In a long ago Bible study, Dave and I met weekly with a trusted group of friends. For a season, we read excerpts from thought-provoking authors, including C.S. Lewis, G.K. Chesterton, and Mother Teresa. Within the group, conversation was organic and refreshingly unpredictable; pointed questions were welcome, as was lighthearted laughter.
From that study, I clearly remember reading the following quote from Sir Isaac Newton that opened one of the early chapters of the study.
“In the absence of any other proof, the thumb alone would convince me of God’s goodness.”
Today, these words spur me to ponder the relevance of small things.
By choosing to see my thumb as nothing short of a miracle, I choose to see my whole body as something in which I can delight. This small thumb wipes away dark smudges from child-like faces, having just devoured warm chocolate chip cookies from the oven. This small thumb presses tight against the pencil as it crafts stories and signs junior high science contracts to signify my son’s understanding of lab rules. This small thumb balances a wooden spoon that stirs basil infused marinara that feeds a ravenous frenzy of boys at the dinner table.
This stubby appendage commands a thankfulness I rarely bestow upon it. It is common to me, its functionality and necessity taken for granted, all too often overlooked.
Saturday morning coffee brews and rattles the kitchen’s silence. My round, oversized, robins-egg-blue coffee mug, like two cupped hands, receives the steady stream of felicity trickling down. My senses awaken as I inhale the ground bean aroma, welcoming me to the morning. It is dark still, too early to meet the sun in her radiance, which means it is the optimal time of day for me to hear my own voice and slow breath.
I plead in prayer, “Lord, please meet me in this time. Whatever you do, please don’t let the kids hear me. Pleeeease don’t let them wake up.” I say these words with the same fervency I ask Him to heal a sick friend who might not see the year’s end. (Yes, I do see that something is fundamentally wrong with that, but that complicated range of emotions is for another time to process.)
Saturday morning brings an energy with it that I cannot comprehend. Inevitably, one boy will choose to eat the last blueberry muffin I forgot to stow away for the youngest, who yesterday, was lucky to get a semi-toasted waffle shoved into his hands as we pulled out of the driveway, crazy-like, for school drop off. The second oldest will find his next youngest sibling and inadvertently bump into him, which will cause shrieks and shoving in return. Eventually, after-breakfast bodies will accelerate in motion — tossing basketballs, leaping one-legged off of the easiest to secure folding chair (“because, Mom, you said we couldn’t jump off the furniture, and a folding chair isn’t really furniture”), and running at break neck speeds through the house for lively games of Chase and Tag.
My children remind me how bodies function when they are energetically, unapologetically, and fully used. They don’t tell their bodies, “No, you can’t do that.” They don’t contemplate, at least not for more than half a second, what their bodies cannot do. Instead, they proceed, unabashedly, to experiment with what is possible.
I have spent too many years regretting what this body cannot do and resenting what I did not feel it was capable of living out. But when I look at this thumb, maybe the smallest part of me, and choose to see it for its magnificence, I sense there is freedom, just down the road, to see myself a different way.
What if starting a beautiful relationship with my body begins with being thankful for all it can do? What if I choose gratitude because I am able to pull this tired mommy body out of bed and that act, by itself, is enough to praise God for His goodness?
I think this could be where Body meets Beautiful.
It might even be my responsibility to make sure they are introduced.
But I am scared. For as long as I can remember, these two have sat on opposites sides of the darkened banquet hall, elevator music playing in the background. They have functioned separately, and I do not trust that their relationship can thrive in this broken world where shame alerts us to hide our imperfections.
So I am tempted to keep the two where they are because that is what everybody in the room is used to. I think back to Rudyard Kipling’s quote, “Oh, East is East, and West is West, and never the twain shall meet.” Maybe it is meant to be that Body and Beautiful never meet, much less embrace.
There is more, though. More to them and more to Kipling, for that matter. I read the full stanza of the poem, “The Ballad of East and West,” he penned in 1889. Acutely aware of the rude colonization attempts his British counterparts were forcing in nineteenth century India, he suggested that the two cultures could not function in the same space (1). However, in the next few lines, he courageously argued there was hope for their coexistence. Just maybe not on this side of Heaven.
Oh, East is East and West is West, and never the twain shall meet,
Till Earth and Sky stand presently at God’s great Judgment Seat;
But there is neither East nor West, Border, nor Breed, nor Birth,
When two strong men stand face to face, though they come from the ends of the earth!
Today, I sit and allow myself grace to consider. I do not sit in God’s great Judgement Seat, but I am nudged to hope.
What is possible for Body and Beautiful?