Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ also loved the church and gave Himself for her, that He might sanctify and cleanse her with the washing of water by the word,
that He might present her to Himself a glorious church, not having spot or wrinkle or any such thing, but that she should be holy and without blemish. So husbands ought to love their own wives as their own bodies; he who loves his wife loves himself. For no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, just as the Lord does the church.
I have to say that a lot of people I know hate this chapter in Ephesians. Most of the people I know who hate this chapter in Ephesians are women and most of them are like me- modern, straight thinking, progressive. We get tripped up on the first part of it, about women submitting to their husbands. We get so tripped up that we forget to keep reading. We become part of the problem with “proof texting” because we allow ourselves to forget that there is always more. I know that I fall into that trap myself. It’s only made worse by social media and my ever shortening attention span. I will quickly “like” or “share” a quote because those 10 words appeal to me, support me, affirm me, incite me, infuriate me. I forget about context and continuation.
So, when this came up as the daily reading I bristled because I remember this passage by the parts that piss me off. I read it anyway though because I’ve heard just enough positive spins on it to understand the greater context and give Paul and those pesky Ephesians the benefit of my feministic doubt as it were. And that’s a good thing because this is the part of the verse that finally emerged as I read it through a few times.
For no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, just as the Lord does the church.
I find myself in that strange place then of getting stuck on one verse and that bothers me a little, because I don’t want to get stuck. I want to get immersed in context and continuation, the ongoing story of us. It occurs to me then, as I consider it, that maybe when I get stuck like this, rather than base all my belief or doubt on that one verse that maybe the point of my stuck-ness is to simply be attentive to it.
And so I pay attention to this stuck place and what it brings up for me, when I think on it a bit is this- It strikes me as profoundly untrue in our current culture to say that “no one ever hated his own flesh.” I think about the work I do (with women in particular) as a personal trainer, as a writer, as a participant in wellness programs that I do see people who hate their own flesh. In reading it today, in paying attention to this, I’m moved to sadness about how much we do tend to hate our own flesh. I think about my own body and how I view it, things I say to it and about it. I think about my daughter saying to me, “I hate my thighs” or “I hate my nose” and while Paul most likely was not referring to this kind of “self talk” when he wrote about men and women loving each other it does not make it any less relevant to where I am at the moment.
I wrote recently about loving my belly on Mrs Metaphor and the post generated a great deal of traffic. It’s a small post documenting a big step for me on the road to loving my flesh, not in an egotistical way but in a way that will help me to care for it, to nurture it and then to model that love for my daughter, for my sons, for anyone at all really. It leads me to wonder if this hating of the flesh speaks to more than how I feel about myself on any given day. I wonder if hating the flesh actually makes it harder for me to love other people. If I hate my body how can I love and affirm my daughter’s body? How can I teach her to love and care for her flesh when I am so much more apt to neglect my own?
In the end I circle back to context and care. For as long as I see my body as separate from the whole of me I will continue to neglect and discard it. The struggle is to know that there is more, to keep reading and not get caught up in the parts of me, this verse, these thighs, arms, nose. And in the same way I am more than just myself, I am part of a system, a family, a community. The way I understand myself and care for myself is going to radiate out from me into those other parts. Hate travels…but so does love and if I’m being attentive, if I’m working toward care and context, then I hope that love will be the message I send out best.