Wednesday, December 19, 2007

It all comes together at Christmas -- Embodied Faith, COA, and OWL

The story of Jesus Birth, interpreted by Christian faith, is a story about Jesus as G-d's embodiment on earth. Jesus, according to this belief, was embodied G-d at the very moment of his birth.

My personal belief is in the embodiment of the sacred in all life, and my faith journey leads me to support and promote that sacred spark of life in every way possible. When one holds a baby just born, there is no doubt that there is something sacred about it, a baby is not simply a mass of DNA and tissue and blood that reflexively cries. There is a spark of something intangible yet simultaneously compelling and vivid that produces an attitude of gratitude and awe, or perhaps, recognition.

Of course people were awed at Jesus' birth. Birthing is awe-full.

Human life may be specially situated, because we can reflect upon and share about that embodiment. We reflect on suffering, on joy, on pain, on love. To be cognitively and emotionally reflective about what happens to our bodies and minds is a gift that is, I believe, unique to humanity.

One of the deep deep roots of the theological underpinnings of my job as Director of Religious Education is reflection upon and taking action from a place that takes seriously the idea that the sacred is embodied in human form. This is a touchstone for decision making about programs, policies, interventions, curricular and extra-curricular choices, and the framework of a community within which collective and individual faith development is addressed.

Why do we run Coming of Age programs as a holistic,reflective, intentionally practice-filled faith development experience? Why do we run COA programs with elements of Relationship, Social Action, UU Identity, and Values/Belief? Because latency and teen aged young people are not empty brains to have information poured in, nor are they merely adolescent bodies needing to continually physically externalize their particular internal chaos. They are complex human creatures, at a particular point of development that places incredible intellectual, emotional, and physical demands on them that require guidance and direction. We provide that guidance and structure in these four areas, not because we have the answers, but because we know how to make the path more navigable as they grow -- and because we know that children with structure, boundaries, information and direction, and healthy adult companionship are more likely to develop into healthy adults.

As Embodied Beings from birth, we require certain kinds of guidance, structure, and support. This is why Our Whole Lives, the UUA's lifespan sexuality curriculum, is so important in our congregations. As embodied creatures all the time - we have skin and mind, gender and emotions and spark. Awareness, knowledge and respect for all of these bits of ourselves, as we age and develop, are crucial to making healthy decisions about what we do with our bodies. Personally, I wish we called OWL Our Embodied Selves. But OES is a lousy acronym.

Like COA programs, OWL is based in best practices -- what we know works. We know that simply believing that all the people in our young children's world will maintain appropriate physical and emotional boundaries with them is not sufficient to protect and prepare our children for advocating for their own bodily autonomy. We know that ignoring children's bodies until the sudden onset of puberty does not provide them with the tools to manage the emotional and physical changes of puberty, or ignoring the pulls of sexual attraction will not provide young people with the tools to make careful, healthy decisions about sexual behavior. Our children are beings with bodies with a sacred spark from birth, and from birth we must attend to the sacredness of their bodies, and prepare them to respect, develop, and care for their bodies. We must do so pro-actively, with great attention to developmental appropriateness and milestones, and to best practices in sexuality education.

I sometimes tell parents: There are two things we want our children to hear about from us first -- G-d and Sex.

And right after that, I mention that usually, these are exactly the two things that parents want the most help and support around.

Our religious community is the best suited to provide that help and support, and one way we do it is through the lifespan curricula of the Our Whole Lives program. We don't simply insert it into our "regular" curricula saying "we will return to our regularly scheduled curricula after this brief announcement about sexuality," but as an integrated part of our lifespan faith development programs. Just as the year long COA program is one of many years of RE that build together, (and, imho, is not nearly as successful when a parent comes to the UU for the first time because they want their 8th grader to "have a COA experience,") OWL is also a component of an integrated program. We integrate care for bodies into our curricula, modeling for our children that while we talk about the transcendental and magical, we also talk about the visceral and concrete, that ideas about G-d are explored right next to ideas about babies.

See? It all comes together at Christmas. Babies as the embodiment of the sacred, our sacred responsibility to provide for their care and nurture in ways that actually help them to move along in their development, and our sacred commitment to the work we do and the lives we lead as we tend our own spark.

Or, this year, in my case a little sooner than Christmas. In 44 hours when my twin nieces will be born.

1 comment:

Happy and Cranky Cindy said...

And my time stamp is set right in blogger, but it's publishing wrong. So, family, don't be telling me that I'm off for the girls' birth :-)