Bodies are Sacred | by Holly Hudley

Over the weekend I got into a conversation with a really brilliant woman about what it might mean to be human right now, in this moment. If you heard Sister Ilia Delio speak a few years ago, you might remember her saying that in the 14 billion year unfolding of our planet, humans are the last word of an incomplete sentence in the last volume of history. We are a blip. We are babies in this whole evolutionary cycle. And yet we are conscious enough to actually understand deep time. While I take solace in knowing everything comes from something and evolution is unfinished, in knowing that I am a small part of something so vast, it is also troubling to grapple with purpose. As far as we know we are the only sentient creatures who use symbolic consciousness to make art and tell stories. It doesn’t mean we are necessarily superior, but it might mean we are called to use our consciousness in an intentional way. Maybe we are called to observe and record so that we can transform. 

If asked, I think most conscious beings have an opinion about how they want their bodies to be treated. Think even of the animal who bites back if it is abused. This is a form of protest. We don’t have an agreed upon ethic that all bodies deserve the utmost care, so it remains in the fuzzy arena of personal morality. In many cultures women’s bodies have varying degrees of say so in how they want to be treated. I read an article that labeled the #MeToo movement a feminist liberal if only liberal women get raped, assaulted, or molested. We’ve just witnessed an incredibly intelligent woman be dismissed and even ridiculed for having the audacity to speak the truth about her body. She should have been championed. Not only because she spoke up 30 years later, but also because she kicked out and protested when she was first assaulted. Instead at least 51% of our governing body dismissed her experience as untrue or unimportant. She wanted her body to be dignified, and it was not. It is the same, I think, with black bodies. Our democracy was founded on harm done (first) to indigenous and (second) to African bodies. Poet and Playwright Claudia Rankine asked her friend what it’s like being the mother of a black son. “The condition of black life is one of mourning,” she said. That resonates with me. Though I am not black, I am raising biracial sons. As a woman I know the feeling of not having a total say in how my body is treated (I don’t know very many men who walk down the street and get unsolicited catcalls), but as a white person I do not live in fear of being suspect. I don’t want to create that fear in my sons, but I must also live in reality. A reality that too often falls short of our best hope. I want my boys to have a say so in how their bodies are treated, but I am aware that they might not always be afforded that dignity. The onus will be on them to have a stronger sense of self than anyone who might disparage them. A black man in America knows what’s at stake if he even remotely loses his cool with an unkind policeman. A woman in America knows what’s at stake if she wears a skirt too short. “They had it coming,” we will say. It shouldn’t be this way. 

The bodies we are given are our sacred forms. I don’t mean this in a puritanical, “don’t have sex before marriage” kind of way, but as an echo of the Aristotelian view of form. Aristotle is in a long line of philosophers who believe the soul is of the sacred “whole” that gives our bodies life. Call it stardust, call it God, call it cosmos, but without this little bit of the divine in us, our “essence” as it were, we would not know to seek our truest selves. Each and every body, then, deserves to be seen as sacred. Every time we disparage or harm a person’s body, we are dismissing part of their essence. 

In his time, Teilhard de Chardin understood the universe to be both spiritual and physical.  Matter cannot exist without form, and form is always spiritual. To be human is to have a form, what we call our body. Thus, our bodies are always spiritual.

What will make this truth matter to all of us? What will recall us to the very essence of being human?

At this point in time it is not enough to be non racist. We are called to be anti racist.

It is not enough to live on the earth. We must see ourselves as part of the earth.

It is not enough to have a body. We must love our body and speak from its essence. 

These are the bodies I honor today.

These are the bodies I honor today.

Love loves truth | by Holly Hudley

I’m just going to leave this one here today. We have a lot to think about as a nation, as a people, as a world.

1 Corinthians 13:6 says, “Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth.”

If we identify with love, if we want deep in ourselves to BE love, then we must be willing to hear the truth. When people speak from the most painful, often small parts of themselves, the greatest thing we can give them is our love.

How will you show up for the truth today?

