The Anatomy of Tenderness

Léonie and Sophie Caldecott

Our culture has over-used (and mis-applied) the word “love” so much that it has lost a lot of its power and meaning. “Tenderness”, though, with the breadth of its nuanced connotations—from fiercely protective parental love, the intimacy of a lover’s touch, the presence of a friend in a time of crisis, an altruistic moment between strangers—offers us a fresh lens through which to approach caring for ourselves, each other, and the planet. When we talk about tenderness, we’re not talking about watering down the truth or disregarding justice. We’re not talking about being “nice”, turning a blind eye to suffering because we’re afraid to talk about hard things—quite the opposite. Armed with tenderness, we’re able to face the challenges of life and the most important issues of our time with strength and compassion, hope and realism. In The Anatomy of Tenderness podcast, mother and daughter writers Léonie and Sophie Caldecott examine the idea of tenderness in conversation with each other and with a host of friends and guests. Together we’ll unpack what it means, how we can cultivate it in ourselves, and how it could change the world. In this first episode, Léonie and Sophie discuss why this podcast has been in the works for over 4 years, the fears that kept us stuck, why we feel it’s a podcast that we need now more than ever, what “tenderness” means to us, and what kinds of themes we’ll be exploring in The Anatomy of Tenderness. Huge thanks to Sara Fackrell for the beautiful visual design and cover art for this project, and to Upcycled sounds and Rosie Caldecott for the music on this track. read less
Religion & SpiritualityReligion & Spirituality

