Stories of Our Bodies

In a world that often prioritizes rationality and intellect over intuition and our bodies’ cues, can we really “trust our gut”? 

In this episode, Dan and Rachael explore the historical and cultural division between body and soul, shedding light on how our Western society tends to overlook the stories held within our bodies.  

Drawing from a biblical perspective, they challenge the notion of this separation, highlighting the notion that our bodies are good and created in the image of God.

By recognizing that the division between body and soul is a consequence of brokenness rather than an intended design, we can embark on a path toward healing, integration, and flourishing.

Episode Transcript:

Dan: Rachael, we’ve been told a number of times never to make too much of a connection between one episode and another. So I’m not going to make a connection, but I’m going to say there is between the category that we’re going to be addressing today, and that is the story of your body. I used the word your, and I am not referring to your body, Rachael, but to our body, to the body that we bear in this world and the role of shame. So as we begin to ask the question, do you know the story of shame? It’s also an important question to ask to the story of your body. And they’re connected, but we’re not going to, shall we say, entirely engage. So Rachael, what’s the story of your body?

Rachael: No, I’m not starting with the story of my body. No, let’s…

Dan: Fine, you can turn the question on the one who asked you.

Rachael: I think we should start off by more generically, just let’s ease into it. What do we mean by the story of the body? Your body, my body, our body in general? Yeah.

Dan: I’m fine for being gentile. I’m known as a very gentle person. So the reality is, even as we talk about the body, we’ve got to in one sense take away so much thousands of years fundamentally of neoplatonism, that the body, even if we’ve said it a million times, it’s not enough to counter thousands of years that the body is bad and the spirit is good. That’s the essence of neoplatonism. That somehow the body is actually seen to be equivalent to the biblical category of the flesh and understandably, but also mistakenly. So as we begin to address this, we have to actually know that we’re in a several thousand year conversation where a motion in particular in the body and in terms of Aristotle, Plato, there was this disparagement, the height of what is mature is to be rational. The height of to be immature is to be emotional. And this is where the heartbreaking misogyny of Greek philosophy has indeed insidiously spread through thousands of years of men are rational, women are emotional, and therefore at some core level, women are less mature, less capable of leading, of thinking, of actually making difficult and good decisions. So when we step into this whole notion of body, let’s just say there is a level of debris that I think even by just naming we can’t, shall we say, escape having to address and perhaps readdress many times.

Rachael: And I think that’s why when you said, Racheal, what is the story of your body? My response was, no, no, because we have to name some of this debris in the water we’re swimming in. And again, we’ve just named a part of it. But I feel like as we were talking about shame, I actually am very passionate about this topic and the story of our bodies because I actually think we know that biblically they’re core to who we are as children of God and created in the image of God. They are the temple we’ve been given to inhabit this earth to be the hands and feet of Jesus and the kingdom. And even though for so many of us raised in the church, our Christian story often starts with the fall. That’s not actually the beginning of the story. The beginning of the story is creation. And God created and said it’s good. And so for me, working in trauma with people coming from especially Christian theological biblical frameworks, so much of the work I get to do that I really love and care about is helping people recover a sense that their bodies are good, are meant to be trustworthy, are truth tellers. Now, again, not above all else and not as the only kind of truth teller that we have, we’re not meant to. I mean, it’s just sometimes we’ve got to get out of this binary thinking. We are meant to use all that we’ve been given toward wisdom. But there is a need to reclaim the wisdom of the body and to do that good work of talking about what is the difference between the flesh and the body and where that’s been conflated. But knowing that none of us have escaped the effects of the fall and the fragmentation and the harm and everything we were talking about with regard to shame is so embodied and inherently bodily. And that’s what we were talking about. So when we talk about the story of our bodies, we are getting into the realm of some of the ground zero of our stories of harm because you can’t… no relational harm, there’s no amount of harm that somehow you experience that bypasses the body. And so we, we need our bodies and we need to have the freedom and permission to be present in our bodies. But in order to do that, we actually do have to get into not just the hard stories, but also the beautiful good stories that help us know it’s so worth fighting for. Our bodies are so worth fighting for.