Seeking the Self | by Holly Hudley

Paul, my dear fried Paul: We need to talk about this one. Love, you say, is not self seeking. But it is exactly this. 

If I presuppose that love is the nature of the universe and of God, and that we are the physical manifestation of the universe becoming conscious of itself, then that nature of Love is also in us. And in fact, the only way to know this love that resides in the very core of our being is to seek it.

Richard Rohr writes that the nature of God is essentially good, and that our nature is essentially good if we are in fact made in that image. We’ve heard Bill and others make the claim that God is not this “out there” phenomenon that we have to get to. Rather, God is right here, among us and inside us. In an evolutionary view, human beings are evident of expanding consciousness which is in a state of co-evolution with the whole sacred universe. With each movement around the sun, the universe expands and lends some of that to us. We are not simply swimming around the same fishbowl year in and year out! There is, Rohr says, a little piece of God that wants to be known in all of us. 

Taking a cosmological view, it’s widely accepted and proven that we are made of the same elements as the stars. As stars die, turn to dust, and filter into the ether, that dust becomes part of us. They are our ancestors. Myths throughout human history speak of humans using the stars to navigate, to create stories, to place our bodies inside of a wider context. We use high powered telescopes to observe them, know them, understand them. It’s easy, I imagine, to feel small in the vastness of the star studded sky, and it is awe striking to let that also create in us a sense of belonging. As we look up into the heavens, we are, essentially, seeking ourselves and our origins. To love the stars, to discover them, is to love ourselves.

If we refuse to seek God in us, or Love in us, then we will never - not ever - be able to extend it wholly to or see it in others. Living without shared love is a lonely kind of deprivation. It starts by looking inside and being open to believing that we are not only a vessel for love, but a conduit for it as well. Stepping into our nature, and what I believe is the nature of the universe, can transform us on an individual and collective level. What I know for sure is that no social change has begun without relationship, without being willing to see the good in another, without being willing to fall in love just a little bit.  Most of us know that love is complex and often messy but It. Is. Worth it.

“Life,” Brian Swimme says, “is not possible without vast, mysterious, and ongoing transformation.” And this transformation is not possible without giving into the gravitational pull of the desire to know and be known. 

A meditation practice I have come to rely on is one in which I visualize the little girl parts of me that felt wounded, hurt, or alone. I imagine holding her, telling her she is loved, that she is worthy of love and just beautiful the way she is. Funny thing is that those little girl bits are still in me. They are part of me. As I seek them, I am seeking me. And at 42, when I sometimes still feel wounded, hurt, or alone, I imagine my older, wiser, time worn self placing her hand upon my cheek saying, “You’re going to be just fine.” She too is part of me. Calling upon her is seeking love within me to make itself known. 

So you see: Love is self seeking. 

Kindness | by Holly Hudley

Dear Paul:

Can we talk about 1Corinthians 13:4b - Love is kind - for just a minute? On this I fundamentally agree with you. When love is Love, like big capital T true Love, it is always kind. But the trouble is people who say they love you often get sideways and say or do unkind things. This is being human, right? I’ve gotten sideways a few times before. 

One of the first things a child learns in a healthy family structure is trust. This is experienced through safe affection, responsiveness to cries, affirmation of experiences, and consistency in routines. But there’s this other layer of metacommunication - what someone says without really  saying it. Bono, of the band U2, sings it this way: “You gotta cry without weeping, talk without speaking, scream without raising your voice!” When a mother’s explicit, verbal communication is, “Honey, you know I love you so much,” but her eyes are hostile and her body is rigid, the metacommunication is confusing and contradictory. When this type of message is consistent over time, Love is not felt as kindness. The child cannot leave the field, so to speak, and her inner and outer experiences are distorted growing up in this reality. Emerging from such a space, coming to believe that “love is kind” is sometimes a life long journey. 

