“I am grateful for my eyes because I can read books.”
“I am grateful for my mouth because I can taste blueberries.”
“I am grateful for my legs because I can jump.”
In the morning, early, before I leave for BYU campus to start my day of classes and writing and thinking, I spend time with my daughter, Gwen. We jump and read books and eat blueberries. She is only a year old, but I try to repeat to her all the reasons she can be grateful for her body. We laugh. I am so grateful for her belly and for my belly because we can laugh.
As I walk up to campus, I try to tell myself, “I am grateful for my legs because I can walk up these endless stairs.” I repeat, “I am grateful for my brain because it can keep learning.” “I am grateful for my eyes because they can see these mountains, and read these books, and decode this map to find my class in the JKB.” I am trying to teach my daughter—and teach myself—how to be grateful for our bodies.
Belonging is so often caught up in our bodies. Our figures of blood and breath stand as signals and signs symbolizing how we fit in, how we match up, or how we stand out. Each day, as we leave our homes, we offer our bodies to the world. And other people, with their own bodies, choose to embrace, empower, invite, or reject us.
My body has the power to accept your body. To embrace your body, to welcome your body. Believers proclaim that we are one in the body of Christ. We symbolically partake of His flesh each Sunday. And we await the promise of a perfected body. But all of this is complicated in the ways we other each other. The ways we show each other that we don’t match up.
Elder James E. Talmage once said, “We have been taught . . . to look upon these bodies of ours as gifts from God. We Latter-day Saints do not regard the body as something to be condemned, something to be abhorred . . . We regard [the body] as the sign of our royal birthright . . . We believe that these bodies . . . may be made, in very truth, the temple of the Holy Ghost.”
Signs of our royal birthright.
Gifts from God.
I have walked past the temple on 9th East and Center Street. I have walked past the buildings on campus—temples of learning. Even the seminar rooms on the 4th floor of the JFSB have felt like a temple as my classmate handed my daughter her keychain to play with during a lecture. There is something holy in how she crouched down low to show my baby an Avatar sticker, and how she didn’t get annoyed when Gwen kept trying to push her laptop off the bench. There is something sacred in the way my classmate didn’t think that was a big deal. But it was a big deal to me.
The Museum of Art was a temple as Dr. Elliot Wise talked about Northern Renaissance art and depictions of the Savior. Showing us the detail in a pearl, and a window, and the curve of a mother’s body. I remember he cried. The classroom in the Smith Fieldhouse has felt like a kind of temple as my classmates and I belly laugh at how hard it is to do a push up and how our teacher keeps cheering to: “feel the burn!”
A professor’s office in the JFSB feels like a temple. We discuss research while my daughter colors in the corner. My professor offers her crackers, and crayons, and laughs when my daughter screams for another snack. The mother’s room in the Talmage building felt like a temple as I nursed my month-old daughter in its quiet corners. Each of these spaces has contained consecration and connection—something eternal.
These places were temples because of the life that was bubbling inside. These places were temples in the way that others created a space for me that felt natural and safe and eternal. And I wonder how I can embrace people like those buildings embraced me. How can I embrace others like professors and classmates and even strangers have accepted me? I am learning to be grateful for my body. And I am learning to curve my ears and shape my hands to hold the stories and bodies of others. We are learning to love each other’s bodies. But even more we are learning to love all the life bubbling inside of each other. To come to know each other for more than our bodies and all that we have lived and experienced because of our bodies. And then maybe we can embrace each other’s lives and though we are many, become one in the body of Christ.
This essay, by Megan McOmber Wight, won first place in the 2023 BYU Humanities Center Essay Contest.
Author Bio: Megan is currently an MFA student at BYU. She has recently been published in Mount Hope Magazine and Under the Gum Tree. She is also the 2023 winner of the Mayhew Competition and David O. McKay Essay Contest. She can most often be found running, baking cookies with her husband, or reading the same book for the eighth time to her 18-month-old daughter.
James E. Talmage. CR, October 1913, p. 117. Also quoted in “Of Souls, Symbols, and Sacraments” by Jeffrey R. Holland, https://speeches.byu.edu/talks/jeffrey-r-holland/souls-symbols-sacraments/.