Melissa Tidwell is a freelance writer and editor who served as editor of Alive Now magazine from 1999–2005 and worked in marketing and new product development for The Upper Room until 2009. In 2012 Tidwell enrolled at Columbia Theological Seminary in Decatur, Georgia, to complete a degree she began 20 years ago.
To sample Melissa’s writing, see her blog at riverreading.blogspot.com.
See this video for an example of praying with your body as referred to in Embodied Light.
A Conversation with Melissa Tidwell
In the introduction to your book Embodied Light, you write that there is a difference between the season of Advent and Christmas. Could you explain the difference for those who may not be familiar with the liturgical calendar?
Advent is a season of the Christian year that includes the 4 Sundays before Christmas. It is a time many families and churches make an Advent wreath of 4 candles, lighting a new candle each week to represent our waiting for the Christ child to be born. Liturgically, Advent is the beginning of the Christian year.
Spiritually, Advent is a time to reflect, wait, dream, and imagine. This is quite ironic, since so many of us rush about in Advent, hurrying toward Christmas. But the intention of Advent, and of my book Embodied Light, is to get us to stop and pay attention to this amazing wonder that Christmas celebrates: the coming of Jesus, who is both fully human and fully divine, God in human flesh.
Many Christians are familiar with Jesus’ words about why he came to earth: “I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly” (John 10:10). What does Advent teach us about living an abundant life?
I’m afraid that many people have the misconception that living the life of faith means living a narrow life, filled with rules, grimly trying to measure up to an impossible standard. But Jesus told stories about generosity and compassion, turned water into wine, and made enough bread for the whole crowd. Jesus offers us a life of freedom and joy. At the heart of that abundance is accepting the gift of our bodies as something God loves and blesses, and celebrating that God chose to take on a body like ours, and in so doing, blessed the life of the body.
The early church writer Irenaeus said that the glory of God is human beings fully alive. In Advent, we celebrate that our body, an ordinary human body, is the vessel in which God chose to reveal the depth of divine love.
You write in Embodied Light what God becoming come flesh teaches us about God and what it teaches us about humans. Which concept do you think is more difficult to grasp?
I think it is much more difficult to grasp the idea that incarnation teaches us that the human body is something God loves, desired, chose. Some unfortunate teachings about the body as the source of sin have distorted this truth. And many of us were raised with a lot of shame about bodies. When we look at ourselves in the mirror, maybe we don’t at first see the imprint of the Divine – instead we see our wrinkles or our crooked teeth. But we are, in fact, made in God’s image and we are, in a sense, also incarnations, spiritual beings in a physical body. That’s hard to take in. But it is exactly what Christmas is about.
There are many books written about Advent. What makes your book different?
One thing that is different about Embodied Light is that the focus is not just on being ready for Christmas, but on preparing to live the rest of your life with an awareness of the Incarnation. One way I tried to do that is to suggest some simple prayer practices, some body prayers. For each Sunday of Advent, there is a prayer experience to move us from talking about the body as the home of the Spirit and into experiencing the Spirit at home in you.
Which chapter in the book is your favorite?
My favorite chapter is the third week of meditations. It is about how Jesus reveals what an incarnate life looks like, and how our lives can follow the pattern set by Christ. As I was writing it, I began to make the titles of each meditation a simple imperative: “Befriend God,” “Go Deep,” “Be Poor,” and so on. I realized when I was done that these simple directions could be assembled and read like a paraphrase of the Lord’s Prayer.
After reading Embodied Light, what spiritual practice or insights do you hope readers will come away with?
In the introduction, I recall a year when I really did not want to celebrate Christmas, when my spiritual life was dry and I hoped to just skip the whole thing. But a friend pointed out to me that what we celebrate at Christmas is at the very heart of our being. It is not fluff or kid stuff. And that insight set me off on a journey of over 30 years, reading about and discovering new ways to see incarnation at work in the world. It is my hope that reading Embodied Light might bring readers to start off on a journey of their own, to embrace the meaning of incarnation and more deeply realize the joy of the Advent promise.