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Jen Pollock Michel

( author + writer + speaker )

Breaking the Bread of Belief: Naked

jenmichel@me.com

Naked (Today's post is the fifth in a series entitled, "Breaking the Bread of Belief." Read about beginning, dust, home, and feast.)

All images courtesy of Joetography.

* * * * *

I read a lovely book this past summer, which I had picked up the Festival of Faith and Writing. Entitled Frances and Bernard, this epistolary novel written by Carlene Bauer is painfully human. It is tender and heartbreaking, realistic as much as it is romantic. Frances and Bernard meet at a writer's colony, and they begin a correspondence, which later becomes a love affair. Frances, however, decides against marrying Bernard, realizing she cannot support his mental instability (manic seasons followed by depression requiring hospitalization). Or, perhaps it's truer to say, her art cannot support it.

"It would require all of my spirit to take care of you the way you need to be taken care of," writes Frances,"—the way I wish I could take care of you, which would be the way God would require me to take care of you if I were to become your wife. There would no spirit left for my books."

At the end of the novel, Frances regrets her decision. Bernard, however, has already married another woman. Later, in a letter to his friend describing his final encounter with Frances after his marriage, he describes the way he had loved Frances.

"Looking at Frances, I had the realization that I had been both her lover and her brother. With most people, you settle into being one or the other. I feel related to her still, familial because she knew me when I was at my most Bernard and I knew her when she was at her most Frances."

I have thought this to be one of the most poignant descriptions of human intimacy. When we arrive safely at being most fully and confidently ourselves in the presence of another human being, we have achieved a rare trust and received a great gift.

This intimacy, reliant on full disclosure, is what I'll call nakedness.

Naked is the fifth word of faith that I've chosen for this series, and in the Bible, it's meant to describe, not just the physical state of being unclothed, but the emotional and spiritual condition of total transparency.

In the Garden, Adam and Eve were naked "and were not ashamed" (Gen. 2:25). Their total selves were on display before one another and God himself, and there was no need for apology.

Adam was at his most Adam. Eve was at her most Eve.

God saw them and delighted in them, just as he had his entire creation, calling it all "very good."

This prelapsarian moment is worthy of pause. It is beautiful for the vice that is absent. We humans, this side of Genesis 3, probably fail to imagine what it would be like to live without dissimulation, concealment, pretense, lies.

I know how eager I am to make sure that I am perceived in ways congruent with my best self. At church this past Sunday, as I was clarifying for children's ministry volunteers which monthly memory verse we were memorizing, I repeated several times how, "As a family, we were sure that this month's passage was John 15."

As a family. As a family.

I had become suddenly insistent with these people that we were, as a family, memorizing the Scripture passages at home. I needed them to see me as faithful, as spiritual, as worthy of being in the position of Children's Ministry Director.

It is nothing short of exhausting to spend our lives on this kind of spin, and we will reap nothing but weariness if we must, at every turn, work so tirelessly for the approval of others. It requires we be something other than we really are.

I can't help but see that the gospel promises a greater rest.

To be naked. To be at our most Adam. At our most Eve.

The greater way of Jesus is the unmerited approval of God. Grace does not require concealment, but forgiveness. When Jesus hung naked on a cross, surrounded by scoundrels, he exchanged his righteousness for our treachery.

"Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do."

Forgiveness is the only thing that makes nakedness before God possible.

"It is a wonderful thing to be humans in the hand of God," Jen McNaughton recently said our church's women conference. That's a line I've been turning over in my head ever since. Jen had been sharing the nature of her own struggles and the joy of learning to depend on God, and she was reminding us that God is never surprised by our limitations and sin. As the Psalmist describes, he is a compassionate father. "He knows our frame; he remembers we are dust," (Ps. 103:14).

It is possible to walk naked with God. To be transparently human, which is to say, flawed and failing. It is possible because a sympathetic high priest has been given, and he is acquainted with grief and sorrow and the fragility of mortality (cf. Heb. 4:15).

He- A brother. A husband.

"Looking at Frances, I had the realization that I had been both her lover and her brother. With most people, you settle into being one or the other. I feel related to her still, familial because she knew me when I was at my most Bernard and I knew her when she was at her most Frances."

You at your most Adam. Me at my most Eve. And both of us loved wildly By God in all that nakedness.