My Body Matters

I have always been a somewhat fragmented person, living within different shards of myself without ever understanding what it would take to create one whole person out of the pieces. This is as true of my physical body as any other aspect of my self. My body has often seemed like anything but a part of me – an enemy, an angry child, a tent, a burden. I’ve never felt free in my body or comfortable in my skin. When I was younger I was often startled by the image in the mirror because it seemed so far removed from the person I saw in my mind’s eye.

Then I discovered yoga. I realized that I could feel like a partner with my body as I encouraged it to work with my mind and breath to come into a pose and remain there, still and whole. A few years later I wandered into a spa and experienced the intimate power of massage from a stranger. As a tense person who is emotionally fed by physical touch, this became a life-giving encounter with other people.

Cornerstone, a local music and arts festival, drew me into a world of camping, heat, sweat, dust, and beautiful people. Some of my most memorable experiences happened in that field. Never again will I be awakened by a gorgeous yoga instructor gently prodding me out of my tent at 5am to salute the sun with his partner and various other campers. I hope to again feel the heat of a fire mingle with the humid cool of July air, though probably not with the members of my favorite band who have since become good friends. Walking miles around the same few paths, planning the meals of the day around the temperature of the air, wearing as little as possible to avoid overheating, sleeping in four-hour shifts throughout the day, dust tans and baby wipe baths – these are physical memories that changed my relationship with my body.  

In that place bodies stopped being hyper-sexual. They stopped being a means of comparison, a source of shame, a tool or weapon to use against the opposite sex, currency to exchange for affection or love. They became, well, dirt bags. They got us from place to place, they needed just the right kind and amount of fuel to keep us going, they were how we played instruments and talked and sang and connected with each other. Those bodies housed beautiful, dynamic souls. As did mine.

What I do with my body matters; most people with a hint of Judeo-Christian morality would agree that this is true. But how I see my body matters, too. Is it a burden, a thing separate from me? Or is it part of the me that is created in the image of God? Is it on purpose? Can it help (or hinder) my soul along its journey?

Scripture splashes images of seekers praying in all sorts of postures and positions: standing, sitting, kneeling, hands up, heads raised, heads bowed, lying down, facing the Temple, and pacing. Did these positions matter? Does what I do with my body while praying affect my prayers? I think maybe so. When I kneel in prayer with my head bowed down I feel more contrite, more repentant, humbler. When sitting in worship with my hands cupped in my lap I find myself turning upward toward the Lord, releasing and receiving in mysterious ways. When I pace, arms lifted and voice raised, I feel passion and power stir up inside me.

The following are some suggestions for engaging the outside part of yourself in prayer. Be experimental. Engage all of your senses in an effort to find God reaching you through each of them.

Bake bread from scratch. Touch the dough, smell the yeast, feel the heat. Thank God for providing for your physical needs, or repent of any sin that’s spread through your life. Share the product with friends, breaking bread together.

Burn incense during prayer, telling God you want this time to be an offering to Him.

Play in a garden. Talk to God about His Creation. Then wash your hands and feet, thanking God for forgiveness and renewal.

Think about your baptism or a meaningful communion experience. Talk to God about the significance of these physical rituals.

Use prayer beads for 15 minutes a day for a week.

Spend thirty minutes shifting position and prayer focus. Begin on your feet, arms out, worshiping God. Lift up the needs of those you know. Then sit, hands open in your lap, offering up your struggles and pain and receiving grace from God. Then spend time kneeling while confessing sin and accepting forgiveness. End lying down, resting in the presence of the lover of your soul.

 

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2 Comments

  1. Vicky said,

    June 2, 2011 at 10:59 am

    Yes! Come bake bread with me and we will thank God for carbs. Delicious carbs.

    Seriously, though, I love this post. I am reminded that I am MORE than a body, it doesn’t define me. It’s just a body, but it does matter, since I am hopefully going to have it for a while longer. I love the imagery of using my body in prayer. Thanks friend.

  2. June 2, 2011 at 5:20 pm

    Amen.
    And I am really annoyed by the way our bodies have become these sexualized objects. But we’ve already had this conversation, many times.


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