Skinny Dipping in the Deep

When I said “Yes” to Naked, I didn’t have a clue where it would lead me. I knew there was much that I wanted to explore, uncover and discover. I thought I would capitalize on every form of metaphorical nakedness: emotional, spiritual, relational. Maybe that those areas would somehow leak over into the physical, boosting my confidence. I did learn a lot about nakedness in the intangible sense this year. But from the very onset God surprised me, unmistakingly leading me down avenues I never would’ve imagined for myself. In the last year my mind has been renewed and my life transformed by the truth that God calls the physical body “good.” I am forever changed, so much so that I want to write a book about my experiences, testifying to the healing and freedom that I’ve found. A few blog posts wouldn’t do it justice.

One of the more surprising things I’ve learned this year is that pornography (defined as a depiction of the sex act or obscene drawings or photographs) is not synonymous with nakedness/nudity. After extensive bible study I have found that the Lord only ever calls His created image good. His people ascribe all sorts of slanderous words and deeds to the body. But He, Himself says that it is good, a fact which never changed after the fall. And His is the perspective that I long for and want to live according to.

I think it’s tragic that the image of God has become a villain that we fight against and refuse to see. We need redemption. 

The Lord has brought some incredible people into my life from all different faith backgrounds who have come to see the same truth about the image of God. They love Him with all of their hearts, minds, and bodies, without shame. I am not alone in this, His spirit has been revealing the same truth to many and I’ve had the privilege to meet and talk with a few of them. They have helped me understand that the gospel, the good news, is even in this. We don’t have a list of do’s and don’ts or rules to follow. According to His word we have radical freedom to see His image in one another. And that’s something I can be passionate about.

At the beginning of the year I made a list of goals, things I wanted to do as part of the Year of Naked. I challenged myself to pray naked in front of the mirror, join a small group, answer honestly when someone asks how I’m doing, get a massage, visit an art museum and let the human form awe me instead of looking away. I did all of those things, and more. The list isn’t finished. There’s room for more things to be added and more to be crossed off. The Year of Naked may be over but I’m not sure I’ll ever be finished with the word.

So if you find me changed by this year, you’d be right. If I seem a little bit defensive of these truths, bear with me. Because I’m not just telling you about something I’ve thought a lot about. I’m not just running a theory by you. I’ve learned the truth about the body in the fires of experience, and the healing blood of Jesus has redeemed it all for good.

WaterstoSwim

When I waded into these waters, I swore I’d only get my feet wet. But before I knew it the water was to my knees, to my waist, and then I was skinny dipping in the deep. It wasn’t a river to be crossed once and then left behind. It was a sea, one that I’m meant to live by. And just like the water in Ezekial 47, it brings life to everything it touches.

Naked wasn’t just a word. It was a baptism. 

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Going Bare: Is it Good?

By Lin Kristensen from New Jersey, USA (Timeless Books) [CC-BY-2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons
 I’m not a theologian. I’ve not been trained in exegesis or hermeneutics. Typically, when I do a word study it is compact, focused on one use of one word and drawing rich meaning from that place. I am not the person to talk to if you want an exhaustive analysis. Having said that, I’ve now done an extensive study on the word “naked,” and have concentrated specifically on where and how the word is used in the Old Testament.
 
I found that there is more than one word for “naked” in the Hebrew and not all of them mean the same thing. Some are nouns, some are adjectives, but some are verbs, action words that are used to describe the act of uncovering someone. ‘Arah and ‘Uwr are used in instances of taking away someone’s protection, laying them bare, forcing them to be vulnerable, and even violating them. Generally when those active forms of the word are used they are not associated with anything positive. Nakedness defined in this way couldn’t possibly have been a good thing.
 

Even with all the confidence I’ve gained in my body this year, I would still feel violated if you came up to me after a shower and stole away my towel. I would attempt to cover myself. Involuntary nakedness is one of the most unpleasant forms of exposure. It’s something none of us desire. And we should not seek to forcefully expose anyone in our lives. Confrontations such as that are full of shame, reproach, and many more unpleasant things. You will not find in me an advocate for this form of the word.

