By Rev. M Barclay
Dorothy Day once said, “we cannot love God unless we love each other, and to love we must know each other.”
To love, we must know each other: Beloveds. Enemies. Creaturely kin. Our neighbors. The water and plants around us.
To know each other requires interaction: Listening. Paying attention. Responding. Sharing.
The work of love cannot be lived abstractly. It is bodily, enfleshed, incarnate.
God so loved the world that God took on flesh.
To know creation as creation.
To feed and be fed.
To heal and be healed.
To laugh and weep and turn over tables.
The love of God is a bodily manifestation.
And so too must ours be. In relationship to self, no less than others.
“Do you love yourself?”
It is one thing to say I love myself and to mean that I have accepted who I am, particularly the parts the world condemns.
It is quite another thing to put the flesh back on love and ask it again.
If I love myself, I must know my own needs and tend to them. Do I…
Provide my body with the nutrients, exercise, and rest it needs
Advocate for my needs and rights
Tend to the destructive ideas and practices I have internalized related to white supremacy, misogyny, queer/trans phobia, etc
Pursue my own delight
Foster my sense of community and my place in the whole
The practices of love – of self, God, and neighbor – are lived through our bodies.
Love takes on flesh.
Many queer and trans people know all too well the differences between abstract proclamations of love and love incarnate. For too long, love has not been held accountable to flesh. It can be preached and proclaimed without concern for bodily well-being, without having to know the needs or desires of another, without even having to pay much attention.
For too many, still today, there is a gulf between a parent’s “I love you” and their willingness to support their trans kid’s physical transition. For too many, still today, there is a gulf between a pastor’s “God loves you and so do I” and their commitment to disrupting violence against queer bodies in the church. For too many, still today, there is a gulf between “I love you” and “I will not be silent when laws are passed against you.”
Disembodied love is so easy. As easy as a few words.
But words alone do not fill hungry stomachs. Or prevent attack. Or house. Or heal.
Love is a practice of encouraging life to thrive and life only thrives through bodies.
Your own body.
The bodies of your neighbors.
The body of this earth and all of our creaturely kin.
“Love God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. And love your neighbor as yourself.”
In this world where there are too many aching bodies, too many needs unmet, and too many alternative possibilities for life to thrive, Love lives in our hearts but it will never be content to stay there. Love must bear flesh.
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Rev. M Barclay is a United Methodist deacon serving as Director of enfleshed. M formerly served as Director of Communications at Reconciling Ministries Network, advocating for queer and trans justice in The UMC. They have also enjoyed working as a hospital chaplain, youth director, justice associate and faith coordinator for reproductive justice in Texas. As a queer and trans minister, M is passionate about writing, teaching, and preaching on finding the Sacred in the people, places, and ideas often overlooked.