Dan: Well, and to me, an example of that is that through most of my life, even without being in the church or in a religious context, the notion of trusting your gut was absolutely viewed as abject foolishness. So the notion that our stomach, particularly through our vagal nerve actually holds the capacity to see, feel, and actually think about reality that there are in our stomachs, the ancients would have looked at our intestines as actually the place of wisdom. And we’re just beginning to understand that the stomach holds what a large portion of what are called glia cells. And we think of neurons as the basis of our capacity to reason, to think, to choose, et cetera. And it is, but we also know that glia cells are in our brains, but also mediate our capacity to engage, see, feel, and engage reality. So our stomach often is referred to as our second brain. Well, how much of your family life, how much of your church life, how much of your educational life was spent learning to in one sense grow your capacity to tune in to our body, to our stomach, as we were taught in some sense the fundamentals of logical thinking, whether we were aware of it or not, that logistic process of coming to an understanding of truth, we were never invited to engage what could be viewed as right hemisphere. And the Greek word is splagna, your guts, your intestines, or what we know again to be that second brain. So we’ve got so much, shall we say, to address just in trying to return to a basic understanding that our bodies are beautiful, they are holy, and they were meant to in one sense be the reality of our soul’s presence. And here already now we’re in a language war, you have the body, you have the soul, and they’re not the same. And scripture would sort of imply that. And yet there are just many frames where it becomes clear. You just used I Corinthians 6:19, that the body is the very temple, meaning it’s the very presence of God on the earth. So the body’s soul division is in and of itself understandable, but also highly problematic. So I don’t want to get too far in the weeds. I’m already in them, aren’t I?

Rachael: No, but I mean think they’re somewhat important to at least acknowledge that they’re there, right, because they’re the things that will keep us from wanting to get close to the story of our bodies. Because even what you named, we were not encouraged to listen to the splagna, the gut, and I would say to go even further, we were actually discouraged and told to override even when it was sending off danger, danger or something’s off, something’s off or I don’t like this, I don’t like this. It was like, well, that’s lying to you. So you need to just override it with logic. In some ways it’s sinful, it’s not trustworthy. But what you’re saying, what we know to be true beyond just the theological understanding that the body is good, that it’s the temple, is that what you’re saying? That this gut brain is a truth teller and is giving us really good data and wisdom, but we’ve been so skeptical of it and we’ve overridden it. Which again, as someone who’s struggled with anxiety most of my life, which again, when you said story of the body, that’s alot of where I went both being a woman and having a female body certainly work I’m doing on having a white body, but that sense of also having an anxious body and how so much of my life was spent overriding truth-telling signals, which then made them get louder, which then did reinforce like, oh yeah, this isn’t trustworthy. This is so insane and crazy, and how crazy is my body and why is it betraying me? And just set up something of being at odds. And then as I got older and that level of cortisol flooding led to breaking down of parts of my body than a deeper distrust of like you are working against me and how much the story of my body is connected to my stories in general and how it came to bear, what it bears, how it come came to tell the truth that it tells. And then therefore, how healing my body is a very holistic journey. It’s not just a, yes, it involves a lot of tending to the physical and good somatic care. I am a huge advocate of somatic care, but it has also meant getting into the stories that involve my body in this world.

Dan: So when we, again come back to this category of talking about the body, I want to underline that your body is a whole, but your body is also sometimes segmented and fragmented. And just as our brain struggles in the middle of trauma to be able to hold left and right hemisphere processes. So our ability to face a trauma with our left frontal lobe, basically going offline with our thalmus that integrates so much of what’s happening between the left hemisphere, which again generally can be called the more executive functioning part of our brain, our right hemisphere, far more the realm of images, sensations, or emotion. Again, that’s that’s way too simplistic. But nonetheless, there is a kind of truth to that. And in the middle of any form of trauma, our brains will not be functioning the way they were meant to be in Eden. So in that same sense, the fact there’s a division between soul and body, I don’t think Adam and Eve would’ve experienced their body was their soul. Their soul was their body. There was a unity that indeed we know with death that we don’t take our current body into eternity, but we also know from scripture that we will be restored in our body. So again, we don’t know what particularly happens in the division, but it’s a division that’s not meant to be. So we need to have a framework that says part of redemption is the deepened movement of shalom. And as our dear friend Linda Royster brings with the category of shalom, it’s flourishing. So our body and soul is actually meant to be more and more seen, to be part of the flourishing unity that it once was, which means we have to take seriously our body. Its brokenness take seriously, even more so the beauty of the body as it reveals the very presence of the temple of God. So when we’ve got that as a beginning frame, let me come back and say, so now I’ve been a little bit slower. So what’s the story of your body?