 
Unfortunately, the negative verb for nakedness is the only filter through which many Americans have been taught to view their bodies. But what does God think of our bodies? That’s really the question I want the answer to here.  I want to filter my view of myself and others through Him – not through my perceptions, culture, shame, or upbringing. So, in order to better understand what God thinks of nakedness, I isolated the places where the word “naked” is used as an adjective, to describe someone’s state of dress (or lack thereof). There are two words for this, and they are the ones most commonly used in the Old Testament: ‘arowm and ‘eyrom. There is nothing particularly revelatory in the definitions of their definition. They simply mean “naked” or “bare.” Very straightforward.

Out of all the places where these words are used I can’t find an instance where God condemns nakedness. If anything, He remains neutral when it is mentioned. Some of His people certainly condemn it. They use it to shame and punish one another. But it seems to me that the only place God comments on our bodies as He made them is in the Genesis account, where He declared us “good” in His image. It was under that benediction that Adam and Eve knew no shame. As far as I can tell, His declaration of our bodies as “good” did not change when the knowledge of good and evil entered humanity. God clothed us for protection in the wilderness when He banished us from the garden of paradise. And the last time I checked “Thou shall not see nakedness” didn’t make the 10 commandments. I’m not inclined to put words in His mouth that simply are not there.

God’s view of His created image in the earth did not change when humanity became sinful. We are the ones that changed. We are the ones that hid our nakedness. We are the ones that allowed shame to create barriers between ourselves and God. How many times will the same scene from Eden be re-enacted? 

“Rebekah, where are you?” 

“I heard you, but I am afraid, because I am naked. So I hid myself.”

“Who told you that you are naked?”  

What a heart piercing question. He knows the answer, but He asks anyway.  And still He does not condemn us for our nakedness. Adam and Eve were condemned for their disobedience, and in a heartbreaking turn of events removed from His constant nearness and fellowship. But God created us for Himself, for His pleasure, and that didn’t change when sin came into the picture. Rather, it set in motion the plan He had before He even spoke the light into existence – His plan of beautiful redemption. 

Ever since the flaming swords were ignited, God has been diligently working to bring us back into meaningful covenant with Himself. All throughout the old and new testaments we recognize the call He makes in the cool of the evening.

“Draw near to me. Come out of hiding. Let me cleanse you. Let go of your clothing. Be naked. Let me clothe you with righteousness.”  

I want to respond to His call. Not from my hiding place, but out in the open. I want to lay my fear aside and stand before Him just as Eve did, but with Jesus, the Last Adam by my side. Because of His sacrifice on the cross, I know I can approach Him with confidence, naked and completely vulnerable.

Hieronymus Bosch – The Garden of Earthly Delights – The Earthly Paradise (Garden of Eden) Public Domain

May I speak frankly? I’m no longer talking about nakedness in a strictly metaphorical sense. In the last 8 months my mind has been renewed and my view of the body has been transformed by application of the truth that God calls the body “good.” I have learned experientially that there need not be anything sexual about the sight of the unclothed human form. I’ve come to appreciate the body for the masterpiece of art that it is, with all of its graceful curves and lines. It still takes my breath away.

I realize this is controversial. The easy thing for me to do would be to go on letting you think that I’ve only applied my word for the year in intangible ways. But that isn’t the truth. I dared to examine conventional views of nakedness, both those taught by the church and the society of white privilege I grew up in. When I removed the lie that western culture has taught me about nakedness and replaced it with God’s declaration of goodness, I was amazed at what happened in my heart.
  
“Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.” – Matthew 5:8
 

He purified my heart, and I realized that the spirit is not all that matters. The body is redeemed as well.  Suddenly I was able to recognize His image when I saw another person, no matter what their state of dress. I let go of the perpetual filter of judgment over what someone is (or is not) wearing. It’s become so much easier to see the beauty in them and love them. 

