Maundy Thursday

This post is an Excerpt from Tara Owen’s Book: Embracing the Body 


My jaw spasmed, clenching tight. Pain rippled through me.

Maundy Thursday. My favorite day of the year. 

I had taken the driver’s seat on the way to service. We were late. I drove aggressively. Careless enough of the cares of others on the road that my jet-lagged husband mentioned it. I hate being late.

And so I speed walked my way to the chapel, trying to control the pace, refusing to reach out for my husband’s hand, he who I had been without for nearly two weeks, who I professed to missing more than anything in the world. I needed to be on time. I need to be in the right.

But we weren’t late. Not really. I had read the time wrong, and we were half an hour early instead, there in time for rehearsals. It was then the first pain shot through my jaw. I rubbed at it absently and went to help fill the tubs for the foot washing with hot, hot water. Hot was we could stand. It would cool as the service progressed.

And then, sitting in the pews, early and woefully unrepentant for my control, my need to be perfect, my desire to save myself by being at the right places at the right times, it was then she came and asked us:

When the time comes, will you help strip the altar?

She used our names. Bryan and Tara. Us, in particular. I hesitate even to add our names to the request, to make the sentence a reference to me, in the flesh. Tara, the daughter of Sally, the granddaughter of Francis, the great granddaughter of Reginald.

Bryan and Tara, will you help betray Jesus?

Yes, we nodded. Of course we will help.

When she left, I turned wild-eyed to look at my husband, the muscle in my cheek clenching hard, harder.

Maundy Thursday is my favorite service, my favorite day, because of all that happens in it. After a flurry of activity in Jerusalem, temple-clearing and hosannas and watching a widow give her all, Jesus settles in with his beloveds to something he himself says that he has “eagerly desired” (Luke 22:15, NRSV). We don’t get that anywhere else—the idea that the Son of God is looking forward to something. And it’s us, in this moment. It’s washing our feet, gently, tenderly. It’s taking the bread and breaking it, offering the cup and blessing it. Take, eat, he says.

And I do. I receive.

My husband, who I had rejected only hours before in my need to prove my own righteousness, kneels down before me. The water is still hot, hotter than it’s ever been before, and I wince in surprise and sorrow. It has to be hot to wash my cold soul clean, to wake me physically to what is to come. He kneads my toes, my arch, my heel, and I remember Christ’s words about the serpent and the bruising. It’s been a long season of bruising, and suddenly the hands on my feet are Christ’s hands, rubbing the ache away. I look into Christ’s eyes, as he kneels before me. Oh, how often I betray you, I think. You are Christ made flesh.

Bare-footed, I return to my seat and in the silence, I watch our community knit together in humility. Newlyweds, whose first service together as a couple last year was this service, who married two months ago in this very church, approach the water. She washes him, and as he in turn serves her, I imagine his tears mingling with the water. He washes her clean, and they stand together, embracing.

A new father washes his infant daughter’s feet, dangling her above the basin as she is so often held above and away from the cares of this world. I know he would always hold her, if he could. Protecting, guarding, loving. Across from him, his wife kneels to wash the feet of a man without a home. Someone on whom the cares of the world weigh heavy and dark. Her mother heart tenderly embraces him.

Another mother’s eyes brim with tears as she watches her husband wash her son’s feet, strong hands serving a son grown strong in God. And then the son turns, and the tears spill as he washes his own son’s feet, her grandson, who is scooped close in his arms, carried again as she once carried him, all of his questions held tight in the embrace of a father.

After this, I watch the arms of the priests and deacons—brown and white, male and female, bearing on themselves disease and desperation, forgiveness and fear, hope and hosanna—rise in worship. I sing with my whole heart, May I never lose the wonder, the wonder of the cross. May I see it as the first time, standing as a sinner lost. I remember hearing these words first sung in a cathedral in England, as I stood by my best friend, ourselves both once lost but now found. I remember the moment that He found me, and the tears spill again.

And again my jaw spasms. 

The pain dogs me up to the altar. The hands of the priest wrap warmly around mine, and his eyes smile as he hands me the broken bread. The body of Christ, he says. His joy repeats Jesus’s words to His disciples, I have eagerly anticipated this moment, I have eagerly anticipated serving you.

I bow my head. I can feel the weight of my coming betrayal. My jaw throbs. I open my mouth only wide enough to slip the bread in through the pain. The wine stings as it slides down my throat. My feet chill on the stone floor.

He knows I will betray him, and yet he loves, and loves me to the end.

The music swells as the Communion line thins.

Holy God, you are love.

Holy God, you are love.

Holy God, you are love.

