MY MOTHER-IN-LAW wears a bikini. She is 70 years old and decades of gravity have done their work. But she wears a bikini nonetheless, with a devil-may-care nonchalance to what others her age are more inclined to cover in sarongs, ruffles, and cruise-wear.
She’s my hero.
Her okay-ness with her body has a twofold source. First, she’s Finnish. Do you know any Finns? Untouched by the Puritan prudishness that is historically English and North American, they share a continental European lack of modesty concerning the body, but to the extreme. While other Europeans are going topless on the warm and sunny beaches of the French Riviera, the Finns are flinging themselves buck naked from their saunas into the snow. There’s a reason to take off your shirt in the south of France—it’s hot! But why subject your private parts to the crunch and scrape of ice in the dead of winter? I don’t have an answer, even though I live with a Finn who regularly goes in for the naked sauna/snow frolicking thing. But, the point is, Finns are profoundly okay with their bodies.
How does this relate to Christian theology? My mother-in-law is also a devout Christian, and I think her embrace of the bikini as her swimwear of choice goes beyond her Finnish heritage to her biblical understanding of creation. She understands that when it says in the Bible that Adam was formed out of the dirt (adama in Hebrew), that she too is a human formed out of humus and that humus is good. She actually believes that when it says, “God saw all that he had made and it was good,” that means her body as well. It also means mountains and trees and iguanas, but one’s body is a great place to start.
Theologically, the idea that the material world is good makes sense—after all, God wouldn’t have taken on a human body if flesh were inherently evil. Christians believe Jesus was fully God and fully human. Yes, he came to redeem the world, but he did so eating and drinking, walking and sleeping. And working. Jesus was a carpenter, for goodness sake—he worked with wood, with callused hands and with sweat in his eyes.
If matter is good and Jesus fully “materialized”—that is, he participated fully in the material life that all humans participate in—then that puts an end to silly Gnostic and dualistic notions of a material/spiritual divide. It certainly sheds a holy light on woodworking! It also sheds a holy light on all manner of “earthy” jobs, from ditch digging to diaper changing to gardening to fish and frog studying.
Reprinted with permission from Planted: A Story of Creation, Calling, and Community, by Leah Kostamo, published by Cascade Books.