Surprising isn’t it? Rather than sending me into dangerous shadows of shame and sin, the word “naked” has set me on a path of greater purity, wholeness and redemption. I don’t speak theoretically; I’ve tested this, at first thinking it was too good, too easy to be true. I’ve seen more nakedness this year than ever before in my life, completely free from the conditioned response of lust, shame, comparison and judgment. “Naked” is changing me in ways I never could have anticipated. 

But if I’m being honest, I don’t want to be alone in this. And quite frankly, the truths that I’m learning are too good not to share. I have found so much healing; so much has been redeemed. I dared to lay aside the comfortable cultural view of our bodies to see through His eyes. So I want to dare you to do the same.  Examine your own heart and mind to find out why you believe what you believe about the human body. Experiment with what you learn. Test it. I’m willing to bet that you’ll be surprised.

Feel free to ask any questions or raise objections. I’d love to talk about this with you.

Read the rest of the “Going Bare” series here

Going Bare: Uncovering

My friends know that my word for the year is “Naked.” Consequently, I have gotten several text messages, emails, pins, and tweets sent to me with things that relate to it. (I welcome these!) It’s been interesting to receive them because I’m getting a wide perspective of how my friends see nakedness. “Naked” can be funny, or beautiful, or poignant and vulnerable. It can cause us to hide, or draw us out of the darkness. Nakedness can be literal or figurative or both. And sometimes the intangible forms of it feel more real than what we see and touch.

Almost every definition of the word “naked” speaks of being without a covering in some form. I think this is telling. What is it about nakedness that makes us want to cover up? Is it an instinctual reflex? There are few among us who would not immediately reach for something with which to cover ourselves if we were happened upon in our nakedness, even by those whom we most love and trust. Why do we do this? Is it actually instinct, or is this learned behavior? How do our coverings serve us? What are they protecting? And why?

mychainsaregone.orgCertainly coverings serve a purpose to protect us from harsh elements and from those with intent to harm us. But I am questioning the widely accepted axiom that lacking a covering – whether it is emotional, physical, or spiritual  – is anything short of immoral.  This was my starting point.  Equating nakedness with immorality, I  learned to judge harshly those who did not share my view of “modesty.” I condescended people who wore their hearts on their sleeves, showed a little too much skin, or claimed to follow Christ while unattached to a tangible authority. If you were “uncovered” in any way, you lost credibility in my eyes.  Not any longer. I am learning to recognize this view for the judgment that it is instead of the foundational truth I once thought it to be.

This year, I’ve spent quite a bit of time contemplating nakedness and all the forms it takes. I am coming to see that there are contexts in which being uncovered is appropriate and even necessary: in friendship, for intimacy (emotional, physical and spiritual), or even for the simple sake of beauty.

Uncovering is often necessary for healing to take place. Sunshine, it is said, is the best disinfectant. But many, myself included, find this quite difficult.  We have learned to associate uncovering with shame and contempt. Abuse damages the purity of exposure. It teaches us that to be uncovered is to be violated, to be judged as we have judged. For many, the beauty of uncovering is marred when we are robbed of the choice to reveal.

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I recently got this text from a dear friend who was thinking about my word:

“I acknowledged my sin to you, and I did not cover my iniquity; I said, ‘I will confess my transgressions to the Lord,’ and you forgave the iniquity of my sin. Selah.”  Psalm 32:5 …

‘I did not cover my iniquity’ = being naked and raw before God.

Selah.

I let the words sink into me and spent the afternoon pondering how confession is related to uncovering. Having grown up in the church, I understand that God is omniscient; He sees it all. Fulfilling the law of unintended consequences, this has always been a great source of fear for me.  I came to expect His punishment around every corner. But David the Psalmist doesn’t seem to share that fear. In his prayer, he was compelled to uncover. To be naked and raw, and this wasn’t the first time.