Rachael: Oh…

Dan: Do you hear the groan? You begin with? And it’s such an honorable thing because that’s what’s actually reflected in Romans 8. If you look at basically Romans eight 11 through the end of the chapter, but our body’s groan waiting for redemption. So even the fact you’ve groaned, you surely didn’t plan to do that.

Rachael: I also, no, cause I’m also in a postpartum body that’s only eight months postpartum. So right now that feels very, the story of your body feels very, like I just today was crying because Evie’s not loving solids and we’re supposed to be moving toward reducing breastfeeding because solids are increasing and we’re just starting solids. So right now the story of my body is one that is very exhausted and nourishing other human being and just had a stomach bug and had to go get IV fluid. So I think that my groan was both very this present moment and also just how that connects to all the other stories.

Dan: And again, I could not concur more the having shall we say, caught the same bug and still it with some of the remnants of its effect. And then the reality that my wife, after four or five days of me suffering it, I thought she was in the clear and now her body is bearing the effects of that. So the story of your body, I think if we can begin with an important category, it will never be static. There are certain themes that likely have a historical base, a reflection likely of a great deal of our own struggle with our body. Another word for that would be the context of trauma. But we also have to say that your body, as you age, as you go through surgery, as you go through postpartum, as you go through the aging process and there’s even as you age, more potential for decay and debilitation, your body’s story changes. So don’t ever expect a fundamentally quick static or what I would call a non-groan answer. We’re going to groan as we attempt to put words to that. But I would start, if you were to ask me that question to say that for about nine years from probably around age four or five, it happens to be highly correlated. If you look at the photos of my family that within six months of my biological father dying in an auto accident and that my mother was in, and I was in that from about six months after the accident, you can see my little body becoming bigger and bigger and bigger. So between the ages of four or five, and about 13, I became a very large boy. And it further story is my father’s a baker, and when I say my father, my stepfather was a baker. So we had access when he remarried my mother to baked goods that didn’t sell that day. So in the context of tragedy, death, trauma, rival of a new father and pastries, I became a big kid. So the reality of what is the story of my body? I can say trauma, I can say heartache, but there was a war that then became such a sizable, again, no pun intended issue with regard to how other kids, adults dealt with my large body. And so much of the humiliation, the accusations, the judgments made about me almost all had to do with how large I was. Now, what a later became a benefit is that as I grew into the size that I became with a ferocity, with regard to the violence of what had led up to this, I became a pretty good size football player. And so my body changed. But part of the dilemma when we deal with this is that so often the early framework of how our body is identified, named, and engaged ends up being a thematic reality that we often carry with us vastly beyond the era in which it may have been a form of truth.

Rachael: Is it okay with you if I engage you a little bit about that?

Dan: Let’s just say since we’re still not going to edit with a gulp, of course, as long as you let me groan.

Rachael: Yeah. Well, I think I’m just making some connections that obvious that should be obvious to me about your story, but I think would just be beneficial and helpful to put some language to, especially for our listeners, because even as you talk about that little boy, I feel so protective of him and the way you use language around his size, but in connecting the reality that that’s what your experience was of what caused so much of the abuse and what the abuse centered on and the humiliation centered on. And I know enough of your stories and have held your stories to even feel viscerally your flight in that body to try to flee abuse. And I think I just feel a real tenderness towards that little boy. And I hear some of your own, even adult, okay, I’ll not put too much words, but I think there is feelings about size even in your adult body. And because this ground that we’re in, this story ground is so tender for our bodies and the sizes of our bodies and the way our bodies fit. So I’m just feeling a different level of compassion and tenderness towards a little boy who so needed desperate, soothing.

