Our bodies are often the first to signal the rising of our newly released inner energies and gifts. — Wuellner
Last week, we made our way through the first five chapters of Flora Slosson Wuellner’s book Prayer and Our Bodies. This week, we’ll finish our little tour by reflecting on what she has to say about how our bodies relate to sexuality, disability and illness, community and creation.
Chapter 6: Healed Empowerment and Our Bodies
In this chapter, Wuellner has some interesting things to say about sexuality as one expression of the “transformation of the Holy Spirit” that draws out our natural “poise, balance, justice and charity between passions and energies.” Along with laughter and tears, just anger and compassion, Wuellner suggests that the unity and marriage we talked about last Thursday between the body and spiritual experience results in “a new restlessness, poignancy, vigor felt in the body that often involves a heightened sexual awareness….”
Many think that sexuality will go away or at least become quiescent as we grow spiritually. On the contrary! As we abide more closely to the God who is the source of all creative energy, the God of the Incarnation, we begin to experience sexual energy in a new way, as a holy, inalienable, generative force.
In other words, “[s]exual energy is energy from the source of creative life itself.” Our sexuality comes from God. Whether we are sexually active or not, our sexual energy is a good and powerful expression of who we are as creative individuals participating in the Incarnation of Christ. In fact, Wuellner reminds us that “we are all sexual beings, including those who are celibate or abstinent, for our creative polarized response to life within and around us is manifested in many ways through our body’s vitality.”
Expressing our sexuality through sexual interaction with another person is one way to expend this sexual energy, and such activity–when undertaken within healthy and appropriate boundaries–is both sanctioned and blessed by God. As Wuellner writes, “None of our bodily energies are low or unworthy.”
However, not everyone is in a position to express their sexuality this way. Having spent most of my life thus far as a single woman (married less than a year), I’m intimately familiar with the frustration of discussions about how blessed, natural and good our sexual energy is while being unable to express it fully.
I remember sitting in church one day listening to a sermon on the value of exercise. At one point in the sermon, the pastor said, “Now, all you single people, put your fingers in your ears.” It was clear what he wanted to say next was directed toward only the married members of the congregation. Then he said, “Exercise also raises your libido!” As the congregation laughed and clapped at his admission that exercise can give us more sexual energy, my single friend and I exchanged a glance that said, Oh great, so then what are WE supposed to do about all that extra sexual energy?
Wuellner suggests that “none of our powers and feelings need be wasted. When direct sexual activity is inappropriate, we can still accept the empowered gift in ways that bless us.”
Here are some of her suggestions, which she stresses are neither more holy nor more spiritual than direct sexual activity:
- speak inwardly to your sexual emotion and say “I choose not to give you direct expression; rather I ask you to send your powerful vitality to my whole self so that I can do my work with empowered love.”
- locate the area where the sexual energy seems to be centered and visualize the energy flowing “with radiant power like a river of light” to the rest of your body.
In these ways, we can still acknowledge, express, and enjoy our sexuality without necessarily expressing it directly. Rather than feeling frustrated, repressed, or perhaps even plagued by emotions and desires with no appropriate avenue for direct expression, we can experience our sexuality in a healthy, appropriate, and indirect way through these and similar suggestions.
Wuellner ends her discussion of sexuality (along with anger, food, play, dance and exercise) with four main reasons we experience such “gifted empowerment that rises and manifests in our bodies….”
- that we may more thoroughly enter into the joy of God and may more fully taste the gifts of God
- that we may more fully encounter, accept, and embrace our unique identity
- that we may with passion and compassion bear one another’s burdens and “wash one another’s feet”
- that we may be eager channels of the healing transformation that God longs to bring to the agony of the world.
Before the beginning of Lent on Wednesday, take some time to sit quietly with your body, recognizing its power and vitality and allowing them to fill your whole self–body, mind, spirit and will. Acknowledge and thank your body for its participation in your whole life experience.
We were given bodies for a reason, you know. God is Spirit, and we could very well have been created as formless spirits floating out in endless space. God had all creative power trembling in the vibration of the Word that spoke the world into existence, and God chose to design us with physical form. As Wuellner puts it in Prayer and Our Bodies, “We were intended to receive God’s full energizing nurture through all five senses.”
Chapter 5: Letting Our Bodies Pray
This is perhaps my favorite chapter in Wuellner’s book because of the way she describes prayer:
Prayer is easier than we thought. Prayer was always meant to be part of our everyday lives, part of our bodies, part of all our actions. It does not mean that we are to be solemn and unsmiling as we act sacramentally through our bodies. A sacrament, whether in the church or out of it, is meant to make us more fully human, not less. “The glory of God is the fully alive human being,” Iranaeus said in the second century. Yes, we are to respond to the body’s acts of worship with intentionality, awareness, deliberation, but also with pleasure and joy.
Throughout the chapter, she mentions various bodily acts that can be prayers:
- tasting food and eating slowly
- looking at color
- smelling a flower
- letting water run over our hands
- gently massaging our hands, feet, face, or neck
- taking a nature walk
- singing or playing a musical instrument
- lying on the ground outside
- participating in symbolic action with a trusted friend or group
- creating with clay, crayons, craft sets, etc.
- listening to music
Despite all the books I’ve read and classes I’ve taken, I still have so much to learn about prayer, and those lessons can come from my own body. We all perform so many of the actions on this list, often without even thinking about them. Yet our every activity can be a conversation with God if we want it to be.
Chapter 10: Daily Life in Prayer with Our Bodies
All it takes to move from living to praying is the choice to be aware of the connection between our bodies and our spirituality. This awareness is all it takes to close the gap between the body and the mind, the flesh and the spirit, the human being and God. Wuellner calls this closing of the gap a unity or marriage:
If we can remember our embodiment with awe and gratitude while driving on the freeway, cooking, washing, cleaning house, making love, preaching a sermon, reading a book, or talking with a friend, then we have entered into a unity with our bodies that has become a genuine marriage.
Wuellner follows with suggestions for bodily meditation at each of the following moments in a day:
- waking and rising
- eating and drinking
- recreation, exercise, sexual activity, sports, celebration
“Remembering our embodiment with awe and gratitude…”–what a beautiful expression of body theology.
I think we’ll continue our little tour through Wuellner’s book next week with some insights on sexuality, illness and disability, community, and creation. For today, choose just one item from one of these lists and in that action or moment of the day, “remember your embodiment with awe and gratitude,” and allow your body to pray and “receive God’s full energizing nurture.” It won’t take a minute, and you can do it without uttering a single word.