A friend and I were indulging in our occasional taco Tuesday, when the conversation turned to, as it often does these days, how grateful we are to have finished graduate school earlier this year. Trading night classes for tequila is a deal we will revel in for a while. During round two of margaritas, my friend recounted a recent Sunday afternoon where she had a panic attack in Whole Foods because she had not been home all day and she thought there were piles of homework awaiting her. She quickly reminded herself that is no longer the case; but forget it, her body was in full panic mode, remembering the constant state of stress that comes at the end of the semester. Similarly, I have found my body very tense, even though this is the least stressful Advent I have known in the past three years. I find it fascinating that cognitively I know I do not have finals to prepare for or papers to write, yet after the past two years of graduate school, my body is in a rhythm to panic, tense and stress during this season.
Bodies remember the good and bad things that happen to them. If a board creaks in the middle of the night, my body shoots up in bed and my heart involuntarily races miles ahead of my mind, remembering the night a stranger broke into a house during a sleepover. With the smell of peppermint, my body immediately relaxes as it remembers my grandmother’s gentle touch or her holding my hand, while sucking on what seemed like a never-ending mint. For others, their bodies know the trauma of sexual assault, the wild pain and joy of giving birth and so on.
Advent is a reminder that God cares and comes for the physical things of this world. During the first three weeks of Advent, we await Jesus who has already come to us in body and will come again. In the last week of Advent, we turn our attention to Jesus who came to us as the Christ-child. Being attuned to our bodies during the Advent season allows us to once again welcome the Christ-child, Emmanuel, God who is with us. So, as we prepare our hearts this Advent season to once again welcome the Christ-child and remember Christ who already came and is coming again, let us also prepare our bodies. (I am neither prescribing we all join Santa 5Ks to run off the candy canes, cocktails and cookies, nor am I promoting the ludicrous body shaming that occurs around the holidays!) For some, this simply means paying attention to what our bodies are saying to us: the creaks, gurgles and pulsing energy. For others, maybe it’s being conscious of our bodily participation in the Eucharist; aware of our physicality as we partake in the Body and Blood of Christ. For me, this means working through my anxious, needless distractions in yoga, so that my body can be still and present to Emmanuel, God with us.
During this season, whether your body is tense with stress, recovering from trauma, coursing with energy or stiff from the cold, please know that God cares so much for these experiences that God comes to us in human form. The Christ-child came and will come again, not only to draw our hearts closer to God, but our whole selves.
This year the Cathedral Advent Meditations have been offering prayers for the community. Today, I invite you to participate in J. Philip Newell’s body prayer.