There is something significant in uncovering; becoming naked in confession before the God who created us. But it’s hard, isn’t it? I often hesitate because I have carried the same judgments I held about uncovering in every other part of life into my relationship with Him. I would dare say that the shame, contempt, and fear of exposure is even greater with God than it is with humans. Cognitively, I know that He has no unforeseen revelation in my nakedness, but that does little to reassure me. So, patiently and knowingly, He waits until I know that I am safe.  He does this for all of us.  He does not violate us by forcefully removing our covering. He wants to be invited into our trust.

A few nights ago, He asked me to talk to Him. Somehow, I’d forgotten that I had a choice to do that. Desperately, but willingly I opened my mouth and the words came pouring out, speaking into existence everything He already knew. I bared myself, confessing the worst of my judgments, the fears and lies I have believed. God did not shy away from me. He who formed me told me that He has redeemed me, called me by name, and I am His. He reminded me that I am precious in His eyes, and that He loves me. Nothing that I uncovered caused Him to turn away.

There’s something beautiful in knowing that we can bare ourselves before Him without shame. It is like a little taste of the intimacy of Eden. I am learning that the uncovering of nakedness is not a consequence or a punishment. We are invited to approach the Throne of Grace with confidence, completely without shame. It is not an obligation or requirement. We will not be rejected. He is waiting to embrace us, with open arms. We are invited to join Him in the garden, but to do so requires us to be vulnerable.

This kind of vulnerability reveals beauty, fosters intimacy, and brings healing through uncovering. It’s not something to be afraid of. And it’s worth it.

{The image above came from MyChainsAreGone.org – a website that has been integral in the transformation of my thinking as I’ve examined my theology on nakedness and the body. If I haven’t already linked you to the site through a conversation we’ve had, I encourage you to read it and prayerfully consider what it has to say. These truths are changing my life!}

Read the rest of the “Going Bare” series here

Dichotomy: Part I

Trigger warning for mentions of spiritual abuse.

If you’ve been here very long, you know that I spent nearly 10 years in a spiritually abusive church.

During my internment in this group I learned to believe that the love of God was expressed most effectively through the confrontation of sin among our brethren. We were told that the essence of love was to be warned of our sin and given the opportunity to “bear fruit unto repentance,” thereby proving the sincerity of our redemption.  In fact, the most unloving thing one could do to another believer was failing to warn them of sin, carelessly allowing them to blaze their path to hell.  I was drawn to these people for their transparency, nakedness, and vulnerability. Their teachings were presented with strength and conviction and were the farthest thing imaginable from the “cheap grace, prosperity gospel” I had grown up with.  I dove in without looking back.

the hot seat

What I thought ‘vulnerability’ looked like.

When I say we were transparent, vulnerable and naked, it was in the sense of being found in the hot seat with the “light of fellowship” aimed at our flaws. “Search me and know my heart” took on a new meaning.  There was an expectation of confession. Deeper, hidden sins were expected at the root of the “obvious symptoms.” Those who responded well to correction were embraced. Those who did not were ostracized or eventually excommunicated via manipulation.  It didn’t take long to adopt the pattern of response that would garner the most positive results.

I vividly remember my first confrontation. I was 17. My heart pounded a foreboding rhythm as I sat across from my young friend in her living room. Haltingly, painfully, she “brought her offense” to me.  I had speculated that she had a crush on a boy in the youth group and conspiratorially giggled to my sister a prediction that they would marry. My friend learned of this and felt hurt. Rather than bringing her feelings directly to me, she followed the pattern set before us, consulting with our youth leaders. She was counseled to formally confront me according to the rules of biblical discipline. My examination took place with church elders in the next room, sanctioning the practice and “supporting us in prayer.”

What had started as a case of hurt feelings ballooned into accusations of foretelling, divination, witchcraft and rebellion.

