Sunday, October 07, 2007
Backbends into God's Grace
Walking down Edgcumbe Road in St. Paul this afternoon, I witnessed two girls, maybe 9 or 10 years old, pre-pubescent friends or sisters, attempting backbends in their front yard.
As one was leaning backward, the other had a kind of shadowy embrace around her, providing a kind of security as the first girl leaned or fell into the arched pose. When the first girl's hands connected with the ground, I heard her say, "I did it! I finally did it!"
There was this victorious kind of joy in her voice, and her friend celebrated, shouting,"Yes! You did! Yes!" clapping and striking her fist through the air.
Then there was a pause. I caught their eyes, smiled at both of them. I wanted to applaud.
Then I heard the girl say, "Now, how do I get back up?"
It made me laugh.
The whole scene made me think a lot of things...
I remember those days of gymnastics at the YMCA in Norfolk when I was growing up. Trudging my own little girl body up and into the athletically challenging spaces where we'd train and tone, flip and tumble in our leotards, learning about the limitations and awesome abilities of our limbs.
I liked the routine for a long while. I still recall in my own bones the beauty of that kind of knowing: learning, leaning into my body, pushing it to do things that it didn't necessarily feel inclined to do. (The splits? Roundoff back hand springs? Aerial Cartwheels? Please. )
The backbend for me, in particular, was a similar hallmark in my early gymnastic days, as it seemed for these young girls in my neighborhood.
I was 8. Still attending the one-room country school called "District 20," and reading Nancy Drew novels. Learning how to do a back bend gracefully outside in the yard was a total and complete joy:
Extending my arms upwards, attempting to grow roots out of the base of my planted feet. I'd imagine these tethers into the soil beneath, keeping me anchored, as I arched backwards, leaning, reaching for the ground, springing palms toward the soil corresponding with my heels, and creating this bridge: a kind of backwards body rainbow, sturdy and solid, a feat of faith.
I remember ache in my thighs and stomach muscles. The tension in all things working together as I leaned backward, face to sky, eyes on clouds or sunshine, the pine trees. Oh! To view the world upside down and backwards! To be able to arch yourself and not completely topple, but to find grace and strength in an action so completely non-typical, nonsensical even. (Why does anyone need to do a backbend? Where does this help us in life?)
The recollection brings me joy.
How often do I attempt backbends these days? ....Please! (I'm editing here for eyes and spirits sensitive to shenanigans and over-over-over the top metaphors.)
I started my day attempting to cheer on one delightful, courageous friend named Antoinette Bennaars who was running the 10 mile route of the Twin Cities marathon. I never caught up with her, but I was privy to some powerful witness of other runners, testing their mettle, their human physical limits, and at mile marker eight, at Lexington and Summit in St. Paul: exuding a similar kind of "yes!" to that of my backbending girls, knowing they were doing it!
This theme of endurance, of challenge, of testing the body and its limitations, ran through my experience at mass today. Fr. Pat, in his opening welcome, made mention of another parishioner who we'd been holding in prayer at the Church of St. Philips. Jim Hingeley just completed the 500 mile walk in Northern Spain, called "El Camino del Santiago" or the "Walk of St. James." A sort of pilgrimage he's done - not just once, but twice now! (What compels people? What drives them in their bones, muscles, lungs, hearts, spirits, minds, to do such things?)
As Father was mentioning this, I looked around and caught sight of Dale Timmerman. Our dear and beloved "Deacon Dale" who has battled cancer in his body now: three times, over the course of the last 20 years! This last go round, resulted in the removal of his left lung. And still: he walks, he moves, he lives, he breathes. (How is this really possible? What is necessary for full oxygen flow, circulation in the body? Who is this man? How has God created us?)
It all sort of blows me away.
We all have limitations, right? As humans, we are wrought with our human frailty that we must all face, endure, hopefully even find a way to cherish. I think backbends, marathons, pilgrimages in the way of saints: they all must teach us something about overcoming and receiving the grace of God. They must!
Or else, why? Why attempt them?
Somewhere, back in that little girl body of mine, I think I knew: I just liked the challenge of looking at the world in an upside down and backwards sort of way. I liked bending round and having to align myself with a tree for minute.
It was fun. I felt stronger than perhaps I ever knew I was.