Believe it or not, your body is aware of who you are, what you care about, and how you are doing emotionally and spiritually. Our bodies are part of who we are, and they know us better than we think they do. (If you missed it yesterday, you can read about my experience learning to listen to my body here.)
This week we’re learning together about the connection between our physical and spiritual selves through Flora Slosson Wuellner’s book Prayer and Our Bodies. These posts are not meant to be a book review but a sharing of and engaging with some of her insights as an ordained minister, adjunct professor, and trained spiritual director.
Here is some of what Wuellner has to say about the body throughout her introduction:
Our understanding and awareness of our bodily selves unfold slowly as we grow, learn, and mature within God’s embrace.
This is why the development of a holistic body theology begins with and is constantly being informed by our identity in Christ. This is also why becoming more media literate and culturally discerning is important so we can sift through the messages we receive in search of God’s truth about who we are.
When the body is mentioned in the New Testament, it is often referred to by the Greek word soma, which usually implies the whole human self: body, emotion, intelligence, will.
Because our faith is rooted in the incarnation of Jesus, any form of spirituality we claim must also be incarnational, which by definition includes the wholeness of the person. This will profoundly influence our relationship to our communities and our world.
This is why I have added the word “holistic” to my discussions of body theology and have expanded the definition to include not only our physical selves (body image, sexuality) but also how we interact within the community of God (the body of Christ, community) and within our larger local and global context (the body of Christ, service).
…[A]s we grow into a new, transforming relationship with our bodily selves, we will begin spontaneously and naturally to make informed decisions about our habits, lifestyles, and relationships.
I don’t think I could write a better description of the purpose of holistic body theology. We are created to engage with ourselves, with God, and with others through our bodies, not in spite of them.
Chapter 2: Reconciling and Celebrating Our Bodies
In this chapter, Wuellner gently approaches the topic of body image and the need for inner healing. She asks, “What have our bodies done to us that we ignore, dislike, and punish them so?” and suggests that “much unhealed anger, fear, and hurt underlies our dislike and suspicion of our bodily selves. These unresolved, underlying issues affect our engagement in culture (e.g. what and how much we eat and drink, how we identify and treat illness) as well as how we relate to ourselves, one another, and God.
Our bodies were created in unity with our emotions, intelligence and will, Wuellner describes, and being out of touch with our emotions and bodies results in “fragmentation.” Wuellner encourages her readers to “pray for awareness that our disliked bodily parts are part of us and have served us faithfully. We can stop blaming our bodies for our own decisions…. Celebration of even one small part is deeply healing to the whole.”
She suggests that engaging with our bodies in prayer can provide space for us to “learn to listen to the signals of our bodies, honoring them as one of the main ways God speaks to us and by which we can learn much unencountered truth about ourselves and our communities.”
Guided Meditation with the Body
She goes on to offer a guided meditation exercise in which she encourages her readers to
1) think of a part of the body they dislike or are ashamed of and picture it being “touched lovingly” or “gently washed” by Jesus,
2) touch that part of their bodies themselves, “thank it for being a faithful friend in spite of your dislike,” and ask God for healing of the dislike or shame associated with that body part,
3) remember a time their bodies were insulted or criticized by someone else and see themselves as they were at that time (e.g. child, teenager, adult) being comforted by God, and
4) thank their bodies as they are now “for taking the special tasks and challenges of this phase of your life” and allow their bodies to be held by God “as one who is precious to God and valued by God.”
A few friends and I tried this mediation exercise in our sexuality group two or three years ago. Even though it was an uncomfortable approach for some of us at the time, I remember how the night was filled with healing, freedom, and peace as we each acknowledged some shame or emotional hurt related to our bodies and were able to deal with it individually with God in a shared, safe space.
Give Your Body a Valentine
Today, try setting aside a little time to celebrate Valentine’s Day with yourself by going through this exercise (or whatever portion or version feels safe and available to you).
Show some love for your body as it is now, fearfully and wonderfully made by a powerful, creative God who knows you, loves you, and could not possibly imagine this life without you in it!