In Search of an Embodied Faith

Lately my feet have been hurting and I don’t know exactly why but I’m inclined to blame my winter boots. They were a Christmas gift last year and have me looking much more youthful and stylish than I really am, but they’re good boots: expensive, I’m sure, and sturdy. I’ve had no complaints about them until I took a longer walk than usual one morning and paid for it the next day. But other than that, I guess my feet haven’t exactly hurt as much as they’ve just felt uncomfortable. I find myself aware of them a lot, which is not what I’ve found to be a normal relationship one typically has with one’s feet.

In all of this noticing, I’ve realized that I have somehow come into the habit of standing on the sides of my feet when I’m at home and shoeless (which, as a mother and a writer, I am quite often both.) This poor form must be contributing to the discomfort lately, I reason, and so continue catching myself and self-correcting a dozen times a day, like I am my own overeager podiatrist-on-the-shoulder who won’t let one wrong move slide. Or like an ever-present yoga teacher, reminding myself to firmly plant my soles lest I miss out on a full rootedness to the earth.

I like the second imagery much better (because I find Eastern exercise sexier than podiatry), but the problem is I am not actually anywhere close to the earth, and I know it. The earth, as it were, is currently covered in a foot of frozen precipitation—a state in which it will remain for the next two months, at least. I’m not actually interested in putting my shoeless foot into fully rooted contact with the earth anytime soon, and it’s hard to conjure up a deep longing to be one with my linoleum kitchen floor.

Maybe this is the actual problem with my feet: winter.

Because sure, okay, I’m no nature goddess in February but you should see me in July. Some days I don’t even look for my shoes. I acutely remember this past summer wondering in the shower if that layer of brown was ever going to go down the drain or if I should patron one of those sketchy nail salons that shave off your heel with a razor. It did finally wear away around October, which is good because I can’t afford pedicures.

I’ve read in a few places that masculine spirituality leans toward the heavenly and feminine spirituality is more earthy: what we all need (regardless of gender) is a balance of the two, yet Christianity is a religion that tends toward the masculine. This is bothersome, you see, because Christianity happens to be my religion. Had twenty-year-old me spent less time sitting through charismatic sermons about the “third heaven” (I was never sure what happened to the first two) and more time with my toes in the dirt, maybe I wouldn’t have such cranky arches now in my mid-thirties. Maybe I would also know what it means to embody a spirituality.

What I’ve learned about myself this past year—and it was quite a shock to the system—is that I actually communicate with the Divine through and in my body. Fancy that: this thing isn’t just a vessel to get me to heaven, where the real party begins. I discovered this by resolving to notice more. I noticed that my heart rate quickens with fear and distance in response to hearing something I disagree with. God, I need you there. Noticing the tears on my cheeks when I read something that moves me so deeply it can be nothing less than Spirit-speak. God, I hear you there. Noticing what my hips teach me when I stretch, reminding me not to rush away from tension. To not fear it. To welcome it and find that it will not, after all, kill me. That perhaps remaining in discomfort can somehow make me more than I was. God, I feel you there.

This, they tell me, is feminine spirituality, which is not relegated to women alone—that is an important distinction. Male and female both must have masculine and feminine qualities to our spiritual lives. But I’d rather shame my feet for hurting than ask them what they need.

Speaking of feet, I think I’ll go soak them now. I’ll run some warm water and find a clean cloth and remember a man who embodied the feminine as well as the masculine. I’ll wash my own feet because listening to my body is not nothing. Actually, it might just be the beginning of all the somethings.

Photo by Jesse Bowser on Unsplash

Shannon Evans
Childbirth as Rite of Initiation

Lately, in my house, we’ve been thinking about the reality of death. No one is terminally ill, and no one we know has recently died, so I realize this sounds rather morbid. Let me explain.
Last May, my husband joined a hundred other men in the desert of New Mexico for five days to participate in a rite of male initiation. A year ago, neither of us had ever heard of such a thing—at least not in our modern Western context—but when he stumbled upon Illuman and got to know the purpose behind it, he was intrigued. As he researched more on the subject of rites of passage, we were both fascinated to find that some form of such a ritual is present in almost every indigenous culture on earth, and has been throughout history. Clearly, there is something substantial here that our “advanced” Western culture is missing.
His story is not mine to tell, but yes, it is fair to say he was changed—even months later I can see that. He is simultaneously more confident and more compassionate, and there is an awareness of his unconscious that he did not have before. Where did this transformation come from, I wondered. According to my husband, a rite of initiation includes the following:
  1. There must be a loss of control and a reckoning with the truth that your life is not about you.
  2. A confrontation with death that was more mental, emotional, and spiritual, rather than physical.

Shannon Evansmotherhood
Lauren Walsh Gallery, Etsy

“I thank Thee God, that Thou hast made me a man and not a woman.” 

So prayed every faithful Jewish man in Israel first thing in the morning, every single day, at the time of Jesus’ birth. Even the most pure-hearted of men, like our beloved Saint Joseph, would have recited these words with the rising of the sun; and so, its only fair to say it's not an indictment against moral character but a product of the time and place they were in.* And yet, there the words are: suspended as the backdrop for every single Bible story we know so well. Potent. Formative. Far from neutral.

Lately, due to circumstances in my personal life, the severity of Mary’s situation has become more obvious to me. Not just in being found with child before marriage, although that alone was cause for capital punishment. But after a good man spared her life—once word got out that she was claiming her baby was the Son of God. Once she refused to denounce the message she had been given, the part of God’s Self that had been revealed to her. What then? Herod sought to end the life of the one-day king, but how many others wanted to snuff out the light of his mother?

How despised Mary must have been by men, especially the religious! She thinks she knows God in a way we don’t? She thinks God could dwell inside her? She thinks God drinks from her breasts?! I cannot fathom a historical reality in which her life would not have been threatened.

The punishment for a woman caught in adultery was public stoning, but what for a woman who claimed to have conceived by the Holy Spirit? At best, she must have been the subject of misogynistic ridicule. At worst, you can’t tell me there weren’t men ready to see her dead.

Shut the woman up. She’s trying to tell the people something about God without our permission. Throw the stones and watch her bleed.

Perhaps this is why men have been so weird about Mary for over 2,000 years, arguing about whether her hymen had torn and composing hymns called “Gentle Woman,” when for all we know she was the fiercest female in all of Galilee.

Why does no one talk about how dangerous Mary was? How endangered she must have been? Mary was too threatening, too powerful. Men couldn’t kill her, so they painted her black eyes blue, muzzled her, and put her on display in European art museums. But she would not be silenced.

She arose in Perpetua.
She arose in Catherine of Siena.
She arose in Clare.
She arose in Hildegard of Bingen.
She arose in Sarah Winnemucca.
She arose in Harriet Tubman.
She arose in Dorothy Day.
She arose in Rosa Parks.
She arose in Madeleine L’Engle.
She arose in Frida.
She arises, she arises, and still, she arises.

And by the grace of God, woman, may she arise in you and in me.

* (The words continue to be recited as part of the morning blessing by Orthodox Jews to this day, but I leave the contemporary wrestling with it to my Jewish brothers and sisters. My stream of faith has enough problems of its own without judging the predicaments of others.)
Shannon Evans