Episodes

Episode 2: Incarnation
Dec 5 2023
Episode 2: Incarnation
In this episode of The Anatomy of Tenderness Podcast we share a little bit about what’s been going on in our lives this past Autumn. We’ll be back properly in the new year with some new conversations, but for now just wanted to share a conversation about Pope Francis’ newly translated book, Christmas at the Nativity, published by Focolare Media, in time for the season of Advent. We found this book to be such a powerful meditation on physical manifestations of tenderness, the incarnated reality of love, and wanted to unpack what that means together. While we’re approaching this reflection from the context of our Catholic faith, we hope that whatever your faith or belief-system, this conversation can offer some food for thought on the embodiment of tenderness and the physical form it can take in our lives as we show up for each other in love.  Incarnation; in-carne "enfleshed", taking physical form in a body —a concrete or actual form of a quality or concept. In Christian theology, the Incarnation is the concept of God becoming human at the Nativity, or birth of Christ in Bethlehem, celebrated at Christmas. Some points we covered in this episode: St Francis of Assisi created the first nativity scene in 1223 to help people move beyond a sanitised or abstracted understanding of the Incarnation and meditate on the physicality of the birth of Christ, and the tenderness that this requires of us in response to his vulnerability as a human baby.This whole concept is radical because it turns all our traditional notions about power on its head; humanity has typically seen gods, kings, emporers as separate from the masses, invulnerable in their power, and here we have a story about the Creator of the universe stepping into the middle of muck and sweat and blood and poverty. This story breaks and remakes all of our preconceived ideas about power and puts vulnerability and tenderness centre stage instead.Meeting us here, stripped of all the usual trappings of power and privilege, our maker tells us that we are inherently loveable and loved, regardless of social position, influence, money, prestige, and anything else that the world might deem important.We can construct beautiful words around love and what it means; but tenderness has a highly visceral, physical side to it that the parental relationship sums up so well, given the way we’re called to offer physical care and protection to a child. Pope Francis points out that the health of a society, humanity, can be judged on how it treats its most vulnerable—its children.It’s easy to be tender towards humanity in an abstract way, but the challenge the Nativity offers us is this: can we be tender even in the most unglamorous, messy, and “ugly” of circumstances?If our tenderness is only theoretical, then it’s not worth much. Tenderness has to be incarnated; the word, made flesh. If we want someone to know that we love them, we have to do physical things to make them feel safe, loved, cared for, welcome in their bodies. We are, after all, a unity of both body and spirit. Some passages we quote in this episode of The Anatomy of Tenderness: “Advent is the season of the seed: Christ loved this symbol of the seed. The seed, he said, is the Word of God sown in the human heart…. Advent is the season of the secret, the secret of the growth of Christ, of Divine Love, growing in silence.”—Caryll Houselander, The Reed of God The Nativity scene that Houselander herself (both a writer and an artist) made is pictured in the photo that accompanies this episode on our website: theanatomyoftendernesspodcast.com “This is the gift we find at Christmas. We discover to our amazement that the Lord is absolute gratuity, absolute tender love. His glory does not overwhelm us, his presence does not terrify us. He is born in utter poverty in order to win our hearts by the wealth of his love.”—Pope Francis, Christmas at the Nativity “The child Jesus born in Bethlehem is the sign given by God to those who awaited salvation and he remains forever the sign of God’s tenderness and presence in our world… Today too children are a sign they are a sign of hope, a sign of life, but also a diagnostic sign…”—Pope Francis, Christmas at the Nativity “Jesus, newly born, was mirrored in the eyes of the woman, in the face of his mother. From her he received his first caresses, with her he exchanged the first smiles. With her began the revolution of tenderness.”—Pope Francis, Christmas at the Nativity Thank you so much for listening, and for your patience as we gather more conversations to share with you in the new year. Your enthusiasm and support truly means so much to us! We’re embracing a spirit of anti-perfectionism, and Sophie has sworn not to edit out our “ums” and “ers”, so you’ll have to hold her to this “new year’s resolution” going into 2024! With much love, Sophie & Léonie Thank you to Focolare Media for sponsoring this episode and gifting us a copy of Christmas at the Nativity. If you’re based in the USA, you can get your own copy here, and you’ll also find it on Amazon.
Episode One: Curiosity
Aug 7 2023
Episode One: Curiosity
While we prepare our first full season of The Anatomy of Tenderness podcast for release this coming Autumn/Winter we wanted to share a taster of what’s to come, with a couple of conversations on the theme of curiosity and asking questions. Curiosity, in many ways, is the foundation of all love, all relationships, as we open ourselves up in humility and vulnerability to a genuine encounter with the “other”—someone outside of ourselves. As we explore in this episode, this openness can be scary, because to be truly open to others means being open to changing ourselves. We’re honoured to share the wisdom of the brilliant and lovely theologian and writer, Lore Ferguson Wilbert in this episode. Lore is the author of several books, including A Curious Faith: The Questions God Asks, We Ask, and We Wish Someone Would Ask Us.* You can find and follow her work here: https://lorewilbert.com/ https://www.instagram.com/lorewilbert/ I went into the conversation with Lore thinking we’d explore how curiosity helps us engage more deeply and authentically with others, but I ended up discovering so much more about how curiosity helps us encounter ourselves than I expected. Lore helped me to think about curiosity and asking questions (that can’t always be answered, at least not in a straightforward way) as an act of love, and mum and I discussed the difference between inquisitiveness or knowledge-seeking in a spirit of control and manipulation, and tenderness-building curiosity that is coupled with love, wisdom, humility, and reverence. The quote at the beginning of the episode is from Letters to a Young Poet by Rainer Maria Rilke: “Be patient toward all that is unsolved in your heart and try to love the questions themselves, like locked rooms and like books that are now written in a very foreign tongue. Do not now seek the answers, which cannot be given you because you would not be able to live them. And the point is, to live everything. Live the questions now. Perhaps you will then gradually, without noticing it, live along some distant day into the answer.” Also quoted is a passage on curiosity from Brené Brown’s book, Atlas of the Heart: Mapping Meaningful Connection and the Language of Human Experience: “Choosing to be curious is choosing to be vulnerable because it requires us to surrender to uncertainty. We have to ask questions, admit to not knowing, risk being told that we shouldn't be asking, and, sometimes, make discoveries that lead to discomfort.” An extract from one of the essays in The World-Ending Fire by Wendell Berry: “Our great dangerousness is that, locked in our selfish and myopic economy, we have been willing to change or destroy far beyond our power to understand. We are not humble enough or reverent enough.” And Nick Cave writing on his blog, The Red Hand Files, in November 2022: “A good faith conversation begins with curiosity. It looks for common ground while making room for disagreement. It should be primarily about exchange of thoughts and information rather than instruction, and it affords us, among other things, the great privilege of being wrong; we feel supported in our unknowing and, in the sincere spirit of inquiry, free to move around the sometimes treacherous waters of ideas. A good faith conversation strengthens our better ideas and challenges, and hopefully corrects, our low-quality or unsound ideas. … A good faith conversation understands fundamentally that we are all flawed and prone to the occasional lamentable idea. It understands and sympathises with the common struggle to articulate our place in the world, to make sense of it, and to breathe meaning into it. It can be illuminating, rewarding and of great value – a good faith conversation begins with curiosity, gropes toward awakening and retires in mercy.” If you’d like to share a short voice note with us about what tenderness means to you for us to share in a future episode, you can head this way. Thank you so much, Lore, for trusting us with your voice and time (even though it took us a while to get this out into the world). And, huge thanks as always to Sara Fackrell for the beautiful visual design and cover art for this project, and to Upcycled Sounds and Rosie Caldecott for the music on this track. Our conversations on this podcast have been edited for clarity and brevity. *Please note, this post includes affiliate links to bookshop.org (UK only); if you purchase a book via these links, I’ll earn a small commission at no extra cost to you. Thanks for your support!