“Beauty and the Beast” and Embodied Joys

This reflection went out to my email newsletter last week. I can never predict which reflections will touch a nerve, but this one did–I received a lots of responses, so I thought I’d share it here as well.

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It has been a lovely and full spring. I am currently with a group of clergy for “preacher camp,” a week of study using papers that we write about the scripture texts for the coming year. It is a rich week, with lots of laughter. We begin each morning with a short informal worship service, which I’m leading this year. The theme is PLAY, and we are doing improv games together! It’s been a fun experiment to get out of our heads and into our bodies.

Speaking of bodies…
I wanted to share with you a moment that won’t let me go lately. I recently took my kids to see the live-action remake of Beauty and the Beast, starring Emma Watson. I was expecting to enjoy the movie for what it was—a fun diversion on a low-energy afternoon of Spring Break. I didn’t expect to receive a deeper back story for many of the characters, including the staff of the Beast’s household, now trapped in the form of various household objects. There’s even an explanation for why they were cursed along with the Beast. And unlike the 1992 animated movie, in which these talking objects were kind of cute and funny, I found myself feeling great empathy for these people whose flesh and blood had been taken away from them and who were now… a clock. A feather duster. A harpsichord.

My empathy came to a head at the end of the movie, when the teapot, Mrs. Potts, is released from her curse. Her son Chip, who has been a teacup all this time, is nowhere to be found, and Mrs. Potts begins desperately searching for him. Finally they find one another and collide into one another’s arms, overjoyed to be whole again. In the flurry of this reunion, Mrs. Potts (played by the amazing Emma Thompson) says a line—so fast that you could easily miss it—that made the breath catch in my throat and tears spring to my eyes. (Darn you Disney!)

The line was, “You smell so good!!”

Like Mrs. Potts, I am the mother of a young boy, and the top of his his head is one of the best, sweetest, earthiest smells I know. And for now, my nine-year-old’s crown of tousled hair reaches right under my nose—I know in time I will need to ask him to bend down to let me have a whiff of it, and by then, he won’t want me to. I have also known parents who have lost children, who miss so many things about them, and who would give anything for one more inhale of their child’s fleshy uniqueness.

For much of my life, I was oriented toward pursuits of the mind: I was diligent in school. I’m a writer. I study theology and scripture. I also grew up in a church whose theology taught that the body was connected to sin and shame. As a result, I often viewed my body as merely the container that carried my brain around. Now I am a runner and triathlete, and I do improvisation, a very body-oriented pursuit. I reject that body-shaming theology of my childhood.

Part of that journey has been coming to terms with my body’s limitations, which only increase as we age. I’m spending way more time with doctors on preventive medicine than I used to! But there is also great joy in becoming more “embodied”—in enjoying simple physical pleasures of life. A perfect little piece of dark chocolate. The feel of cool bathroom tile under bare feet in the morning. Laughing so hard with friends that I literally fall onto the floor. (Those were all this week!)

What about you? What simple embodied joys are catching your attention lately?

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2 thoughts on ““Beauty and the Beast” and Embodied Joys

  1. Ted Chadeayne

    This past Saturday, members of my church and I built some bookshelves by hand for Baltimore Teacher Supply Swap, a charity that distributes donated school supplies. The activity was a joy not only for contributing to a great cause, but also for the pleasure of planning out and creating a useful structure out of simple wood and screws, something I hadn’t done in years. And beyond that, there was the scent of fresh-cut lumber that gave me an instinctive pleasure, a comfort that I know has been felt since prehistoric times.

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