Written for London Centre for Spiritual Direction/ March blog 2023
Your body is one marvellous bespoke gift like no other: sown into being at conception, it became your very own at birth and continues to present your ‘you’ to the world even beyond your last breath. Much of Christian practice focuses on concepts of faith and sharing prayers, be they full of words or full of silence; where then is the space for our fleshy, hairy, day-to-day gloriously embodied selves? Perhaps we are missing something, denying something, that was intended from the beginning to be a locus of revelation for us. We only live by courtesy of our bodies, yet many of us no longer know how to ‘be embodied’ in a healthy, life-giving way. Can we seek integration towards a
I was taught as a young adult that I am a spirit, and I live in a body. This elevated my thought life, where relationship with God ‘should’ take place, and relegated my body; I should rather renounce any bodily sensations than listen to them, and place my hope in that future heavenly freedom from ‘flesh’. So much suspicion, rejection; so little freedom, so little joy. Surely this is not what Jesus came ‘in the flesh’ to share with us!
More recently, I read that “my body is my soul’s address”*; I received this as delightful encouragement to honour my body as it shelters and sustains my whole self, to listen to and love all it is and does. Isn’t this beautiful? Might I even consider my body to be God’s address? (I Cor 6:19).
But it was another statement that moved me from thinking differently about who I am to a new experience of aliveness that overtook all of me: “my body is housed within my soul”**.
Oh! What a difference that makes! Read it again: take a moment to let it enter your thoughts, let it settle down into your heart; what are you feeling? Where in your body do you sense this? What are you seeing, tasting; what is being touched? To me, a spaciousness arises around me; warmth and joyfulness in me. I feel my tummy fluttering; I am tasting something that takes me back to being little … all of a sudden it is all of me that is taken up in delight and prayer.
What shall I do with this experience? I stay with it, gently notice what is happening. I welcome what it brings; no need to interpret. Full of wonder. I will return to this place of consolation, of gift. My body: where God’s life and love are revealed! If I will but stop to notice.
My increasing awareness of my body has opened a new way of sensing and responding to God, both for myself and as I listen to others. It is a slow, sweet process in me of growing trust and freedom. Such is God’s grace.
There is an invitation here for you too. Will you honour the gift of your body with the quiet attentiveness appropriate to such a holy space? How might you give your body chance to speak? How could you be faithful to your body’s sensations and sensitivities? How might you include your body in prayer?
*An Altar in the World, Barbara Brown Taylor
**Anam Cara, John O’Donohue