I have a confession to make. I’m not a very good activist. I’m not politically-minded, and I don’t enjoy creating or participating in demonstrations or rallies. I believe that issues of social justice and creation care are important and that, as a Christian, I should work for them. But I’m not good at it.
Over the last two weeks, I’ve had the opportunity to explore Wuellner’s book with all of you, and I’ve enjoyed and resonated with every chapter…except this one.
Chapter 9: Prayer for the Body of the Earth
As she did in Chapter 8 with the human body and embodied community, Wuellner draws parallels between the human body and what she calls “the body of the earth.” She writes, “Our earth body, with its atmosphere, its water, its soil, its shrubs, trees, grass, animal life, is as much a bodily self as we are.”
Wuellner suggests that, as we often do with our own bodies, humankind has treated the earth with disdain and disgust: “At best, we have taken it for granted, used it, manipulated it. At worst, we have assaulted it, ravaged it, and, for immediate gain, destroyed many forms of its life with careless unconcern, poisoning its air, water, and soil.”
That sounds like a social activist‘s speech, doesn’t it? Next, we expect to hear some pithy catchphrase like “Save the Whales.”
But Wuellner takes a different tactic. As a professor, ordained minister, and trained spiritual director, Wuellner is much less interested in taking up The Cause and much more interested in a holistic discussion of bodily prayer–one that includes prayer for the earth that Genesis tells us God gave into our hands to maintain.
In fact, Wuellner suggests that part of the empowerment we feel when we experience healing is a desire toward creation care: “As we relate anew to our bodily selves, we begin to feel an urgency to relate anew to the body of our earth.” She takes a step further to suggest that the “earth itself, even as our bodies, needs our healing and prayer as much as we need its healing and prayer.”
Wuellner takes care to remind her readers that concern with the well-being of the earth is not a new concept in Christian history and theology. She quotes a reflection from Hildegard of Bingen:
Does not humanity know that God
is the world’s creator?
With nature’s help,
humankind can set into creation
all that is necessary and life sustaining.
An Open Door
Are you an advocate for social justice and creation care? Would you like to share your experience? I’d like to establish an open door, through which any of you lovely readers are welcome to step by way of writing a guest post that explores the service aspect of body theology. This is a standing offer, at least for the time being. If you’re interested, please send me your submission at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Not ready for a guest post? Drop me a line in the comments below to share your story.
[O]ur bodies should be loved within the problem, as part of our whole life’s experience. – Wuellner, Prayer and Our Bodies
About a year ago, my L5 disc slipped out of alignment. I’m not sure exactly what did it. Whatever the cause, the pain began to wake me up at night, then to keep me from sleeping, then to keep me from moving freely until I was in constant pain and afraid to move for fear I was making it worse. All my home remedies failed.
Since I didn’t have insurance at the time, I went to a free clinic, got some heavy pain medication (thank you, government funding), and was told to stretch regularly and the pain would go away in time for our wedding in April.
The night before our wedding, the pain was so severe that I didn’t sleep at all.
As soon as my husband’s insurance kicked in the Monday after our honeymoon, I went to the chiropractor for the first time. He x-rayed my back and discovered I have scoliosis and that my slipped disc was inflamed and was causing sciatica in both legs. So I began the long process of being adjusted three times a week, icing my back in 20-minute intervals, and stretching.
Now, a year later, I still have a slipped disc, and it still presses on my sciatic nerve when I’ve been sitting too long or driving any distance. The pain is more manageable now, and I have developed a greater tolerance for it. But I will be going to the chiropractor for the rest of my life.
Maybe one day I will be pain-free, but there’s no guarantee. All I can do is stretch, ice my back, and minimize the amount of sitting I do as much as possible.
Chapter 7: Relating to Our Bodies in Illness and Disability
Yesterday we looked at what happens to our bodies when we experience healing and empowerment. But what about when our bodies are in pain, sick, or permanently altered? How should we relate to our bodies then?
Wuellner suggests that we give our bodies some grace and allow them to do the necessary work to find healing and balance again. It’s not easy to do:
Somehow we must maintain the miracle of wholeness and healing when the body and mind work together in loving unity within God’s embrace and at the same time acknowledge the presence of mystery, knowing that we do not have all the answers, knowing that God works ceaselessly with our body and mind to bring light out of darkness.
In fact, Wuellner acknowledges just how hard it is to give our bodies the grace and space necessary for healing. We often get in our own way:
The very work the body is doing makes it hard for us to love and communicate with it. It is hard for us not to hate and repudiate our body when it signals extreme discomfort and pain. It is hard not to blame it, or at least ignore and escape from it, by merely deadening the symptoms.
My experience with my back pain is certainly not as extreme as some. I haven’t had to have surgery yet. I’m still able to walk, sit when I need to, and function virtually normally. I am lucky that the scoliosis is mild and that chiropractic adjustments help with the pain.
But I have to say, I’ve been mightily frustrated with my body over the past year. I’ve blamed and accused it. I’ve ignored it. I’ve beaten it into submission so I can get things done. Only my husband knows how much I have complained and cried.
But Wuellner advocates that we do not have to live in such a state of “bondage” to our body’s situation: “Bondage is the feeling that our lives are out of control; that we have no choices or alternatives; that there is no more “new creation”; that we are living in captive obedience rather than in relationship. God sets us free to discover that each moment, within grace, opens endless creative possibilities.”
How do we experience this freedom in the midst of our bodily illness or disability? Here are some of Wuellner’s suggestions:
- Enter into a warm, appreciative, listening relationship with your body before illness strikes.
- Be in close touch with your body’s wisdom as it works for healing.
- Ask your body what you, your conscious self, can do to help in the way of diet, rest, exercise, and daily life.
- Do not set timetables for healing, and do not push or force.
- Respect the body’s own rhythm of timing and healing.
- Remind yourself that the body has not suddenly become your enemy.
- Be patient, realizing that the body has to get in touch with the depths of our subconscious mind and do quite a lot of other work before the outer symptoms being to change.
- Be confident that your body hears you and is aware of your efforts to show grace and patience. There may not be a complete cure, but something will begin to happen.
I don’t know about you, but I need to hear this today. Instead of complaining about the pain today, I’m going to lie down for a while (because sitting hurts) and try to communicate some grace and patience to my body. I’m going to apologize for not being more understanding, and I’m going to wait and listen for any wisdom my body has to participate in the healing process.
If you are in pain or ill today, I encourage you to join me, and come back later to share how things went in the comment section. I’d love to hear from you!
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.