It hurt. The laughter and jokes of other boys increased my discomfort. It could be that I encouraged their taunting. I sat with my arms crossed over my bare chest, feeling and looking ill at ease. At eleven, I was already self-conscious about my appearance and weight particularly at the swimming pool. Four decades later when I reflect on my body image, I think about that hot, summer day at the school district day camp.
Unlike many men, I hesitate to remove my shirt. A puritanical upbringing is not my story. My story is about body image, especially weight, which developed as a child. (I currently weigh about ten pounds more than the healthy ideal and fifteen more than my preferred weight.)
The love from my wife allows me to take my shirt off without fear. I am comfortable with my body in her presence. In our trusting intimate relationship I know that she will not belittle my shirtless body as pre-teen peers did so many decades ago. I trust her and she trusts me. Within intimacy, we are both confident that we are one another’s beloved, not despite our flaws, but because of and through them. My body is me, I am her beloved, and so my body is beloved.
Hiking as I do in the Columbia River Gorge, known for its strong winds, I’ve felt an urge to unbutton or remove my shirt to feel the powerful winds on my bare skin. Reflecting on this immodest response, I am reminded of the biblical metaphor of creation in which the very breath of God blew over the water (Genesis 1:2). I am drawn to be intimate with, to be fully myself, with the extravagantly loving Creator.
Recently, I stood on sacred grounds high above the river. The incessant gale encouraged me to remove my baseball cap or have it removed for me. I set my bag down, secured my hat, and unbuttoned my shirt. Spreading my arms wide, I stood high above the blue waters as God’s intimate breath touched my skin. In that moment I didn’t think about my imperfections as flaws. I knew that God created me, knows every hair on my head, and inexplicably loves me. My body is me, I am God’s beloved, and so my body is beloved.
We try to hide from your love, covering our inborn goodness with harshness.
We hate and demonize, and fail to see you in nature and one another.
Breathe on us, o breath of God.
Envelope us within your breath, You who knows our every thought and possibility, and loves us intimately.
Remind us that we are made to love, to love ourselves, to love others, to love creation, and in so doing love You.