Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Naked in the Town Square

And before him no creature is hidden, 
but all are naked and laid bare to the eyes of the one 
to whom we must render an account. 
~Hebrews 4:13

Unio Mystica
A. Andrew Gonzalez

You're a song
Written by the hands of God...

Underneath your clothes
There's an endless story

I mentioned in an earlier post that St. Francis once stripped naked in the town square.  This scene in the movie, Brother Sun, Sister Moon is worth watching, even if it is a bit corny.  Well, ok - a lot corny.

I've been pondering the meaning of nakedness, especially the way that St. Francis used it.  He was making a statement against materialism and superficiality, but more, he was expressing his movement toward a deeper reality.

Since I started this blogging business, I've sometimes felt like I'm naked in the town square.  While this can be uncomfortable, it's also freeing.  I feel more like myself.  I feel more of myself.

The epithets that I started this post with remind me that nakedness is the default state.  We're always naked underneath our clothes.  I've been realizing that the key to feeling free in nakedness lies in the last part of that bible verse - asking myself, To whom must I render an account?  Why am I rendering an account? 

In other words, whose judgment of my nakedness should I really be concerned about?  If I worry about the judgment of my readers, I will find myself in fear, but if I hold my purpose to a higher authority, to the expression of something authentic and spiritually valuable, then I am paradoxically freed to simply let it move through me.

I'm pleasantly surprised that this is how it works.  I feel as though the universe is rewarding me for my efforts, especially in the sense that the more I focus in my writing on the connectedness I see in the whole blooming  world, the more ubiquitous that connectedness becomes, and the more illuminated I find these connections to be.

While I've been pondering this nakedness theme, on Sunday I went to the Presbyterian church I attend, and the sermon was about this very issue.  The verse from Hebrews was one of the texts for the day.  A couple of verses later it talks about "approaching the throne of grace with boldness," which spoke very clearly to my recent experiences.

I used to be extremely arrogant.  I genuinely thought I was smarter and more enlightened than everyone else.  I eventually went through a life-shatteringly humbling process, which has resulted in my being very cautious about falling into arrogance again.  But balanced with that caution must be a recognition of my gifts, and a proper use of them, and this does require boldness.  It just means giving credit where credit is due - which for me means to the Creator, and to other people and creatures and places  that are my collaborators, my cross-pollinators.

(There's a lovely post by Delwyn on this metaphor of cross-pollination, here.  What she says in that post expresses my blog's whole reason for being.  And the fact that someone else said it, a new friend I've connected with through this medium, beautifully illustrates the principle we're both addressing.)

So what is this "throne of grace" that we're encouraged to boldly approach?  Dictionary.com defines grace in several ways.  Here are the first three:
  • elegance or beauty of form, manner, motion, or action.
  • a pleasing or attractive quality or endowment.
  • favor or good will.
In theology, it means:
  • the freely given, unmerited, favor and love of God. 
  • the influence or spirit of God operating in humans to regenerate or strengthen them.
  • a virtue or excellence of divine origin.
I think the common thread between the theological and "regular" definitions of grace has to do with the concept of "freely given."  When we experience a moment of grace, there's something surprising about it, it feels like a gift out of nowhere.  If a throne is "the chair or seat occupied by a sovereign," we can think of that sovereign as grace itself.  Approaching this throne, it seems, means being naked.  To receive moments of grace, we must be open to them, not trying to control every little detail of existence, not clothed in fear or worry or narcissism.

Another way of saying this is that we have to be like children - unselfconscious, free of guile, and in a sense, unquestioning of the value of what we have to share.  Kids will run up to you and excitedly tell you what they just discovered or played with or thought about without ever worrying if you're going to be bored or judgmental.

To be naked is to be uninhibitedly enthusiastic in expressing what interests you.  And if you say it wrong or incompletely, or not everyone gets it or cares to get it - oh well; they're not the ones to whom you must render an account.  It's only the source of grace within you that is entitled to such rendering.

I got to test all this out last Sunday.  I left church, pondering all these things, and as I was turning onto my street, I saw this sign.

I had not heard anything about this event, and was very curious.  I went in my house, changed my shoes, grabbed my camera, and headed over to San Francisco de Asis.  Alas, the parking lot was empty and the church was locked.  But I could hear drumming coming from somewhere, so I walked back through the little grove, out to the street, and looked up and down.

I followed the drumming, passing a few other pedestrians on the way, until I came to the end of the street, where the church school is.   I knew I was now in the right place.

As I walked into the parking lot, passing a long line of mostly kids waiting to drive go-carts around a winding course marked by orange cones, it hit me that I was probably the only non-Hispanic person present.  Not only that, but I was still dressed in the red sweater and colorful skirt I'd worn to church, while everyone else was wearing  jeans.  I felt grossly out of place.  I might as well have been naked.

The culture surrounding the San Francisco de Asis church has existed for over two hundred years and is of a very close-knit, traditional, New Mexican Catholic flavor.  I've rarely felt like such an outsider as I did as I walked through the bazaar.

It was a small, simple affair.  There was food both in the gym and lined up in booths outside - tameles, frito pies, roasted corn, burgers, snow cones.  In the gym, along one wall, was a long table set up with religious figurines, prayer cards, rosaries and some artwork and books with the San Francisco church as the subject.  The rest of the gym was being used for bingo and raffle winner announcements. There were standard fair-type games going on outside, and also a performance area set up in the parking lot.