The question again becomes, “How shall we love?” Both so that the love we give is kind and so we can transform confusing love into genuine kindness. I don’t think you meant that love is kind, therefore we should just become immovable doormats in the face of not love. I don’t think you meant kindness is only your wide hipped rosy cheeked granny who says “Fiddlesticks!” with a chipped tooth grin and serves cookies after school. I’ve begun to think that there are two, sometimes competing, forms of kindness - toward self and toward others. 

Kindness toward self might be what one dear friend calls fierce love. There are times when our patterns of behavior no longer work or when the unspoken rules we live by aren’t mutually beneficial. If we live with an alcoholic, or any kind of co-dependent actually, placating them gets toxic and ceases to work for both parties. A kindness toward self is setting limits about what you will or will not tolerate. When you draw a firm but loving line for a boundary pusher that they cannot cross, I guarantee it will make them mad. It won’t feel kind to them at first. But I also guarantee both of you will feel safer. If I sit with a person who says something like, “Your husband doesn’t sound black,” (which has happened) a kindness toward myself, my husband, and ultimately to the sayer could be, “And what do you think a black person sounds like?” It’s a different type of metacommuication that most likely causes an awkward pause, but hopefully opens a small space where a biased thought has potential to unravel. In this space, no one’s dignity is stripped. Such a response has the ability to say, “I’m not really down with what you’re saying, but ok...I’ll ask some questions so we can dialogue about it. Maybe then I can understand you, and you can understand me. Maybe then we can both shift toward each other.” A kindness might also be saying nothing because you can’t grope around for the question past the rising exasperation. Kindness is holding everything and nothing in the same hand, wondering what it’s like to be the other while never losing sight of yourself. Maybe It’s the simple breath that keeps us alive as in Naomi Shihab Nye’s far more elegant summation.

Before you know what kindness really is
you must lose things,
feel the future dissolve in a moment
like salt in a weakened broth.
What you held in your hand,
what you counted and carefully saved,
all this must go so you know
how desolate the landscape can be
between the regions of kindness.
How you ride and ride
thinking the bus will never stop,
the passengers eating maize and chicken
will stare out the window forever.

Before you learn the tender gravity of kindness,
you must travel where the Indian in a white poncho
lies dead by the side of the road.
You must see how this could be you,
how he too was someone
who journeyed through the night with plans
and the simple breath that kept him alive.

Before you know kindness as the deepest thing inside,
you must know sorrow as the other deepest thing.
You must wake up with sorrow.
You must speak to it till your voice
catches the thread of all sorrows
and you see the size of the cloth.

Then it is only kindness that makes sense anymore,
only kindness that ties your shoes
and sends you out into the day to mail letters and purchase bread,
only kindness that raises its head
from the crowd of the world to say
It is I you have been looking for,
and then goes with you everywhere
like a shadow or a friend.
Richard Wingfield’s “notes” from class

Richard Wingfield’s “notes” from class

Love is... | by Holly Hudley

A footnote for Paul’s letter to the Corinthians.

Dear Paul: I want to talk to you about love. It’s such an easy word to toss around. It’s the only one in the English language used to talk about anything we have deep affection for: chocolate, baseball, kids, God. Love is even used to define God: God is Love. It’s kind of mind-blowing that we use the same word to enunciate our feelings for a whole gamut of things. I mean how different can chocolate and God really be? Certainly they do not require different levels of devotion.

Sonnets, Songs, Movies, Bible verses, Books...all of these have committed themselves to helping us understand love in varying degrees. It is, as I wrote before, the hardest, easiest thing. The only way we can understand what we mean by love, is through metaphor, negation, and affirmation. So when we say, “Just go in love, brother” we seem to understand on some abstract level what that means. Be good. Do good. That’s it. 

Ok, but...still the questions, “How shall we live? How shall we love?” ring in my ears. 

