Worshipping with our Bodies

Worshipping with our Bodies

Among Western Christians there can be a tendency to disassociate faith from our bodies and from the material world in which we live. Popular Christianity envisions souls shooting up into heaven (or down into hell), and ancient Grecco-Roman pagan beliefs persist in widespread cultural notions that our bodies and souls are altogether different natures.

Similarly, so much of our faith in God and understanding of Christian living resides in our heads, in our commitments, in our ideas. Indeed, for centuries the church was much more concerned with orthodoxy – that is, right teaching – than with orthopraxy – that is, right living. The stuff of living was easily relegated to the back burner.

Worshipping with our BodiesIn time, we’ve come to condescend religious traditions and patterns that embrace full-bodiedness. Much of “proper” religion has no time for the humble prayer postures of Islam, the careful dietary laws of Judaism, or the exuberant bodily ecstasy of Pentecostal and other Christian traditions.

Furthermore, if what’s really important is having the right beliefs, the right ideas, then maybe our bodies and the world around us isn’t that important. Litter? Air pollution? Water contamination? Meh. My ultimate home is in heaven, after all. Who cares about this earth?

Hogwash.

Here’s the Biblical truth: we are created beings in a created world. God makes us from the dust of the earth and from the breath of heaven. We are not just dust, and neither are we just spirit. No. We are fully integrated, both/and, at the same time. This is why Jesus comes to us not as a ghost or a spirit or as some sort of angelic being. No. Jesus comes among us as flesh and blood, fully human and fully divine, an integrated Savior for his beloved people.

And whatever we can say about eternal life and our heavenly dwelling place between death and new life, God’s ultimate promise for us is not a disembodied spiritual world but a whole new creation. God prepares for us a New Heaven and a New Earth joined as one, where the dead are raised and the created world is restored according to God’s glorious intent.

Consider the wholeness of your being. Become aware of your body – a beautiful, wonderful, complex body with nerves sending signals, a heart pumping blood, glands ready to secrete, and skin that can be smooth or rough, wrinkled or tender. Dwell on your head, your heart, your thoughts, your feelings. It’s all one – not just in your brain, but in your gut, in your legs, in the fullness of your created self. It’s all part of the human being God made you to be.

Worshipping with our BodiesAnd so, when we worship we don’t just worship with our mouths or our brains – though these, as part of our createdness, are blessed and wonderful. We bring the fullness of our created selves – our bodies and all they can do – to our acts of worship. This is why we sit and stand and walk during worship. This is why we arrange the chairs in a semicircular formation so that we can see each other in our bodily goodness during our prayers and praise. This is why we eat bread and drink from a cup for Holy Communion, and splash water for Holy Baptism. This is why we sing, letting our bodies become instruments of praise. This is why we use scented oil to anoint the sick, and wave palm branches on Palm Sunday, and smear ashes on our heads at the start of Lent. Our faith takes on flesh and grasps tangible handholds. Bread, water, cup, oil, ash and more.

Next week I’ll write a blogpost exploring traditional postures for worship. For now, I invite you to be aware of your bodily goodness during times of prayer and worship. I invite you to consider how your whole being is, or can be, involved in worship. I invite you to bring your fully integrated self into worship, for you are made in God’s image, beautiful and beloved by God, in all that you are.

I’ll see you at church.

 

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