I wandered around for a bit, wishing I 'd brought some money to spend on food or a poster of the church.  I thought more than once about leaving. The drumming had stopped, but there was another act about to begin, so I figured I'd at least see what it was.  As it turns out, I got to witness an amazing performance by a dance group.  I'm not sure "performance" is even the right word, because they introduced their danzas by saying that each one is a prayer.

After the performance, I approached the dancers and asked if I could post the photos I'd taken of them on my blog.  They took my contact info and said they'd get back to me by the end of the week.   So once I hear from them, I'll share more about this experience in another post, either with or without photos.

But for now, I will just say that I'm very glad I stayed to watch the danzas, because I found myself so caught up in the grace of them, I forgot to feel naked.


  1. This was a very VERY beautiful post today. Your writing EXPANDS. It is as if it is Breathing deeper and the lungs are expanding. Its really BEAUTIFUL to be a part of this, and Exciting.

    I loved EVERYTHING about this POST, EVERYTHING!

    I committed myself to be Free in my writing and to stay connected with the creation I am and the creator that made me. Writing among other things is my part of creation. I feel I have to do it, to breathe.

    So Great, Thank You for the Refreshment in this Work!

  2. Thank you, thank you. It makes me happy that you enjoy my writing.

    It's so good to know that, after a lifetime of talking about things that mostly fall on deaf ears because people don't have the same interests as me or aren't on the same wavelength, I've finally found a few people who get it, and actually want to share in it with me.

    That's the real reason why it's expanding, because it has a place - a community - to expand into.

    I didn't realize how much I needed to be writing until I started doing it again. You're right - it is like breathing.

  3. Hello Polly

    this is another very thoughtful and provocative post you have written so eloquently...

    the words that popped into my mind as I read you narrative were...

    to thine own self be true...

    it doesn't matter what we wear on the outside, even if it is the 'Emperor's gown' riding naked through the streets...

    and it doesn't matter to what religion or philosophy we adhere,

    what matters is, that we are true to ourselves - if we walk and talk and act with integrity .... feeling connected within to the highest good, then we wear the cloak of truth and honesty and authenticity...

    we are accountable to our consciences, our individual characters with their gifts and spirit and to that deeper unknown and most mysterious of threads that link us all together...

    Thank you Polly

    Happy days

  4. I'd forgotten about the Emperor's New Clothes! Thanks for reminding me.

    Very well put, all those responses, especially the very last. I love the mysterious threads, and I'm very grateful for the one that brought me to you.

    Thank you.

  5. I just want you to know I'm coming right back to finish reading your (excellent!) post- BUT I made a deal with myself that I have to finish my work first before I play. Don't tell that I was here, k?

  6. it's almost disconcerting how relevant your posts are to where i'm at when i read them. and to where i want to be.

    i've been, like, hiding in the coat closet outside the throne room. but this that you said helps: "to whom must i render an account? why am i rendering an account?"

  7. Thank you for this post. You are a kindred spirit. I'll be back.

    For me, the image of nakedness/clothing is difficult to untangle from sexual energy (I'm a guy) and I think what you're really getting at here is our impulse to armor our hearts, our soft and vulnerable hearts from hurting too much.

    At a deep level we know that this impulse to guard our hearts only adds to our difficulties. Our hearts want and need to be open to the world and take it in just as it is. It hurts sometimes to be that open. Yes, it does. If we trust our hearts to respond appropriately, they will. And our hearts will be happier and stronger because of it.

  8. rabbit dear - I am waiting eagerly to see your blog.

    Dan - Ah yes - the guy thing. I really should know better by now. Just yesterday in the class I teach, we were discussing gender roles/differences.

    The heart-guarding issue is a tricky one for me. It's taken me a long time in life to realize the importance of boundaries and to implement some in my life. I used to just be all over the place. It's a balance, that can only be achieved moment by moment, I find.

    I too sense a kindred spirit there. Thanks for visiting.

  9. My last comment to you wasn't anything like I wanted to say.

    As I was vacuuming the floor today, I was thinking of your last post- this post.

    For me, it's a weird deal. Blogging. Letting people know your thoughts. Letting people know ne *at all*.

    I don't want anyone I really know to read my blog. So I don't go around telling anyone about it anymore.

    It's inevidable that I am going to offend- and I'd rather not offend my employees or my clients. Uh, espcially my clients.

    Yet, while I do not want anyone to know me, I want to be known! What a dichotomy.

    "Since I started this blogging business, I've sometimes felt like I'm naked in the town square. While this can be uncomfortable, it's also freeing. I feel more like myself. I feel more of myself."

    Now see, that's truly poignant of you, Polly. This completely articulates my experience, unexpectedly, about blogging.

    When I feel I have "something to say", and I write- it's, for lack of using this buzz word too much- empowering.

    In summary, blogging probably gives us both an opportunity to express ourselves in ways that I imagine would go unexpressed, if not for this medium.

    Does this seem right to you?

  10. Absolutely!

    I watched You've Got Mail again the other night, and saw it a whole different way because of blogging. You really can reveal a deeper truer part of yourself this way, at least more easily, because of the anonymity. It reminds me of the way masks are used in tribal rituals.

    I find it a great compliment that you thought about me while you were vacuuming! Thanks for your comment.



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