I was angry, indignant, as I listened to the charges against me.  I felt betrayed. How could the whisper and giggle of a teenage girl lead to this? My anger was quickly squelched by the ultimatum laid before me by my friend. The requirement was that I repent, turn from my ways, and by means of a trial period prove my sincerity lest she and other church members be forced to distance themselves. If I continued in my pattern while claiming to be a Christian, they would fulfill the biblical mandate, “with such a one, do not even eat.”

My blood ran cold and my head spun. This was no idle threat. Just weeks before we’d excommunicated a friend of ours, carefully navigating the legalistic steps of “biblical church discipline.” I knew I was in danger of losing the first real friends I’d ever had. This was not a time to exert my will. I wondered if I was so deluded that I’d become demon possessed. I wondered if I was a witch. At the very least, I assumed my friends and leaders must be able to see a great blind spot in my life. So I tearfully pledged repentance and promised to work harder to overcome rebellion. I became utterly humbled, and for many years lauded that encounter as the nearest I’d ever been to Jesus in the flesh. Because only Jesus would get himself dirty enough to save one as close to perdition as I.

That was only one of many such confrontations, both conducted for me, and sadly, by me. I regret to say that I participated in these inquisitions as eagerly as I sought them for myself. Over the years I grew anxious if my friends did not point out my faults. I believed that any failure to confront me indicated they no longer cared and were content to let me slide right out of grace.

The truth was that many of them had grown weary of this fruitless charade.

Over time, I began to recognize what was happening and knew I had to get out.  I was the first among my friends to leave the church. I didn’t know who I was or what I believed. A crisis of faith became a very real crisis of identity.  I draw my sense of being from the people around me and suddenly I had nothing familiar in proximity. Who was I? Did I really know Jesus? If not, who was I serving? It was months before I felt I could hear from the Lord in the wilderness, alone. But I was determined to stay by His side, wrestling, until I came to some kind of reconciliation with Him.

This poem epitomized where I was. It became my desperate prayer. But would it ever be answered?

This story isn’t over yet. Part II coming soon.

from Dichotomized, released 01 February 2013, Emily Joy Poetry.

Going Bare: Undressed and Unashamed

"Undress" by Clare Elsaesser, Etsy

“Undress” by Clare Elsaesser, Etsy

I have strategically placed mirrors on walls to make my small apartment feel larger, but more often than not I catch glimpses of myself, having the same effect. If ever I see the reflection of my body while changing clothes the loathsome self-talk begins.

Seriously, lay off the ice cream.

When ARE you going to get to the gym?

When did that crease become a lump? 

And these are the tame thoughts. The names I call myself make my cheeks burn.

Occasionally this digresses into an intensive examination of every flaw. My hands become instruments of manipulation; lifting, stretching and flattening in an attempt to visualize a more ideal figure. I stop only after draining the well of disgust, then cover my curves with the most flattering things I can find. On those days hangers and clothes grow in heaps on my bed as I try on outfit after outfit. I often give up and add layers or accessories to conceal and distract from the parts I most dislike.

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As soon as I said yes to Naked, things got real. I began to see that God calls our bodies good, that He created us naked and unashamed. I came to understand that the shame we feel about our bodies is not inherent, it is learned. Little children run streaking through their homes, gleefully, until someone scoops them up scolding, “Shame on you!” In just an instant, joy and freedom can be replaced with shame and insecurity. Once learned, it is often fiercely guarded in the dark places of our hearts, deepening as we age and absorb lies about our bodies. Some of the most damaging lies are those spoken over us, but they are also adopted through the cruel regimens of comparison against perfection.

You are fat.

You are skinny. 

You must look like them in order to fit in. 

You are disproportionate. 

Your body will not be desirable.

You must always hide.

{The lies are endless.} 

I came to know that Jesus bore my shame, yet I didn’t want to give it up; I was conditioned to wear it like a protective cloak. My lies were comfortable. They protected me from the scrutiny and criticism of those around me. As long as I guarded them with shame, I was not required to be vulnerable or expose my insecurities.

