On Embodiment 🦶
What does it mean to really live where you live?
I’ve been thinking about the idea of embodiment — this weird word that basically means “a visible or tangible form of an idea.” It’s a cousin of sacramental, the thing Seth and I broadly talk about on Drink, which adds to the idea that because we can find God’s fingerprints everywhere, that visible form becomes sacred in its own right. A baby’s grin reminds us of God’s love for the world; autumn’s changing leaves point to God’s unchanging reliability.
Embodiment, then, seems to be the precursor to sacramentality, which means that if I want my ordinary, quotidian life to speak of things that matter much more than the here-and-now, becoming a tangible form of an idea is a prerequisite.
But what idea? It’s obvious that embodying just any ol’ idea doesn’t cut it. If things like living a life that’ll impress my parents, social media followers, or former high school classmates is the idea that matters to me, then it’s not too hard to achieve. I simply live on credit, trade up on new cars every two years, and stay abreast of what everyone else is watching on all the streaming services. If the idea of being seen as a Thought Leader or guru is what I’m after, then I better embody that idea by having a Very Important Opinion on every newsworthy event that makes headlines, and I better say it right away on all the platforms.
If you’re reading this, you already know I don’t care about those things.* These sorts of priorities would make for a very exhausted, unfulfilled, un-embodied me. No thank you.
But if I actually care about the ideas I think I care about, then it’d behoove me to make damn-well sure my visible self reflects these ideas — as best as I humanly can, anyway. And if to embody an idea means that it’s visible or tangible, then it seems like it means it’s physical. As in, not just digital. We’re talking analog. Dirt-in-the-fingernails, bringing-casseroles-to-my-neighbors sort of embodiment. Sitting in the pew next to my fellow parishioner from a few blocks over, and not just tuning in to my YouTube channel of choice for virtual church (or virch, as well call it around here when we’re sick and can’t make it).
Sacramental living means perhaps, indeed, holding a well-formed conviction over a recent SCOTUS decision, but also embodying that conviction in action — not just tossing up a social media post like a yard placard and calling it good. It means participating in my local elections, caring more about who fills those roles than the better-known federal positions that’ll hardly scratch a dent in the daily life of my neighborhood. It means recognizing the holy sacredness of my ordinary choices and habits, that their embodiment of my values serves to model to my kids what it means to mean what I say. It means donating diapers to my neighborhood pregnancy help center or delivering meals to the homebound, to sharing our extra garden tomatoes with our next-door neighbor.
It means to know, at minimum, what my values are that are so worth my effort of embodying. (Insert shameless plug for creating a Rule of Life, thereby knowing what those personal values are.) And it means to commit to little, daily, doable shifts so that my life embodies something that matters, so that my life really does become a visible, tangible form of an idea.
Again — what idea? What’s the Big Idea of our life? It’s a question every one of us has to ask, yet not many of us dare to answer. It’s easier to ignore, to set on the back-burner in the name of busyness. But gollyday is it important, especially when the news is overwhelming and I’m not sure what to do, or when every single person needs a piece of me and I can’t fathom who to prioritize.
If I know my life’s Big Idea, then even when my daily actions aren’t perfectly embodied, I can at least do my darnedest. And then wake up and try all over again. Again and again. Rinse and repeat. Pretty much until death. Because this seems to be the point of life.
Last week I met via Zoom with my Cigar Club.** I shared with them my honest heart for my work, which as most of you know, has taken some major shifts in the past few years. I no longer update my long-running blog, I’m barely on social media anymore, and I keep my podcast purposely small and mostly ad-free. I channel much more of my attention to this newsletter. It feels right and good and I know I’m doing exactly what I need to do — but it doesn’t mean I don’t still question the nuts or bolts or get stuck with what I should do next.
I shared with these smart women my desire for my work: to help people live true, good, and beautiful lives offline. If you’re here, I don’t need to tell you why this is a good thing to do; you either believe it, too, or at least you already know I believe it, but the tricky thing is how to fulfill this mission online — how to motivate others to live an embodied, analog-first life while my medium for doing so is digital.
I can, first and foremost, live it myself, and that is indeed my priority, but does that mean I then copy + paste my daily goings-on so the world can see how Very Much Offline I am? A hard no. That’s a complete contradiction and makes me a hypocrite. The last thing I want to do is splay my life for public consumption. Yes, live what I preach, but definitely don’t give a play-by-play of my daily life you never asked for, nor do you need. The very idea makes me queasy. Too many people do this and it’s all very ridiculous.
I tell you, this conundrum has been my main head-scratcher for the better part of a year. How do I use the online places God has given me to help people not be online?
This update essay doesn’t have a four-step conclusion tied in a pretty bow. The short conclusion is that I don’t know how to do this. I’m still not sure. But I am happy that one of these super-smart women in my Cigar Club tossed out a fantastic idea that I can’t stop thinking about, and I wonder if it’s where I’m supposed to take my work.
Perhaps my work, especially here in The Commonplace, can help people host local Commonplace groups. Maybe? I’ve heard from scores of people that they wish they knew their neighbors better, they long for more in-person connections, and they want to spend less time online. Perhaps I can provide easy monthly guides on how to do just that?
This guide could include a monthly book to read with discussion question ideas, prompts for creating a Rule of Life as a collective, seasonal reflections for journaling + discussion, A Drink With a Friend episode guides from the month, cocktail and mocktail recipes to pair as you spend time together, and perhaps something like a playlist for the background. None of it is required, and it could simply be a springboard for a reader’s far better idea who knows the specifics of their community and its needs — but nonetheless, it could be a tangible way to apply the good things we talk about in The Commonplace off the screen and into real back porches and coffee shops.
What do you think? Dumb? Brilliant? Somewhere in-between?
Book clubs are an old idea, and podcast clubs are becoming more and more common, and of course, I love both concepts. Something like this could simply be an amalgam of the two, along with a few other thoughts and prompts and hangout ideas, to simply prompt people to take the next step of putting phones in pockets and getting to know your community IRL.
I’ll still mull over this idea, and I’ll also keep researching other possibilities. And if any of you has any strokes of brilliance, I’m all ears.
I’m soon starting my annual summer internet break, which I normally take for the entire month of July, but this year I’m doing mid-July to mid-August for travel reasons. This means after the 5 Quick Things on Friday, July 22, I’m briefly pausing The Commonplace until Monday, August 22. Seth and I have already paused Drink for six weeks, returning the same week of August. I plan to check email once or twice just to make sure there’s no emergency, but otherwise I won’t worry about it. And I may post photos of my travels on social media, but I also might not and give myself 100% permission to do what feels right at the moment.
In other words, I’m going pretty offline in a few weeks, and from my past experience in doing this fairly religiously for the better part of a decade, it makes all the difference in the world in my mental and emotional health, work output, and general perspective on life. (I highly recommend doing this annually if your own way, if you can.)
When I return, I hope that God will have given me a fresh outlook and ideas on how to channel my work to help others live more deeply in their offline world; to help us embody our values and not just talk about them.
Thank you, as always, for being people who care about things that matter. I have the best readers in the world, and for that, I’m sincerely grateful.
Ora et Labora,
*This isn’t controversial in the slightest, of course, and yet it makes me shake my head in wonder that there are folks that still think if one has an Instagram account, one should release a personal opinionated statement about every shooting/SCOTUS decision/insert-hot-topic-of-the-day lest people assume you think differently than they do.
**This is my group of like-minded working ladies who meet monthly to discuss our work and tap into our hive mind for some fresh perspective and problem-solving. To say it’s saved my work the past five years is an understatement. I can’t imagine doing what I do without meeting regularly with smart women like these.