In the fifth grade, I weighed 150 lbs. The reason I know this is because my mother took me to the doctor to inquire about my weight problem. That it was a “problem” was evident to me well before I stepped on the doctor’s scale for my classmates diligently reminded me every day on the playground, in the hallways, and on the bus. In that eleventh year of my life, I started to understand that bodies have meaning and that some bodies were bad. As luck or fate or God would have it, I got one of the bad ones (or so I thought).
As I matured into my teen years, I lost the physical weight but gained a different weight through my church. I learned through sermons and youth group lessons that our bodies could not only be bad, but they could be eternally bad. For St. Paul says, “if you live according to the flesh, you will die; but if by the Spirit you put to death the misdeeds of the body, you will live” (Rom. 8:13 NIV). And elsewhere Paul notes, “For we know that our old self was crucified with him so that the body ruled by sin might be done away with” (Rom. 6:6 NIV).
Of course, in those days, I didn’t understand what Paul meant by the term “flesh” and I didn’t have a robust enough theology to grasp God’s great pleasure in all that he created including the human body. I further suspect that my pastors didn’t even mis-teach those passages from Romans, but that I mis-heard them. Since my body was one of the bad ones, Paul’s words made complete sense and were accepted at face value. Add the fact that my body had a growing desire for sexual connection with other men, and you have the perfect recipe for Gnosticism.
The fear of my body that I experienced as a young person had turned into hatred for it as an adult.And, so, I became an unconscious Gnostic—one who believes that material things like the body are of no value (at best) or are evil (at worst) and that the spirit alone is tending toward eternal life. Only last year did a friend point out to me that I had unknowingly embraced this heresy. The fear of my body that I experienced as a young person had turned into hatred for it as an adult. As if my body alone were the seedbed of sin and if I could get the “real Andy” away from it then I could finally be free of sin (and particularly the sexual sins that have plagued me).
But hatred is never a way forward with God. For what my body needed was not disdain and a heavy-handed approach, but the gentle and ongoing touch of love. For many of my gay brothers and sisters finding such a touch has taken the form of engaging in healthy (and, sometimes, unhealthy) physical intimacy with members of the same sex. Others have chosen to get involved in sports, yoga, and other physical activities that help reconnect them with their body. For my part, I have started getting a monthly massage as a way to receive touch and attend to the needs of my body.
Yet, my body still scares me. Its desires remain so foreign to my understanding that I often can’t see how to meet them in healthy, God-honoring ways. Excuse me, I meant to say that my desires often seem so foreign to me. For my body is not an “it” or an “other.” My body is me. My body is as much me as my intellect, my emotions, and my spirit. My body is going to me for all eternity. Yes, God will redeemed and transform it, but I will be a body forever.
As such, it seems God-honoring to learn to care for and love my body now. I pray that in doing so, I will find myself at peace no matter my body’s weight or the direction of my attractions.