1 Corinthians 6:19 tells me that my body is a temple of the Holy Spirit, a dwelling place for God. As a 12-year-old girl with aspirations to become an evangelical priest, the idea was easy enough to digest. At that stage in my childhood, I kept a full-color study Bible on my bedstand to read and annotate every night. According to the text, bodily respect equalled purity, and I saw this as a holy, basically unquestionable truth.
Six years later, I revisit this verse as what Paul would call a heathen. I didn’t openly question religion until the end of ninth grade, and stopped identifying as Christian at the end of tenth grade. I don’t regret my time in the church, because it connects me to the history and ongoing discussion surrounding religion. But being a super-Christian as a teenager made me late to the party, both figuratively and literally, in reference to trash TV depictions of teen binge-drinking.
Before, I viewed my body as property of God and that made respecting it simple. But now that my body is mine, now that it feels crude to call it “property” at all, it’s hard to justify my control over it. Now, respect is no longer synonymous with purity. Respect is not even an unquestionable standard.
Without religious guidelines for how to treat my body, I entered adolescence at a loss. I couldn’t explain to my new, non-church-going friends why I had never drank before, and I couldn’t explain to my old friends why I was helping to shoplift bottles of wine. I feel the same confusion now, after a fairly stereotypical frosh week: five nights of staying out too late, while attempting to make good dietary decisions, has made it difficult to justify my ownership of my body. As a freshly minted adult in the most independent stage of my life, why have I sabotaged myself in this way? I don’t think I would have fared better under someone else’s authority, based on the battered condition of my fellow frosh. Yet it is jarring to exist as this bruised, pimply, sallow version of myself, especially when, on some level, I still consider my body a temple. 1 Corinthians 6:19 resonates with me, strikes a chord in a plane beyond religion. My intuition affirms it: Yes, my body is a temple, but a temple to and for whom?
Part of the reason I left the church was because it doesn’t suit me to worship or to see any entity as absolute good or bad. So when I realize how reliant I am on this 18-year-old system of flesh, and what it means for it to be respected, I am hesitant to give it an otherworldly worth. Yes, the body deserves reverence, but not because it possesses any great power or virtue. After all, a temple is more than the higher power it represents. So much of its sacredness comes from the history and human prayer it has witnessed. And the body performs that same function. My body deserves reverence like a temple, because it bore witness to everything that I put it through.
The other night, a friend found a video of a speech I gave in May of 2015. She hardly recognized me. It wasn’t just the hair that hung long and straight and limp down my face, or the baggy clothes. It was the way I moved, with slow, unsure steps and a constant fidget in my shoulders. I watched the video with her and didn’t feel the same shock value, because that outdated version of myself is as prescient and important to me as the current configuration. It was a moment of both estrangement and connection to my body. This physical form is an artifact of that time, a leftover and an upgraded model. I watch my past self speak and feel no unfamiliarity, despite the fact that we could be two separate people.
My body remembers how it felt to give that speech in 2015, it remembers how it felt yesterday, 3000 miles from the place I used to call home, it remembers what my conscious mind has left behind. Its current form, in all its sallow and muted glory, is both a testament and a rebuke to the choices I’ve made in the past few weeks, as well as a monument to generations past (we can’t forget that the body is inherited), as well as everything I consume. It is everything that I am made of and has carried me through dissociation and disappointment, in the way that religion is supposed to.