In the last few months, our lives have gotten more full, which results in the compression of routines. I didn’t realize that Naked Running had been excised from our bathtime routine until last week, when my little girl suddenly asked if she could do it before bath. Why not, I reasoned, even as I wondered where that part of the ritual had gone. Through the house she ran, giggling and delighting in the tactile pleasure of a little breeze rushing through the places where the sun doesn’t shine. It dawned on me that we have begun to set boundaries on the way she treats her body, particularly her private parts. She wipes herself after using the potty now; I encourage her to wash herself during bath; we tell her that she should only talk about her “gina” with family and the doctor. I also now request privacy from her when I am in the bathroom or shower, and encourage her to claim her own. This feels like an age-appropriate shift for teaching modesty and respect. But I couldn’t help but grieve a little as she delighted in her own nakedness, streaking through the house like a freed wood sprite. I know she can’t do that outside our house; that this society and world is really not safe for a young girl with no personal boundaries. But I really wish it were.
At the beginning of this Lenten season, I am mindful of the creation story. We are, Ash Wednesday reminds us, made of dust. According to the creation narrative of Genesis 2, we are creatures made of earth. Literally: the name “Adam” is from the Hebrew word adamah, which means “dust from the ground” or “earth.” None of the other animals are described as being created this way; only humans have the distinction of being formed out of the dust. God then splits this living earth creature into two genders, man (ish) and woman (ishshah). Genesis 2:25 tells us they “were both naked, and were not ashamed.”
But oh how things change. There’s that one tree that God tells them not eat fruit from, the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil. You know the story: the serpent makes a pretty good case for eating the forbidden fruit to the woman (who had not been created when God first pronounced this tree off limits). She eats, gives it to the man, and then “the eyes of both were opened, and they knew that they were naked.” When God comes looking for them, they hide. God calls out to the man, and the man says, “I was afraid, because I was naked; and I hid myself.” God, puzzled by this turn of events, queries, “Who told you that you were naked?” Then the blame begins: the man blames the woman, the woman blames the serpent, everyone involved gets punished. God’s final word in his litany of punishment comes in Gen. 3:19b: “You are dust, and to dust you shall return.”
To me, sin means all the ways we learn to be ashamed of our nakedness. I’m sad that we’re already teaching our daughter that nakedness is the exception; that such delighted freedom can only be safely enjoyed in rather strict circumstances. That is, unfortunately, the world we live in: broken, fallen, sinful, whatever word you want to use. We are so quick to hide our nakedness from others, even those who have seen it before. God had seen them naked; God made them naked. Yet they were ashamed and hid.
Lent is usually a solemn time, a time of fasting and repentance and self-reflection. I contend it might also be a time of celebration. Perhaps we might celebrate our dust-natures; maybe we could love our earthy, loamy body-selves in all their dirty glory. Penitence usually means that we allow ourselves to stop hiding, bringing our darkest selves out into the light. This Lent, perhaps it is time to do this without shame. After all, we’re not just unique because we’re the only creatures God fashioned from dust; we’re also the only creatures into which God breathed life.
So this year, Lent means to me an uncovering of my nakedness. My child, bless her, hasn’t learned to be anxious about her nakedness yet. She loves the uninhibited freedom of being unhidden. So this Lenten season, I’m going to try to be a little more naked. Don’t worry, I mean that metaphorically. I’m tempted to slip in a joke about how no one wants to see me naked, but you know what? I’m not going to do that. I’m not going shame my body like that. You can trust me to be socially appropriate, but I’m not going to make self-deprecating jokes about why I ought to stay hidden. I’m giving up shameful hiding for Lent.
We are dust and to dust we shall return. But we are dust with breath and that is something to celebrate. I hope your spirit finds opportunities in the next forty days to run free and unencumbered, to feel a little breeze rushing through those places you normally hide. Let go of some shame and rejoice in your naked dust-nature. And if there is also some squealing involved, thrill to the sound of your own voice. May your soul do some Naked Running.