Rev. Catharine Is Currently On Medical Leave

Rev. Catharine Is Currently
On Medical Leave

Rev. Catharine Is Currently
On Medical Leave

Fatness and Miraculous Beauty: 1

Fatness and Miraculous Beauty: 1

In all the tumult of life, the daily and hourly news cycle, the seemingly unending slings and arrows of life on Earth, we are reminded by wise ones all over the world that we are also here now, together, and are given the opportunity to fall in love with one another. So as Mary Oliver writes, I invite each of us, “no matter how lonely,” to come to a place of welcome and learning, of openness to a message we may not have heard before, one that is just for each of our hearts alone. I invite us to fall in love with one another, and in particular, with ourelves.

When I was first asked to give a sermon focused on what it is like to be a fat minister and femme woman, some topics came to mind.

My original blurb read as follows: “We ‘read’ everyone, every body we encounter. We perceive them through our own lenses, our own headphones, if you will. Everyone we encounter runs the risk of becoming little more than a story told by a mind colonized by social expectations of beauty, behavior, and other ways of being.”

I am a woman, assigned female at birth and raised as a girl in this culture. I am a femme, a term I use to denote the ways I consider my gendered self-expression.

I am also, of course, a very fat person in a culture where people are terrified of and hate fat, and by extension, want to eradicate fatness at any cost. The writer Ijeoma Oluo speaks in a voice motivated by love, and yet ringed about by outrage. I cannot quote all of her I’d like to, as there is language in the piece that I don’t feel comfortable quoting from the pulpit.

However, this much I will quote directly, minus profanity: “You know fat people live every day knowing they are fat. They are told every day, by friends, family, coworkers, television, articles, movies, books – that they are part of an “epidemic” They are told that their body is a time-bomb. They are reminded that they are impossible to desire, unlovable, unpresentable. They are reminded that they are lazy and broken and failures. Every {single}day.

You think it doesn’t get to us? You think we aren’t “getting it”? Do you really think you could tell us something about our bodies that we haven’t heard?

Do you know what it is like to be told that you are broken and gross and a failure every single day?”

Some of you doubtless do. I certainly do.

Fat people, that is to say, people like me, are most often represented in media without faces or even heads showing. It is only our bodies that show, almost as invitations to disgusted voyeurism, that appear. Look for this pattern in magazines and on internet images. I guarantee you will see it.

The onus is on us to constantly advocate for ourselves, especially we who also have physical disability related to fatness. I check out restaurants before I go to them, sometimes calling to ask whether the chairs have arms. Whether there are sturdy benches, or just flimsy, plastic folding chairs. Flimsy, plastic, folding chairs and my body are not friends, as you might imagine.

I have been harassed on the street by strangers, even here in a city often noted for open-mindedness and its large fat-acceptance community. Earlier in my life, during years of bullying, I was spat on and yelled at and told that if I’d just…do something, anything, just “not give up,” things would be better. This despite solid data we now have that almost no one—only 5-10% of those who intentionally try to lose weight—keeps it off beyond five years. And most not even two.

I have been called a beached whale over the course of my life more times than I can count. And once someone just behind me in line said, “Beached whales like her don’t deserve to live.”

I have been told or it has otherwise been made clear that my taking up space is offensive, that my asking for accommodation is unreasonable, that something as simple as a chair without arms is an imposition.

For many years, I have internalized these messages. They turned inward. Many of you understand this dynamic. Taking in what the world says as though it is kind or true, compassionate or worthy.

I have even thought, myself, at low points, that the very body I live in is a sign of the overconsumption and consumerist, gluttonous “affluenza” of our culture. I have questioned whether it is reasonable of me to be any kind of spiritual teacher, to preach to congregations just like you, to write, to speak up about my experience, to crack open the “secrets” of what it means to be a very fat woman and spiritual leader.

I learned through years of bullying that I, in my being, was the antithesis of beauty, much less attractiveness or desirability. And even in some way stupid, unaware, or willfully ignorant of the putative risks of my weight, no matter which of the many sizes I have been.

As I considered what I was asked to preach, I thought of asking what it means to you to see a fat minister, a spiritual leader preaching sitting down, a fat woman with makeup on and glitter in her hair, sitting and speaking in a congregation.

But beauty is more than personal, human beauty. It is and is more than what we think about one another and how we judge or offer, steal or affirm worth and dignity, respect, love, and care.

I wanted to ask a larger question. I wanted to ask something deeper, something about how we can learn to perceive beauty as a manifestation of what Unitarian Universalists identify as the First Source of our faith:  “Direct experience of that transcending mystery and wonder, affirmed in all cultures, which moves us to a renewal of the spirit and an openness to the forces which create and uphold life.”

I began to consider those qualities we think of as “inner beauty.” Or the radiance of someone you know of no particularly astonishing physical beauty, or someone whose voice brings you to your knees when he sings.

These, too, are beauty.

So what is it, then, beauty?

John Keats famously wrote in his “Ode on A Grecian Urn,” “Truth, beauty. Beauty, truth. / That’s all ye need to know on earth.” That appeals to me. I am, after all, the daughter of a poetry professor and quite attached to Keats. I am attracted to the idea.

I almost believe that. But it’s not the whole story.

Another piece of the story comes from something I heard in an interview with John O’Donohue and his discussion on interior landscapes and the beauties therein:  “Beauty isn’t all about just nice loveliness… Beauty is about more rounded, substantial becoming. So I think beauty, in that sense, is about an emerging fullness, a greater sense of grace and elegance, a deeper sense of depth….”

The beauty expressed there is more like the New Testament Greek word for “perfection,” which can also mean, maturity, fullness, or ripeness, as in fruit.

O’Donohue brings up the idea of fullness and becoming, movement towards something more mature and deep. He suggests that beauty is about depth, which is something I associate with wisdom, that elusive virtue so many constantly striving toward, whether we know it or not.

So there are several answers here. Colonized narratives. Depth. Wisdom. Truth.

And even these didn’t do it for me. Not all the way. What I have kept coming back to is the idea of wonder, of awe, of how beauty is something that can take us up short, turn our head on the street, make us weep at a painting, or kneel on the sidewalk for the full moon.

These things, and all of us, individually and in community, are miracles.

What are miracles doing in a sermon about fatness and beauty?

Partly by way of answer, I return us to consider our first Source and the source of my own theology at its core. As Unitarian Universalist congregations, we acknowledge Six Sources of our faith tradition.

There are things I might add, might take away from the list, but the First Source is not among them.

I read it again: “Direct experience of that transcending mystery and wonder, affirmed in all cultures, which moves us to a renewal of the spirit and an openness to the forces which create and uphold life.”

This statement affirms the experience many of us share with billions around with the world, the experience of wonder. Wonder at nature, in her power and majesty, her glorious silica sand and heaven in a flower. Wonder at one another’s capacity for goodness and kindness and vulnerability. At the feelings music or farming or landscape architecture or dance or any other human endeavor may bring us.  Part two to come soon…

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