My job at church each Sunday is to sit in a circle with thirteen bright and big eyed middle school girls while we talk about God, He who wants us to make good choices and remember our divine natures. He who listens to our prayers and appreciates it when we don't drink beer. All the while we giggle nervously and fiddle with our hair and wonder where we fit. It is, for me, a daunting thing. I am overwhelmed by the fragility of this age where the human body and spirit are in a constant state of flux. How in heaven's name do I contribute anything meaningful to their ever evolving vision of who they are and where they belong when I, too, feel like a flopping fish out of water both as a young women's leader and as a Mormon feminist in Utah County?
I am still figuring out the answer to that question. Check back with me in about a year.
Next Sunday, we will sit in our circle once again, and they will look at me bright and big eyed as I attempt this delicate lesson: Why Should I Treat My Body Like A Temple?
I have heard and experienced too many stories of young women being warned in Sunday school lessons to protect their hallowed bodies (and by extension their sexuality) else they end up like a licked cupcake, a chewed up piece of gum, or some other yuck-factor metaphor. Unfortunately, these kinds of messages accomplish the very thing we try to avoid--the transformation of our complex, smart, creative, and spiritual young women into processed sugar. Like Twinkie treats. Or maybe, more appropriately, Ho Ho's. They objectify young women in the same insidious ways as does modern media, albeit they do it using church speak and bad analogies. No, this mess cannot happen on my watch.
And so I'm meditating on this lesson I've been asked to give and trying to figure out the best way to impress upon these girls the inherent goodness of their bodies--bodies that are simultaneously born from earth and woven with celestial threads. I want them to love their emerging curves and changing textures and to not, like most of us women have, absorb our culture's body-loathing zeitgeist. I want them to become the kind of women who do not claim responsibility for men's thoughts and actions (I cannot snort loud enough at the proposition that women are responsible for anything untoward that men may do or think) but instead claim guardianship over their relationship with God as they understand it is not the measure of their skirt that saves, but the measure of their hearts. I want them to become the kind of women who move their tall, short, boney, heavy, crooked, freckled, pale skinned, brown skinned, scarred, perfect bodies confidently and fearlessly because they are oriented in the world--they know where they are going and they know from whence they came. I want them to become the kind of women who view their sexuality as an inherently divine power to gather and multiply rather than something so shameful so as to divide them from themselves.
I realize as I write this that I want these girls to become the kind of woman I am still learning to be. Can I correct my own sins through this rising generation? Can I forgive my own body her flabby bits and cellulite in order to teach these girls what a miracle it is to inhabit skin, bone, and muscle? Can I walk taller as I remember (over and over) that God's divine breath is the very thing that propels my feet forward--that my motor and movements are heaven made? Yes. The answer to all of these questions is yes. These girls and I--we're bonded together and we're bounding forward. I'm certain that we'll learn from each other what it means to inhabit these wild and wise bodies of ours without apology and without reservation. And I hope at some point, weeks, months or years from now, that when asked what metaphor we would like to use to represent our bodies, we'll say earnestly, "A temple." Or, better yet, "Perhaps you have a portrait of God Herself?"