It is normally a triumphant song, but the throb and beat is the throb and beat of the soldiers coming to take him away. I can feel it beating in my own blood, knowing that I am the one that will strip him bare. I want to say no, to give back the shiny silver of service that I so eagerly received before this all began. But it has already begun, and he has promised to love me ’til the end. 

In the end, it’s the pain that propels me forward. I just want to get this over with.

The priest snuffs the candles with the palms of his hands, and I imagine the dark marks on his palms as he hands me the candle sticks. I walk away quickly with the silver heavy enough to bruise my bare heels once again, my steps on the stone resounding as I retreat.

Next, the stoles, already red with blood. I am handed both and I think, I have stripped him. I have taken his glory for my own. I lay them down over the offering baskets, hidden away, as if I could offer it back to him.

Finally, the white over the altar, all innocence and silk. Crumpled, I receive it, and as I walk away I hear the crash that years before I have only watched—the altar tipped over, defiled. It vibrates through me, this sound, and I almost don’t want to return to see what was once a table of celebration knocked over with my help. 

Still, I return, and watch from a place away, to the side. I want to cry out as the cross is covered in black. As I hear the hammer of stake on wood, my soul screams. But my jaw clenches tight again, the stabs of pain keeping me silent. I cannot open my mouth.

And then, it is over. The priest who so warmly embraced me runs, stripped, from the church, fleeing Gethsemane. We who have served and celebrated sidle away silently.

The muscles in my cheek spasm again as I reach for my husband’s hand. It’s different, I tell him. It’s different when it’s me stripping the altar, when I take the actions myself, betraying him. On other nights like this, I have felt lost. Unsure of where they have taken this man who is everything to me. Unable to return home, we have wandered the city without purpose. Tonight, I feel my complicity. I am not lost. Instead, I want to trail after those who are, haunting them with a warning not to forget, not to fall asleep, not to leave him as I have. As I did. I am living the story—all the pain and the promise—in my own hands and feet.

My jaw spasms, and I stay silent.

This morning, I wake up, and the day is shrouded in fog. I ache all over, my body reflecting what my soul knows to be true. My knees feel pulled out of joint, my neck bearing a yoke of pain.

I stay inside, not wanting to be with the crowd. I know my spasming jaw will keep me silent when they yell out, Crucify Him!

But he has already been betrayed.

Instead, I take more ibuprofen than I should, to numb the pain. And I wait.

I wait because he has promised more, he has promised to love me to the end. I wait because this body of betrayal has the possibility of being a body of glory and wonder.

And it is not over yet.

Not yet.

We Awaken In Christ’s Body

We awaken in Christ’s body
As Christ awakens our bodies,
And my poor hand is Christ, He enters
My foot, and is infinitely me.
I move my hand, and wonderfully
My hand becomes Christ, becomes all of Him
(For God is indivisibly
Whole, seamless in His Godhood).
I move my foot, and at once
He appears like a flash of lightning.
Do my words seem blasphemous?—Then
Open your heart to Him
And let yourself receive the one
Who is opening to you so deeply.
For if we genuinely love Him,
We wake up inside Christ’s body
Where all our body, all over,
Every most hidden part of it,
Is realized in joy as Him,
As He makes us, utterly, real,
And everything that is hurt, everything
That seemed to us dark, harsh, shameful,
Maimed, ugly, irreparably
Damaged, is in Him transformed
And recognized as whole, as lovely,
And radiant in His life
We awaken as the Beloved
In every last part of our body.

St. Symeon the New Theologian

The Body As Sign

The following is an excerpt from Embracing the Body: Finding God In Our Flesh and Bone, and kicks off the virtual blog tour this week. I offer you this part of the book as a look into why I believe our bodies are so important, and so deeply necessary to life with God—not only for ourselves, but for bringing of the Kingdom of God here and now.

If you’d like to get a copy of Embracing the Body, you can buy it here.




In his pioneering teachings titled The Theology of the Body, Pope John Paul II wrote that “he body, in fact, and only the body is capable of making visible what is invisible: the spiritual and the divine. It has been created to transfer into the visible reality of the world the mystery hidden from eternity in God, and thus to be a sign of it.”It is only in our bodies that we experience God at all, without them, we cease to exist. When we focus only on our “spiritual lives”—the interior realm of thought and feeling—we lack a foundational understanding and attentiveness to that which is at the center of our very lives, the only vehicle through which God reaches us and we reach others: our incarnate, bound in time, utterly beloved bodies.

When we try to split ourselves in two, to separate our bodies from our souls, we do violence and make difficult the healing of our bodies. This is something that modern medicine is only recently beginning to realize, as more and more hospitals encourage practices of prayer, meditations and silence as ways of facilitating physical healing. Hospitals have historically been places where worship or faith have no place, especially in the lives of the doctors bringing the healing work, and the split between body and soul is rigid, painful. So often, doctors and nurses burn out because they are not allowed to experience themselves as fully human—body and soul—even as they try to bring holistic healing to those they tend.