Dan: And did find it in that sense of being able to look at how important baked goods were to be able to bring a soothing that neither parent had the capacity or desire to be able to do yet how much of other abuse, bullying, and actual sexual abuse came because predators were able to read that this weight actually separated me from those who were going to be honored and protected. So it it’s part of that, oh, how do we hold the heartache of our body? And yet even in our efforts, legitimate, honorable to find comfort that actually it set us up for other forms of harm. And so what ought to bring both a sense of, I am so glad, gratitude, but also so proud that you as a younger being found some way to be able to honor and then having then the proclivity to then turn against. And I think that’s part of why we’re inviting folks to this question of what’s the story of your body? So when I view myself within the frame of a BMI, a body mass index, that indeed most people would say you couldn’t reach at the level of your own height. It’s not healthy to reach that particular bmi.

Rachael: Well, and there’s all this research now too about the racialized structures of BMI and just yes, all that’s there.

Dan: Yes. So you begin to go with all that knowledge, how come it doesn’t help? And yet what I would say is the tenderness, kindness that you’ve offered has been part of the invitation to begin to engage. Well, how did that story play out? And again, I, just even creating, as I’ve done a bit of a timeline is relatively new, going back to pictures and going, you were pretty small this age, this age at this point, you’re a little larger, et cetera, et. And then you can see the trajectory which changes around 13, 14. And there is not data that you’re overweight, but nonetheless, how is it that you’re living within that right hemisphere image? So I want to make this as a distinction. We have body images and they’re like photographs in some sense, a photograph is a distilled, condensed story. It doesn’t tell what happened before. It doesn’t have to give you clue as to what happens. But nonetheless, those images are right hemisphere. And I think most of us who have done at least a little bit of work, have a pretty good clue of what images we hold about the size of our nose or the size of what our face looks like compared to others. But the issue of how seldom I’m actually aware in my own, let alone other people’s, what’s the story. And even if you put it, what’s the story of your nose? What’s the story of how your unique set of eyes have been engaged? How has your face been engaged? And as you begin to ask those particular questions, you’re also beginning to ask what have been the evolutions of my body’s movement through life? And how has my body been engaged as a story? Now we’re beginning to look at the far more autobiographical part of our brain, more the left hemisphere that holds narrative in a very different way than our right. So we need to have clarity. What are the images that we hold? But also what’s the larger movement of characters, context, events that have been shaping in that regard? What’s that prompt for you?

Rachael: Well, it’s interesting. Again, I just want to name, oh, I just feel like you keep talking about groaning and I’m like, I do just feel groaning on your behalf, on my behalf. And of course on behalf of our listeners because these are just such tender waters, they’re so tender. So I would just ask for whatever stories are coming up for anyone that there would be such a pause to move towards kindness and where contempt is coming up, where heartache and ache and agony is coming up. You don’t have to, we’re not asking you to, deep dive and craft the whole story of these are stories that have to come. They take time and they’re more cyclical and we come back to them. And so where it took me there, I just wish, I feel like this desire to let people know, I think the posture God has towards us in these moments is just gentle hands on the cheeks. There’s such kindness for you and your face. Cause where it took me was the reality that I had reconstructive jaw surgery when I was 16 years old due to a growth deformity that I probably had since birth where one side of my jaw was longer than the other side on the lower mandible part. And that was fine until I hit puberty. And then it got exacerbated to the point that the right side was about two inches longer than the left side. So it really impacted my capacity to, I couldn’t bite through things and there was a lot of jaw pain. So the surgery was 100% needed in order to eat food and not have deterioration of my jaw. But it’s coming in the context of, I’m thinking it a lot because I have a 13 year old now who’s emerging into teenage years. And it came in the context. I got my braces off in eighth grade and I kept telling my mom, my smile’s crooked. My smile’s crooked, something’s wrong. And she was like, here’s the teenager you have. It’s really normal to have body image issues right now. And I think trying to really help me. And then when I went to get my wisdom teeth consultation to get my wisdom teeth out, the oral surgeon was like, do you ever have trouble chew chewing through things and do you feel pain in your jaw? Does it ever click? And I was like, yes, yes, yes, it does all these things, but a surgeon is looking at my face, and this is such a longer story, but it’s like, oh, you have a recessed chin because of this thing, and it makes your nose bigger than it’s appear bigger than it is. And so at this very, oh gosh, very precious and precarious age of emerging into a kind of self-awareness of, and I think in really effed up ways in our world, what does it mean to be beautiful? What is the beauty standard? Well, we know it’s a very European beauty standard of what is beautiful. And thankfully that’s changing. And I notice with the younger generations that’s changing. But to have my face reconfigured right in the middle of high school be swollen right here…