I am learning through theophostic prayer that truth most effectively penetrates when I hear it straight from the Lord. I can tell myself the truth, hear it from others, even from scripture, and still fight to remember it, remind myself of it, believe it. But when He speaks directly to the lies it becomes an encounter by which I experience truth, never failing to leave me transformed. Just days before I debuted my OneWord the Lord spoke this over me:

Your body is good. You do not have to hide when I am your covering. As the vessel, you do not choose how I shape you. You do not need the approval of man. You are mine and require only my approval. I shaped you according to my delight. Gold may change its form, but that does not change its worth.

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The dawn of the new year, the first day of Naked, I dressed in front of my bathroom mirror.  I looked up, still leaning over my sink with water droplets running down my face and neck and observed my unclothed body, tracing my reflection to my eyes. They filled with tears, realization dawning that I did not examine myself with the typical repulsion. Rather, I sought out positive features and persuaded myself that I can be beautiful, just as I am. I began to laugh with pure joy. The shift in my thought process came entirely without pre-meditation, requiring no setup, reminder, or self-coaching. The way I see myself is transforming because His truth was applied to my heart. The first day of the year of Naked, He gave me the gift of loving my body.

It came just in time.

“I want to unfold. Let nothing in me hold itself closed. For where I am closed, I am false. I want to be clear in your sight.” – Rilke 

This post was prompted by this quote from Story Sessions

Read the rest of the “Going Bare” series here

 

Saying Yes to Naked

Why did I say yes to this?

The word was showing up everywhere. Every few days it was in another article headline, an email, on my news feed, or spoken by friends old and new. I couldn’t seem to get away from it and it filled me with wonder. Until I asked Him which word would be mine. And there it was again, in big, bold letters. What inspired me only days before suddenly made my blood run cold.

My word for the year is naked. My word. for 2014. is. naked. Just writing that sentence makes my heartbeat accelerate. I have to consciously steady my breathing. I ask myself – why did I say yes to this?  It isn’t the first time God has given me a word for a new year. This has become an annual thing. But it’s the first time I’ve wanted to tell Him, “No.” So, I said “Yes.” If only because I didn’t want to.

Even now, I don’t want to write this. I’ve avoided it for over a week. I laughed when I noticed that this draft has 21 revisions; I’m sure there will be more before I hit publish. Does that give you any idea how much this terrifies me? I worry what you’ll think of me. I worry that you will misunderstand. I worry that you will reject me. I worry that by telling you this, I will be forced to follow through.

When I think of nakedness I visualize vulnerability in every form: emotionally, physically, mentally and spiritually. By saying yes to “Naked” I know I’m saying yes to vulnerability in ways I cannot currently conceptualize. I can only imagine where this word – where the Lord – will lead me this year. And I hope I will have the courage to keep saying “yes.”

So, I am making this my manifesto. In the coming year, when I want to give up and when I think it’s too hard, I will to come back to this and remember why I said yes:

  • I want to know how nakedness became synonymous with shame in our culture when God did not make it so.
  • I want to emerge from the shadows of shame that have covered my life spiritually, emotionally and physically.
  • I want to learn to see myself the way that He does and be able to call it good.
  • I want to learn to see beauty where I am conditioned to criticize – everywhere.
  • I want to offer my body – spiritually, emotionally, mentally, physically – as a living sacrifice unto Him.
  • I want to return to the Garden of Eden with Jesus, the last Adam; to know what it is to be naked and unashamed. 
  • I want to answer the question “Who told you that you’re naked?” – to come out of hiding, and let the fig leaves fall.

I said yes to this word only a couple of weeks ago and already it has challenged me and spoken to me in ways I know are not meant only for me. This will be the year of “Going Bare” {I’ll be hosting a blog series by that title, inspired by Elora Nicole}. This will be a year of transcendence. A year of brave. A year of truth and dare.

Will you join me?

I’m joining some of the ladies of Story Sessions in proclaiming my One Word. If not for the these women of valor I would never have the courage to accept this word or write my story. They inspire me every day. Join us?

Read updates on my word in the “Going Bare” series here