1 Corinthians 13:4 (NIV) says,Love is patient.” Yeah, okay. I agree. I’ve even heard myself advise new moms to call on deep reserves of this. Heck, any of us who engage on any level with another human need gallons of this. Patience is what I strive for when I am shaken out of sleep by my first kid jumping on me. I get up, look myself hard in the mirror, toothbrush in hand, and say, “Holly, today you’re going to be more patient.” When I do yoga and picture that little golden ball of light in my third eye, my mantra is often “patience.” But the day is long. There are 1440 minutes in a day, approximately 420 of those I’m asleep. So that leaves 1020 minutes to practice patience. The best and first test is getting 3 little boys to put their shoes on - not necessarily with matching or even clean socks - without complaint and with relative efficiency between minute 27 and 28 of my day so that they’ll be on time by minute 35. I have yet to master this. But if I love my kids I’m going to be patient, right? Not so. At least not always. I love my kids in a more full-bodied way than I have loved anything ever. I don’t stop loving them even when I lose my patience. I can follow this thread down and say losing my patience is an indication that I’m attached to an outcome. And being attached to an outcome points to the fact that I need to work on my dharma. And needing to work on my dharma implies that I am most definitely not the Buddha. And not being the Buddha means flowers do not spring up everywhere I walk. Let’s face it, though: if the Buddha were a mother, he would not have been the Buddha. Maybe his mother planted those flowers though. 

Rewrite #1: Love is not always patient. Just because you lose your patience with that which you love does not mean you no longer love well.

In 1963, during the heart of the Civil Rights Movement, Martin Luther King, Jr. said, “We are now faced with the fact that tomorrow is today. We are confronted with the fierce urgency of now. In this unfolding conundrum of life and history, there is such a thing as being too late...this is a time for vigorous and positive action.”

His words are not patient. They are, however, full of love. 

For too long justice seekers were held at bay, told to wait just a little bit longer, turned back and away by white faces saying, “Not yet.” The fact is black folks in America had been waiting for hundreds of years. Yesterday was too late. This rings true in our present moment as we consider the Black Lives Matter movement, marriage equity, humane immigration policy, and confronting rampant sexual assault. We live in the “fierce urgency of now,” and seeking justice requires passionate action more than it requires patience. Try being patient when it is your child who is shot in the back because he looked suspicious in his hoodie or when it is your child who is bullied and driven further into herself because she is gay. I am not looking to shock with dramatic illustrations here. I am reaching no further than reality. No, righting these situations does not require patience. It requires Love. 

Alicia Garza, co-founder of Black Lives Matter, says her work grew from a love note. “Black people,” she wrote. “I love you. I love us. Our lives matter.” The movement grew from a steady, deep love and passionate celebration of life. I imagine she could not wait for an unlikely acquittal nor for one more murder to get going. She was no longer willing to say, “We’ll get ‘em next time” as if facing an athletic opponent in a race for some pennant or another. Holding on to the golden threads of those who came before her, she grasped the fierce urgency of now. This is not patience, but it is deep and full with love. 

Rewrite #2: Love is not always patient. Acting on injustice requires us to be in the “fierce urgency of now.”

If Corinthians implores us, then, that “Love is patient” is there ever a time when this is so? It happens in small moments when I take a breath, bend down to tie my boy’s shoes, place my hands on his cheeks, my forehead against his forehead, and remind myself, “This moment, Holly. This one right here.”

It happens in communities when a son or daughter dies from blood loss or loses hope in living and those left hold each other engulfed in despair and grief when all they want is to bottle the last breaths of their beloved. This kind of love is patient. And patience is required of us every time we lace up our boots when we least want to but do it anyway and get back to the work of being human. If the Cosmos is another name for God and God is Love and Love is patient, then there is room inside of all that is vast for messy humanity. There are definitely moments of impatience inside the ginormous container of love, and other moments when an act of love is driven by urgency. I need to work on patience in the small moments, but in the large moments that drive the arc of human history toward justice, maybe a little impatience moves the needle. In the 14 billion years of this universe’s existence, it would take 9.5 billion more years for the earth to form, and still 9,499,800,000 more for modern humans to evolve. That’s a really long time for love to reveal itself in the form of a conscious being. So yes, I can buy it. That Love is patient. I think it’s waiting on us to actually live into love.