only thought was of the safety of her son. I think of this woman, sacrificing her ability to walk for her child, and I try to be grateful that my crosses are so small in comparison.
Look at any modern magazine-or don’t— there will always be a temptation for us to use our bodies for personal gain, glory, and vanity. Lucifer was the most beautiful of angels, and he’s the one that got into trouble. Eternal trouble. I’m not saying don’t try to do the best with what you’ve got. I think we have a duty to do just that. But, we are all going down and we might as well enjoy the ride while gaining spiritual profit from our decline. Give it up with a smile, let things go when it’s time for them to go, and see Heaven as the prize.
In Church history, the pelican has been a sacred symbol of the Eucharist. Pelicans, during a time of famine, will peck at their own flesh, drawing blood, and feed it to their young so that they will survive. What a beautiful image this is for us of Christ, and it speaks of our call as mothers too. St. Paul says “That He may increase and that I may decrease.” We can say the same regarding our children. It is the nature of things, and it is God’s way, that they may increase in stature and beauty, and that we may decrease in the eyes of the world. During this time of spiritual famine in our country, may we not lose sight of the privilege it is to be as pelicans to our children and echo the sacred words of Christ: This is my body, which will be given up for you!
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