Dan: I can’t. Again, I feel the same groaning that you felt on my behalf. It’s like, oh, Rachael, you couldn’t write a worse script, especially at that…

Rachael: So it’s that strange paradoxical thing when someone will say, oh, you have such a nice smile. But what you hold behind that is, oh, if you only knew one, just the brutality of a massive reconstructive jaw surgery and two, just what this smile holds and the amount of work that has happened in this mouth and these teeth and this jaw and all of these things. And to this day, I still have to do a lot of work because you can’t have your face manipulated and it not like… there’s course remnants of that. And things I would notice often would talk about symmetry as like this… and it’s just like when you already know from the jump, you don’t have a symmetrical face because it’s virtually impossible. And again, even things like with my anxiety, I grind my teeth, I chew on my lip and it grinds two teeth together. And so one of my top teeth is ground down. And I kept trying to figure out what’s causing this. I wear a night guard, I don’t get it. Is my jaw messed up again? And then realizing, oh, that’s a mark of my anxiety. And I think through healing, actually growing in a lot of fondness towards the story of my face and the story of my teeth, and I actually think the ground down big front tooth might actually be a part of my resurrected body. It might be one of the scars that I bear, that tells a story that as Linda and Wedell have shared so much in some of our other trainings with so beautifully about that reflection on Jesus’s body, also bearing scars in resurrected body that tells something of the story. And he doesn’t bear all the scars, but he bears some of them. And yes. So what does it mean? I know we’re going to talk more about this, but what does it mean to move toward blessing and move toward a kind of integration as we get into the stories of our bodies?

Dan: And I think that becomes where, again, your body, the color of your skin, the shape of your eyes, the nature of how your mouth moves, the sound that you make, everything that could be used for judgment, in some sense, the word for cursing will be, and we have to grapple with the reality that in some sense there has been a world that has not wished for us to bear honor and goodness and joy with our body. And that’s in the seen world and in the unseen world. And so we can’t begin this by saying that you, the story of your body is neutral. Oh, I had a good family, I had good friends. Yeah, there was adolescence, but I was over it pretty quickly and et cetera, et cetera. So to be naive that your body doesn’t have a story, the reality that as a woman, how have you born the gaze of those who have used your body visually and otherwise? So when we open the door to this, we’re opening the door to another engagement with trauma and another engagement with the war of shame. So when we begin this, I would say there’s going to be no movement. Well, to be able to engage not just the nature of the story, but the meaning of the story. If you don’t start with the reality of I’ve got to engage contempt. So I would start with that to say, where do you hold your body, your face, or parts of your body with contempt? I think in terms of as a young 13, 14 year old who’s now in an athletic process, therefore regularly showering with other boys, comparison of our bodies was a humiliating experience. How that shapes a kind of understanding of what it means to be a man, what it means to be attractive, desirable. So sexuality, shame, the war of adolescence, the war of any infirmity or how we’ve handled our trauma. We’re in, as you put it brilliantly, we’re in raw realms where there’s a lot of heartache.

Rachael: So what’s the hope? Is there any movement toward all that we’ve named, which could feel quite overwhelming? What is the movement toward restoration that’s possible for us?

