My Body, Between
A summer Sunday morning and I sit in the backyard, missing church to write my own hymn. This one counts regrets, not blessings, then names them one by one. Or rather, the song names them to subdivide them, troubling the meter, stressing the number of verses any congregation might be expected to sing.
The sky starts to rain, I think. Winds change, and I hear leaves shimmer but don’t feel anything. Mostly hidden beneath a mantle of knowing oak branches, I make my arms wings, stretching for raindrop kisses. But whatever falls avoids me and my wish for touch. Regrets return, making my arms too heavy to hold parallel to the Missouri horizon. My body, always between these states of being.
Regrets return, making my arms too heavy to hold parallel to the Missouri horizon.
Humming again, some regrets fall out of the song; I assign them to the class of “no, never.” I can’t ever muster regret for my swearing or my library, where poetry titles outnumber theology.
No regrets for the ten thousand innings of Giants baseball I’ve watched, willing teachers of angles and backstories and motion. Or the way I measure my life in ballplayers: Buster Posey behind the dish for 12 years, half my adulthood. If this year’s rookies stick as long, I will know them when I turn 54.
Other regrets hold fast. How many times I longed to cry, even assured myself of the sacredness in tears. Yet some door behind the front door stayed locked, leaving me the comfort of stone. I’d trade every sober second for monsoon tears, straight-up.
Not so easily christened, this body of mine and the faith it carries. How do I name it: a regret, a down payment on reward, something completely other?
Consider the medals you pinned to your 20-year-old chest—now feel how much they weigh. Wear them through the doorway to your 40s and honors become heart murmurs. Judge other people according to their taste in music or movies, and eventually you will be judged. Thankfully, my body unlearned that reflex.
I am the niche character at the center of a tattered, thumbed-through story.
But I am still too religious for poet friends, too abstract or open-handed for religious friends. My brain rarely quiets, reveling in questions, then alighting on ideas with limited popular appeal. My body fits only the liminal spaces, forever slipping between with its turning points, overworked joints and sideways stepping.
I am the niche character at the center of a tattered, thumbed-through story. Once I might have swelled with pride; now I just feel lonely.
I don’t know how other people use Facebook in the year of our Lord 2023. Through digital glass, I bear witness as the children of friends grow, and catch the first five minutes of sermons delivered by my Baptist college classmates.
These preachers move their mouths, and I make out the sounds of jokes, segues, and story frames. I hear who and what they pray for, the blessings they count; never any regrets. But I spend more time noticing how their bodies carry them.
Their chins are stronger than mine; they bear broad shoulders, yet seem to move easily through wide doorways and great, open spaces.
My eyes squint and I picture them walking only in straight lines. Home to church, through the double doors, up a roomy aisle to ascend the stage. They leave the same way, stepping into Sunday afternoon with unclouded gaze, on untroubled soles. Like some aged-out S.E. Hinton character, I step out into the bright sunlight, from the darkness of the sanctuary, with only two things on my mind:
That song by The National, the one about careful fear and dead devotion, and the streets I’m driving home.
Recently, I sucked it up and pressed play on a sermon of my own, one I preached on the Psalms in January 2020. I heard a man I both know and don’t anymore. I think I still agree with my three points, and most of what fell between. Yet the timbre I use sounds strange now, one that draws its sentences up into periods, even a few exclamation marks. I only talk in questions anymore.
But even in my best attempts at certainty, I hear a man folding himself up to slide through the fine spaces of God’s world; he makes his body thin, not as a standard of beauty, but a matter of strength, of his very constitution.
I wonder how life might have unfolded if my voice could reach the back of the room, if my jaw was square, if my brain stopped collapsing on itself, creating these godawful daily supernovas.
I eke between mystery and conviction, praying they will close in on each other and me; dance clumsily between unfettered wonder and disillusion’s tattered places; move toward solitude and back into loneliness; scrape my knees against every feeling all at once.
Maybe I could please God and people more often. Maybe my prayers would meet their answers. Maybe I would have something worth posting on Facebook, a place where my sighs never translate, or something to say when people ask how God is working in my life. To borrow from Peter Gabriel, maybe I would lay myself down to sleep Sunday nights in a bed “made like a mountain range.”
But I keep slip-sliding through my days and nights, between the thin veils of one thing and another. I eke between mystery and conviction, praying they will close in on each other and me; dance clumsily between unfettered wonder and disillusion’s tattered places; move toward solitude and back into loneliness; scrape my knees against every feeling all at once.
I know when I talk about the alternatives, it sounds passive-aggressive. But I feel a genuine kind of envy—genuine but incomplete—for sturdier bodies and smoother songs; for an existence that doesn’t resemble the flat third of a chord, part of the harmony but dragging down the key.
Borrowing again from Peter Gabriel, I want my heaven to be a big heaven, and I want to walk through the front door. But different pictures and promises meet me.
But maybe God blesses the bodies taking bent paths, forever showing up in the in-between spaces, skating past regrets into something like their own private heaven.
On a Wednesday somewhere around 9 p.m., I travel neighborhood sidewalks, alternate running and walking steps. At 77 degrees, the night air gestures toward summer’s heaviness while offering a last remnant of relief. As my body moves through space, cuts the June dark, a minute company attends me.
Small and brilliant yellow, like the purest Christmas light, flashes before me. A few more strides, then yellow. Curve my body right, yellow again. Fireflies pierce thin spaces too, I remember. And as their bodies dart between the elements of our shared atmosphere, I believe.
In time with their intermittent pulses, I believe—that, yes, some people will walk through every front door of this life and the next, into a big paradise. But maybe God blesses the bodies taking bent paths, forever showing up in the in-between spaces, skating past regrets into something like their own private heaven.