Oh, friends, savor these words. They are a gift and Christina a poet. I'm so honored to host her wisdom here today.
When I turn eighteen and become a woman, my father begins aging backwards, becoming a child again.
I have memorized words from SAT flashcards, gleaned them from thick novels. When I finish studying, I learn one I do not want to know: glioblastoma, a cancer of the brain.
My father is a strong man. He stands six feet, seven inches, weighs nearly three hundred pounds. He loads tubas and drums into band trailers.
He falls for the first time on September 11th, 2001, the same day the towers do. As the firefighters rush into the rubble, my father lies on the bathroom linoleum for three hours, unable to get up. Later, he watches coverage on CNN for hours. “Think of all those people dying just like that,” he shakes his head. “Just think of it.”
I see the towers collapse again and again. They were strong. They were not supposed to fall, but they did.
When I was young, I read sentimental books about girls with terminal illnesses. “The cheesy death books,” my friends called them. The girls had leukemia or waited for heart or lung or kidney transplants. I imagined them dying gracefully. I imagined them wearing white dresses at their funerals, dying young and beautiful, pale and thin.
Dying is not beautiful. My father is a man, and he becomes a child again. He first sips morphine, then gulps it, always wanting more. Each week is a milestone in reverse: His legs forget how to walk, his mind forgets to remember. One week before he dies, I feed him orange sherbet with a spoon. As it pools in his mouth, I realize he has forgotten how to swallow.
My father dies in a hospital bed in our living room just after Thanksgiving. Four weeks later, the Word becomes flesh, and I cry. I am eighteen, a woman but a girl still. I have never made love or grown a child inside my body. Don’t do it, I pray to Jesus. It’s not worth it, all of this.
At twenty-five, I begin seminary with the youngest seminarians in the country.
We are young, and because we are young, we are beautiful. Because we are young, most of us are strong. The bodies God gave us, lo, they are very good. We do not give it a second thought.
We are in our twenties. Most of us have not seen death. Our young bodies awkwardly make love. They give birth to babies, most without complication. We talk about the goodness of the body with lips that do not stutter. We dance at parties with legs that do not shake. We kneel in worship with knees that do not creak. We write about incarnation and resurrection and God’s good creation, and we do it with hands that do not ache.
In seminary, we sing the goodness of the body. We write about creation and incarnation and resurrection. Over beers at the pub, we talk about church people and how they are so escapist, always thinking about heaven, always singing I’ll fly away, oh glory, never looking at God’s good creation here.
Sometime during college, my brother sheds his faith like baby teeth. He is interested in religion: zen koans, Daoist philosophy, Jewish midrash. But not faith, as we knew as children.
One day, our conversation drifts to what I am studying in seminary. After a semester, we are nearly through the Apostles’ Creed. “The resurrection of the body,” I say.
His eyes narrow. “You don’t believe that people will have bodies in the afterlife,” he says. “That doesn’t even make sense. The definition of a body is that it is mortal, that it breaks down and dies.”
I try to clarify. “Well, not Jesus,” I say. “He was resurrected with a human body.”
My brother shakes his head with skepticism. “That can’t be right.”
He was sixteen when he saw my father die in a bed in our living room. He knows what bodies can do.
I once heard that Episcopalians make the sign of the cross at this moment in the Creed: “the resurrection of the body.” Creation, virgin birth, crucifixion--on the right day, we can believe if we say the lines fast enough. But the resurrection of the body needs something else, something to push us over the hill. So what the Episcopalians do is cross themselves. Head, heart, shoulder, shoulder.
Don’t do it, I said once to Jesus. I wanted to save him from the body. Not just death, but a thousand little indignities. Desire, waxing and waning at the wrong times. A cold that begins in your head and travels down into your chest. Wet beds and wet dreams. And, yes, from blood--the blood flowing from a skinned knee and a cross.
Sometimes I still want to save him. Sometimes I want to save us all from bodies that betray us: bodies that guzzle alcohol without being satisfied, bodies that will not conceive babies, bodies whose cells go rogue until we lose our hair and poison ourselves with the cure. Bodies that are raped or violated, bodies that are kept from pulpits because of their breasts and curves, bodies that cannot see, cannot walk, cannot hear.
Sometimes, I am breathless at the goodness of it all. The impossibly long eyelashes of a five-year-old. The rush of pleasure as you make love. The vibration of vocal cords that bring forth music. The feel of warm sand, the taste of good pasta, the sound of a mandolin played well.
But sometimes, I would have us float, weightless, above the world. I say it anyway: “I believe in the resurrection of the body and the life everlasting.” God, in his mercy, will not let us give them up. I cannot imagine these resurrection bodies, human and yet immortal, broken made whole.
So I take my hand and make the sign of the cross over my broken, beautiful body--head, heart, shoulder, shoulder. I push myself over the hill.
Christina Tremill is a seminary graduate on her way to becoming an irreverent Reverend. She enjoys good coffee, good books, and a good theme party. She lives in San Diego with her husband Josh and their cat, Rascal, who more than lives up to her name. She tries to write beautiful and write brave at her blog, A Holy Fool.