The Spiritual Practice of Touch

Yesterday my husband and I splurged on a couple of 60-minute massages at a  Chinese foot clinic that just opened up in our town. We pointed out the type of massage we wanted, were led to two red chair/beds in the middle of the room, and settled in for some long-anticipated relaxation.

Since we both have trouble with our backs, we often bribe each other for massages at home, but nothing beats a well-trained, strong-fingered Chinese foot massage.  The last time we had massages, we were still dating, so we were looking forward to the treat we had saved up for.

As I lay under the soft red towel while a quiet Chinese woman worked out my knots with her strong, gentle hands, I thought about my journey with touch over the past few years. I’ve learned to allow myself to be touched in a safe, healthy way. I’ve learned to accept hugs, and then to give them.  I’ve learned to accept romantic touch.  I have always been the one giving massages, but in the last few years I’ve learned to receive them as well–first, free ones from trusted friends, and then paid ones from trained professionals.

All along, God has been teaching me about the healing and restorative power of touch.  We lay hands on one another when we pray. We hold our loved ones close.  We comfort and celebrate each other with safe, healthy touch.

But for a long time I believed the lie that no touch was safe. I felt threatened anytime my 3-feet-of-personal-space was violated by anyone other than a family member.

We westerners are so much more physically isolated from one another.  Single adults are especially lacking in safe, healthy (non-sexual) physical touch. 

Through some beautiful moments, and some long-suffering friends, I have slowly begun to teach my body to receive touch in a positive way.

Yesterday, amidst the cheesy violin solos of My Heart Will Go On, Moon River, and Edelweiss, I closed my eyes, allowed my body to relax under the towel, and told myself to receive this nice woman’s touch in the way it was meant–to provide healing.

Each time I exhaled, I breathed out distrust, anxiety, and infirmity.  Each time I inhaled, I breathed in the safety and healing of the Holy Spirit.  Getting a massage became an exercise in believing the truth about touch and allowing the Spirit of God to work within me for my spiritual and physical benefit.

By the end of the hour, I was so relaxed I almost fell asleep.

As we paid our fee, tipped our massage therapists, and went off to get some dinner, I was reminded of my plan long ago to open a healing center one day that would include massage therapy along with soaking prayer, inner healing prayer, practical and biblical teaching, and music, dance, and other artistic expressions of worship.  Maybe there would even be yoga or Pilates classes available.

What would it look like for a  24-hour House of Prayer to include massage therapy and body movement classes along with healing, teaching, and worship with music?

What better way of incorporating body theology into spiritual, emotional, mental, and physical healing and growth?  What better expression of the holistic nature of body theology?

We are physical beings, and we relate best when our physicality is incorporated into our experience–of ourselves, of each other, and of God.

Next time you get a massage, or give someone a hug, or accept a high-five or fist-bump, recognize the moment as an opportunity to experience and express your body theology in action.

Give and receive touch as an expression of the outpouring of the Holy Spirit on our lives.   That’s what we were made for.

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About Laura K. Cavanaugh

I'm a writer, spiritual director, and advocate of holistic body theology.

Posted on May 15, 2012, in Physicality, Spiritual Practices, Spirituality and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 2 Comments.

  1. brooke toftoy

    i really enjoy your blog. thanks for writing about a topic that is not often discussed in the church. i am passionate about theology of the bod as well, and the power of touch and movement. have you heard of http://www.holyyoga.net? it’s pretty beautiful! thanks again for your words!

    • Laura Cavanaugh

      Thanks, Brooke. I’m glad to meet a like-minded reader! I haven’t seen that website, but I look forward to checking it out. Thanks for the tip. =)

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