Finding Wholeness

United Methodist Women spiritual growth study author Jessica Stonecypher shares her journey toward Embracing Wholeness.

Finding Wholeness

Embracing Wholeness author Jessica Stonecypher in her garden in Ohio.

"Now while Jesus was at Bethany in the house of Simon the leper, a woman came to him with an alabaster jar of very costly ointment, and she poured it on his head as he sat at the table. But when the disciples saw it, they were angry and said, “Why this waste? For this ointment could have been sold for a large sum, and the money given to the poor.” But Jesus, aware of this, said to them, “Why do you trouble the woman? She has performed a good service for me. For you always have the poor with you, but you will not always have me. By pouring this ointment on my body she has prepared me for burial."

— Matthew 26:6-12

When I was a young girl, my parents enrolled my sisters and I in numerous extracurricular activities, including dance lessons. The core values of this discipline were balance, concentration and self-control. Each session, my class would line up around the room at the barre—the bar used for balancing—to warm up. But barre was more than just a warmup: it helped our minds and our muscles remember proper technique while we were dancing. After a day at school, we needed this centering to prepare us for class.

Christians have barre exercises as well. We spend time in prayer, meditation and worship. We read Scripture and set aside quality time to care for ourselves so that we are ready to step onto the dance floor of life. Like barre, no one is exempt from this time of centering and practice, not even the wisest and most seasoned Christian. These vital practices lead us on a path toward wholeness, a journey that Jesus himself pursued during his life and ministry on earth.

Embracing the village

Embracing Wholeness was a journey and an awakening to a new kind of life for myself and my family. While I am still working to determine what my “barre” regimen looks like, I now have a more thorough understanding of what it means to pursue a whole and balanced life. As a recent seminary graduate and new mother, learning my limitations while stretching myself in new ways was a valuable exercise in my development. One of my most impactful revelations was the interconnected nature of all things. While I knew this to be true in my mind, I did not fully understand it in my heart. Today I can attest to the fact that nothing we touch or do is solely ours. It takes a village to accomplish anything.

In this spirit, I find it fitting to share my village with you, as there were four groups of people who walked alongside me as I prepared this study. First, my family spent a great deal of time watching my son while I wrote for hours on end. Without their love, support and sacrifice this study would not have been possible. Second, United Methodist Women staff and especially the editorial board extended their grace, patience and expertise to me throughout this process. I am not exaggerating when I say I have come to believe they are saints. Third, my church family at First United Methodist Church in Zanesville, Ohio, and others in the United Methodist connection provided encouragement when I was most tired and overwhelmed. Their commitment to a covenant faith community inspires me time and again. Finally, my professors and colleagues from Methodist Theological School in Ohio equipped me with the critical thinking skills and strong theological foundation I needed for this journey. Their gift of a nurturing and challenging place to study and grow in the faith has shaped me innumerably.

Embracing care for self

Above all, my village and this experience taught me that wholeness requires effort and constant attention to God’s leading. Like barre exercises, I am learning to set aside time to care for my body, mind and soul. After all, our faith in a loving God lends itself to wholeness. In the beginning, God’s creation of all things, including the Sabbath, challenge us to see the world differently. God’s actions in Scripture elicit an attitude of gentleness, meaningful work and frequent rest so that we live in a spirit of love and peace. It would be dishonest of me to suggest I have mastered this. Instead, this is one of the most challenging parts of my faith journey right now. I am learning what it means to live in a way that honors God as I care for myself, my family, my community and the planet.

As a woman, I am particularly aware of the ways our culture has taught us to give of ourselves, often to our detriment. The church in particular has historically viewed us as “helpers” rather than leaders. While this has changed greatly, there is still much to be done in welcoming the leadership of women in the church. I personally have experienced the inequity bound up in the gender roles of Appalachia. Women here experience specific cultural challenges when it comes to parenting and the role of women in the home and workplace. My short time back in my hometown has brought this to light in ways I did not experience in a larger city. Nevertheless, it is exciting to live in a time where women are speaking up more for their rights and for the rights of other marginalized groups. Women are expecting a place at the table and inviting other underrepresented persons to join them. Women are embracing the idea that self-care is necessary. Our “barre” exercises, in their wonderful diversity, are empowering us in new and exciting ways.

Embracing the barre

One of my favorite Bible stories is found in Matthew 26:6-12, where Scripture describes a woman pouring perfume over Jesus’ head. In other gospels, she is depicted crying at the feet of Jesus, her tears wetting his feet as she uses her hair to wipe them away. While the disciples judge her for wasting such valuable perfume, Jesus praises her faithfulness. It is evident that she has followed the spirit’s leading and tapped into something much larger than herself. In doing so, she symbolically prepares Jesus for his burial. While Jesus’ disciples are busy “doing” ministry, the woman in this passage is tending to her soul and contributing to the most beautiful story of redemption ever written. Her actions elicit a time of centering for the reader before the crucifixion of Christ. Interestingly, Matthew’s Gospel does not include the familiar anointing scene in the tomb. Instead, this task is accomplished verses before Jesus’ death by this wise woman!

Her courage in this narrative is just the tip of the iceberg. Underneath her vulnerability must have been numerous life experiences that led to this moment. I imagine her at the “barre,” its beautiful finish replaced by worn wood from the many hours she spent there. I am thankful that we are invited to live like her and many other faithful women who choose to care for themselves and others. Like the generations of young dancers who have found balance and centering at the barre of my youth, our spiritual mothers have left such a place for us. The same “barre” that called them is calling us. Shall we join them?

The Rev. Jessica Stonecypher is a United Methodist deacon in Zanesville, Ohio, where she serves as a health educator at Zanesville-Muskingum County Health Department and a leader in the local foods movement in her community. She is abbess and founding member of the Wesleyan Order of Saint Francis, a religious order called to live faithfully in solidarity with the marginalized and undervalued members of God’s creation.

Posted or updated: 4/11/2018 12:00:00 AM