I’ve been reading a series called Naked Before God, written by a Congregational Church pastor in Hershey, Michigan called Edward W. Raby Sr., and it has me thinking, re-thinking just what it is about nudity that has jumped up to capture more and more of my attention. Nudity isn’t a stranger in my life. On reflection, nudity became a part of my conscious life during my last two years of high school. I had wondered why it came into my life then and have since credited its appearance as a way for me to handle the psychological wounds that grew out of years of physical, psychological and sexual abuse. It “fit” and that was good enough. But now, I wonder if there was more than that at work, something at a deeper level. Yes, the psychological benefits were/are undeniable. Perhaps, the escapes into private and isolated naturism were all that stood between the darkness of my being and death.
As a child and youth, others defined who I was and defined the value of my body. My mind was tucked away, somewhat safely, in a distant corner when the blows came – the blows from the anger of my father, the blows to identity from my mother who sought my father in me, the blows from priests and a grandfather who thought my physical body was to serve their sexual need. My body got separated from my psyche in order for my psyche to survive. And when I took to hiding in a natural setting and stripping off my clothing, I now understand that I was acting to reclaim, reunite my body and my mind. That should have been enough of a reason, but somehow something else continued to bubble beneath the level of consciousness within me. Before I can speak of that bubbling, I need to go a bit further back into the past to see what else was missing, what else got lost along the way, what else got hidden into a box that was buried deep within the inner dark regions of my psyche.
I was a soulful child and I firmly believed in Jesus, in heaven and in hell. It was assumed by my extended family that I would become a priest. It was normal for one child in a large French-Canadian family to be dedicated to the Church. It seems that my way of being in the world was such that I self-selected to be that person. I loved going to church, the magic and mystery of the mass; the smells and the costumes; the soaring ceilings that reached to heaven itself. I attended Catholic schools for a number of years and learned my Catechism lessons well. The first molestation by a priest got buried under guilt. I assumed that it was because I was a sinner. There was not even a thought that the priest had done wrong, only the belief that I was bad. I tried harder and harder to please the priest, the nuns at school and my parents at home. I desperately didn’t want to let them find out about the devil that was hiding in me.
After the second molestation by a priest when I was nine years old and trying to learn my lessons to become an altar boy, the magic in the church disappeared. And with that magic, my soul seemed to disappear. I was abandoned by Jesus, perhaps found to be not worthy of being one of his soldiers as I had pledged when I took the sacrament of Confirmation.
I reading Raby’s article, a light came on. My journeys into the fields where I would remove my clothing and soak in the sunshine while reading poetry was a spiritual act. Unconsciously, my psyche was trying to reconnect not only body with mind, it was seeking to make me a whole person again.
Raby highlights six things about nudity that resonated with me: vulnerability, openness, intimacy, genuineness, wholeness, and equality. At home, at school, at work or anywhere else, I did my best to make sure I was protected, building barriers that eventually even I couldn’t get over. The last thing I wanted was to be vulnerable as it hurt too much. When I was vulnerable, others exploited that vulnerability. If I hid, psychologically hid, only my body was vulnerable. But in hiding from the world, I also hid from my soul. Those first experiences of naturism was as much about my soul as it was about my body.
This is a vital piece of information for me to have as it reaffirms in me the idea that being naked is not being sinful. Sin is about intention. Being nude can be about participation in acts of darkness, acts of sin; or, it can be about honouring both the creator and his creation. I can see that I have a lot to think about and a lot to write about as I journey to the healing of body, mind and spirit to become a whole person, perhaps even a holy person.