This past Saturday morning, I attended a workshop at The Colossian Forum’s annual conference. The workshop was titled Beyond Good Intentions: The Practices of Calm Presence. The presenter, Trisha Taylor, has been a coach to me and a friend for a number of years. She told me not to bother coming to her workshop, as I had already heard a lot of what she was going to say.
I went anyway.
In addition to laying out a family systems framework for understanding our anxiety, Trisha actually gave us space to practice being calm. She had us sit in five minutes of silence and breathe deeply. She asked us to pair up, designating one person as the speaker and one as the listener. The speaker was invited to share their perspective on ‘a woman’s role in the church’ and the listener, practicing curiosity, could only respond by asking questions.
The practice that startled and moved me most came when Trisha asked us to stand up, to close our eyes, and to feel our center of gravity. I felt myself wobble a bit and concentrated hard on not falling over. And then she said,
“Now I want you to step your right foot out one step to the right and to place your hands on your hips in a kind of superman pose. And I want you to just stand there and to feel your connection to the ground and your stability. This pose reminds me of all the times in the Bible we are told to simply stand.”
As my breath rushed easily into my lungs and my posture relaxed into a strange confidence, I thought to myself, “Have I every stood this way before? Do I ever stand this way at all?”
How often, I began to think, don’t I live my life, unconsciously trying to take up less room than I am? I cross my arms in front of my stomach to hide my baby belly. Cross my legs to make more room on the bench for someone else, sometimes even tucking the foot of my crossed leg behind my ankle. Cross my fingers, deceiving you with the half-truths of my false self, hoping you won’t see the parts of me I don’t want you to see. Cross my heart, hoping not to die.
Do I ever stand like this? With my legs grounded like this and my shoulders back like this with my hands on my hips like this to keep my shoulders from slumping forward?
Why don’t I?
Trisha said, “This is my ‘strong and courageous’ pose. I can’t tell you how many bathroom stalls I’ve stood in like this before going out into a room to teach or to speak.”
Oh, I thought… This is not a public practice, then? When I spoke to Trisha afterward about the fact that we don’t stand this way in front of other people, she said, “Of course not!” And I said, “Well, why not?”
All sorts of good reasons, of course. The pose can look like I’m scolding (think wagging finger) or overconfident (think super-hero) or… unfeminine, perhaps? A quick google search turned up an explanation of this body language. “This gesture is taken up by a person who is ‘ready for action’, typically an assertive action. We only take assertive action when we feel the need to assert ourselves and we only feel the need to assert ourselves when our rights have been violated or we encounter an unpleasant situation that requires us to set things straight… By resting the hands on the hips and sometimes opening up the feet to take a wider stance, we try to appear bigger by taking up more space” (PsychMechanics).
So perhaps I don’t stand this way because I don’t encounter very many unpleasant situations or experience many rights violations. I know that I certainly don’t want to appear bigger than I am.
But Trisha’s invitation to this pose was an invitation to me and to others, not to appear bigger, but to simply live into the space that we have been given, centered in God. For those of us who sometimes find ourselves living half-lives or small-lives, it is a healthy corrective.
The morning after I got back from the conference, I ran across this picture from May of this year on the top of Mount Catherine in Egypt. And I thought, “Huh, I guess I have stood like that before!”
I remember that moment. How I anchored my feet and stabilized myself on the rock. How I breathed in the mountain wind as it whipped my pony tail and carried my words to Tim, “Did you get the picture? Can I come back from the edge now?!”
Brothers and sisters, my prayer is that we would take up no more room than the room that we have been given. Far be it from us to think too highly of ourselves, to speak when we should be listening, to be violent with our postures.
And, sisters and brothers, my prayer is also that we would take up no less room than the room that we have been given. Far be it from us to think too lowly of ourselves, to listen when we should be speaking, to be timid with our postures, depriving the world of what God has given us to offer it.
Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous? Actually who are you not to be? You are a child of God. Your playing small does not serve the world. There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won’t feel insecure around you. We are all meant to shine, as children do. We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us. It is not just in some of us; it is in everyone. And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.