So, too, do we feel this fissure in the Church. This time from the other side, the Church insists through silence that we focus on the soul instead of the body, as if the two could be fully separated. In the Church, we insist that the body is somehow separate, not something to be brought into the life of the community, and in so doing we watch clergy and those in ministry run ragged with fatigue, living unhealthy lifestyles that lead to the slew of moral and ethical failures that grab headlines today. Whether it’s the body without soul (hospital) or soul without body (the modern Church), we’re living in part, not in full, and at the depths of us, we know it.

Sadly, we have lived with this schizophrenia of self for a long time. Bound by our bodies but told to ignore or castigate them, the lives of the faithful—mine included—have been marked by a set of false dichotomies that categorize actions into “sacred” or “secular”, “spiritual” or “physical”, as if the two are not ineluctably intertwined. We live our bodily lives—eating, sleeping, touching, weeping—with a whispering sense that we are experiencing the sacred in these mundane moments, in the way the soup tastes on our tongue or the tender touch of a friend to comfort. We intuitively feel that the aches in our joints are communicating something larger of God’s presence to us, but we are told (explicitly and implicitly) to ignore these murmurs in favor of something more spiritual, more holy.

In the midst of this brokenness, the exile from our bodies in which we find ourselves, Isaiah stands in bold proclamation:

The spirit of the Lord God is upon me,
because the Lord has anointed me;
he has sent me to bring good news to the oppressed,
to bind up the brokenhearted,
to proclaim liberty to the captives,
and release to the prisoners;
to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor,
and the day of vengeance of our God;
to comfort all who mourn;
to provide for those who mourn in Zion—
to give them a garland instead of ashes,
the oil of gladness instead of mourning,
the mantle of praise instead of a faint spirit.
They will be called oaks of righteousness,
the planting of the Lord, to display his glory.
They shall build up the ancient ruins,
they shall raise up the former devastations;
they shall repair the ruined cities,
the devastations of many generations. (Isaiah 61:1-4, NRSV)

God is about the work of redemption, he proclaims. He is about binding up the broken pieces of ourselves. Every piece reclaimed from our hearts and souls and minds all the way through our maligned and misappropriated bodies. God is about the work of liberation from the yokes of oppression, and it is in our very bodies that we are to be free, whole, restored. These bodies of ours have been treated as ruined, lost, devastated and unable to be redeemed. And yet the Lord of all creation is coming for them, indeed, has given to each of us the work of rebuilding these ancient ruins, reclaiming the very fortress of our selves, our blood and bones and skin and muscle, from the devastations of the fall and of our mishandled attempts at holiness. God is about this work, and we are called to see it and to receive it.


Embracing the Body Virtual Book Tour



The Embracing the Body Virtual Book Tour kicks off tomorrow! I’m excited to be touring around the blogs of some of my favorite writers and bloggers, sharing in interviews, original content and excerpts from the book. There will also be a few giveaways. I’ll have some Tweetables listed here, and if you’d like to enter to with an autographed copy of Embracing the Body, all you have to do is Tweet out each of the links that you see on this post, and then put your Twitter handle in the comments. A winner will be chosen at random on June 1.

I’m looking forward to “meeting” more of you around the web this week. Come back to this post each day for links to the various stops on the tour.

With excitement and love,


The Virtual Book Tour Stops:

Sunday, May 24: Body As Sign

Monday, May 25: Emily McFarlan Miller—An Interview With Tara M. Owens

Tuesday, May 26: Abbey of the Arts—Tongues of Fire: What Our Bodies Tell Us About Pentecost

Wednesday, May 27: We Awaken In Christ’s Body

Thursday, May 28: Sarah Bessey—Embracing the Body

Friday, May 29: Emily P. Freeman—The Rest of God

An Atmospheric Low of the Soul

I’m over at The Mudroom today, sharing on their theme of Cyclones, Storms & Squalls.

Here’s a little taster. You can click the link below to read more.

It takes a few weeks before I can name this storm. I don’t want to test the winds, to look at the lows and highs, to name this as something more than a squall. I’d prefer to call it a cyclone, really, than depression, even if I get to soften it with the more than acceptable moniker of “postpartum.”

Keep reading this post here.

Synchroblog: My Body, My Jerusalem

On March 13, my first book, Embracing the Body: Finding God In Our Flesh & Bone, officially launched.

The day before, March 12, marked six months of life for my daughter, and a huge milestone for my own body in terms of continued health and well-being.

But I haven’t written much about that, have I?

Continue reading “Synchroblog: My Body, My Jerusalem”