Dan: It may not be the wisest beginning, but what I’m saying is, at least for me, I’ve got to address where there is judgment. And that judgment is my own internalized shame is the judgments that have been made about me by others. And to be able to go and until I know that story, at least some then I can’t begin to, in one sense, just hold to positive. Look, we can stay in Psalm 139 until we’ve read it to the point of masterful memorization. And you’re still not going to see yourself as fearfully and wonderfully made until you begin to disentangle some of the debris of your own judgment, which came from others’ judgment, the internalized shame. So in doing that, then I think there’s a second, shall we say, movement. And it’s not like you do this, then you do that. But it’s an ongoing movement to say, my body bears the honor of being the temple. What? If you actually think about that… It’s so wacky. Part of me just goes, we could do a whole freaking podcast on that. Your body is the temple. I mean, Jesus lives literally in my body? And in that sense alone, no matter what level of struggle, failure, sin, my body is holy because of the presence of God. That is such a radical beginning point that it just sort of like I can loop through it. And I think what I’m saying is true, but I’m like, ah, I don’t know what I mean by it. But yet to say, can I bear that honor? I bear the presence of the living God. Now, if I can begin to disrupt contempt and receive even just a little bit of the honor of being made in the image, being remade in the image of Christ, but literally being the temple, the outpost of heaven, as my friend John Eldridge would call it, I am an outpost of Eden. If you see my face, I am the presence of Eden because the presence of God lives in me. So that’s not going to resolve my history, but at least it disrupts the contempt enough to begin that process of being able to say, what curse am I under? And, as you think about what curse your face was under having reconfiguration surgery and the long process of restoration, I mean, I’m assuming that you bore judgements that you’ve had to address over…

Rachael: Oh, yeah. Oh yeah.

Dan: How did blessing come then?

Rachael: I think I’m still working on it, to be honest. I mean, I did have to do a lot of work around that story and the word, the things about my face and the ways in which, I mean, it’s a weird thing to go back to high school and people not recognize you because your face looks different enough and is swollen. It took about a year, year and a half for the swelling to go down and for someone to say, you look so much like Rachael Clinton, you’re like, I am. So even just the strangeness of like, yeah, I mean, there’s so much there, but I also feel like to go from not being able to eat and chew to being able to eat and chew, there’s blessing that comes like and rejoicing that comes and to be able to take in nourishment. And I don’t know. I mean, there’s so much, I think there’s a lot more there I need to process, obviously, because I’m struggling to put words to it in the here and now. But I think if anything, a lot of the work I have to do is to go back to the Rachael who had a deformed jaw and actually help her find blessing of her body and her face, and because she’s still with me. And bears those realities. And that’s actually been really sweet, sweet work to kind of reparent myself as a young, emerging teenager and remember those realities.

Dan: Yeah, and we could say so much more, but let’s just in what sense? Make sure that we just hold this with a parenthesis, a kind of, oh, hear this. You can bless the body that you are becoming, but until you can bless the body you were, there will always be that gap. And oftentimes the body we once were holds for us such judgment and shame. So to face that shame and the contempt that comes, and then to begin to look at the level of dishonor that we have often brought and allowing our heart grief for in one sense, how much of a war we have been in against our body, and to allow some degree of the spirit gendering grief, again, not blame, not, you know what a wicked person I am, but grief, that harm really did add to the other harm. And yet then to be able to see in that something of the remarkable shaping of who we have become as a result of what we entered. I think that’s the framework of being able to bless the young in order to engage the current day. And in that we’re back to a simple phrase. What’s the story? And will you look at the characters? Will you look at the context when you look at the themes and be able to at least hold off the like, I’ll just get on with it. The dismissiveness or worse, the contempt of, I don’t want to look at those pictures simply sitting with some of the pictures of myself at age 9, 10, and being able to hold both a sense of blessing, but also grief on behalf of that boy, I think creates at least a little bit more of the redemptive work that we desire for not just one another, but for you, the listener.

Rachael: Yeah, and I would just add as a very brief pastoral note, as you spend time with this episode and you and these stories are emerging and they’re coming to mind, if you can add even one very kind and comforting body practice as you reflect, that can go a really long way in helping you know the limitations of where you need to pause and stop and when it’s okay to keep going. So something as simple as a warm bath or a little shoulder or neck massage or anything like that to some small gesture of kindness towards your body as you’re engaging, these stories can go a really long way.

Dan: Just like when you put your hands on your face, our audience can’t see it. But it was a lovely gift, not only to you, but to me.