Do you feel safe in your own body? Do you feel at home?
Embodied spirituality is spirituality with skin on. After all, any kind of experience we have, spiritual or otherwise, is because we exist within these bodies of ours!
An authentic spirituality is one in which we tend to both the inner and outer world. Our body is tended to as part of the whole where spirituality and physicality are intertwined.
We see this gift and mystery of incarnation in John 1:14, “The Word became flesh and dwelt among us.” Several thousand years before these words were penned, the Hebrew Bible spoke of the “nephesh” or “soul.” Rather than the Platonic idea of something that is separate from the body, "soul" in the Hebrew language indicated a unified, living, breathing physical being (so “soul” is not something we have, but something we are!).
Viewed this way, our thoughts about and tending to our bodies can (and need to) be part of our spiritual practice.
Our bodies can also tend to us by offering wisdom and guidance.
As I participated in the spontaneity of Authentic Movement one day, my right hand effortlessly went to my heart while my left hand went to my back. I stood there for a moment, wondering what was being communicated to me. It took a few minutes for my rational mind to catch the meaning and make it conscious: “Support your heart” was my body’s message to me.
This led me to purposely engage some heart-opening stretches and heart-grounding exercises. The message still stayed with me until I realized that it was another season in my life that I needed to pursue a therapist, one who could help me with some painful relationships and the release of stress and grief related to those relationships.
Tears came to my eyes with this moment of recognition. My body felt like a caring friend.
I often do not treat it as such. Especially when I get caught up in judgement and critique, then I'm apt to be harsh toward or ignore my body.
As Father Richard Rohr has said, "How we see anything is how we see everything!"
If I'm evaluating, judging, and critiquing my body, I'm more apt to be evaluating, judging, and critiquing everything (& everyone) else!
And the opposite is true, as I welcome and listen for Wisdom through my body, I'm more apt to welcome and listen for Wisdom in everything (& everyone) else!
In listening and tending, I become a safer, more hospitable place--and not just for myself.
This is no selfish pursuit...for when we feel at home in our own bodies, we can help others feel at home in their bodies, too. If you do not feel at home in your body, you are not alone. There are many reasons why we may not feel safe in our own bodies. There are stories of wounds behind our reluctance to listen to, or even believe, our bodies hold Wisdom.
Maybe, it's time to schedule a session with a Spiritual Director or a therapist!
The first time I engaged Authentic Movement last month, I knew it was the spiritual practice I had been looking for during this particular season of my life!
While I appreciate a variety of moving meditations and body practices such as qigong and yoga, Authentic Movement invited me to be surprised by spontaneity.
I had no idea how my body wanted to move and I was not going to tell it how to move...I was going to let it show me!
Following the gentle promptings of Spiritual Director, Julie Leavitt, during her workshop on "Authentic Movement and the Sacred Body" at Spiritual Directors International's virtual conference, I was curious as to why my body was moving like an inflatable air dancer.
After the time of movement, I sat down and wrote these words,
"I am the one who is encouraged to move big and freely, to move in the natural way my body leads rather than listening to or moving according to 'shoulds.' God says to me,
'You are free.
You are free to move.
You are free to speak, create.
Follow what is natural.
You are grounded,
do not be afraid.'
This is a practice I've been looking for! A way of trusting the inner wisdom flowing through the body."
It spoke right into what had been weighing heavy on me. Who knew that in moving like an inflatable air dancer, my body would offer me such grounding and affirmation?!
After that, I decided to not only continue a weekly practice of Authentic Movement, but keep this in my spiritual toolbox for any directee that needed to get into their body.
Not surprising, the following week, two people were in need of listening to the wisdom flowing through their bodies. Their experience of Authentic Movement is best summed up by one who afterwards, sat down and much to her mind's surprise said, "Whoa, I just had a mystical experience!"
No matter how large or small the movement, the Spirit of God can speak.
Want to give it a try?
*If you have a compassionate witness present like a Spiritual Director, you might allow them to simply share with you what they observed and/or continue with what you experienced in your time of Spiritual Direction.
When was the last time you listened to the wisdom of your body?
If you’re like me, you may tend to ignore or put off its signals for rest or even a bathroom break, much less listen to its wisdom!
This is a lifelong learning for me, but I continue to pursue it because like dreams, the body tells us the truth even as our ego, survival self keeps plowing ahead checking off items on our to do list.
When in my ego, survival self, I find my body a distraction. When not pushing through or ignoring it, I tend to be critiquing and evaluating it instead.
BUT, when listening from my more compassionate Self, I discover awe and gratitude for my body’s wisdom. My body becomes a gift from God and in those moments when I receive that gift through attentiveness, a shift happens. I am taken to a deeper, more authentic place where I’m much kinder to myself and others. A perspective comes that I was not aware of prior to listening to my body. Or, some expression like a cleansing cry allows for a much needed physical and emotional release.
And it can happen in a matter of moments!
So here is an easy way to begin to offer a listening ear to your body & hear what wisdom it holds:
Let yourself stay with and in the moment with your body for as long as you are able or desire. You might pause for a moment and say, “This is what incarnation feels like” realizing the Spirit of God dwells within you. Then place a gentle hand on your body or speak some gentle words of gratitude to and for your body before you continue with your day.
Feeling stuck with a looming decision?
Stuck in or overwhelmed with a feeling?
Curious to discover the wisdom in your nighttime dream (perhaps about your looming decision!)?
Or maybe you resonate with my daughter who recently said, "I just can't do words or thinking right now."
No matter how old you are, it's time to get out the playdough! (or clay or Model Magic, your choice)
And no, you do not have to be an artistic type of person! Let that inner kid of yours who knows how to squish, twist, pull, flatten, bend, and roll grab a handful of playdough.
Now pick one of these 3 practices and see what happens:
Awareness Examen with Playdough
Notice what literally and figuratively emerges as you enter into this 16th century prayerful review of your day or week.
Moving Through Feelings with Playdough
Rather than trying hard to let go, discover what happens when you move through your emotions.
Sculpt a Dream Image
Dream images are often metaphors and symbols of different parts of ourselves/our lives. They offer us wisdom for waking life as we tend to them.
Who knew playdough could be part of our spiritual practice and way of discernment?! Playdough is not just for kids! Actually, it's for all of us kids at heart who often get stuck in our heads yet are open to the creative, childlike ways the Spirit offers freedom and wisdom.
Sometimes I begin my sessions of spiritual direction with a poem.
Poetry has a way of guiding us into the Deep with its rhythms, words, pauses, and images.
People hear the same poem differently, particular words and phrases catch their attention and "speak" right into the particularities of their lives. The "deep calls to deep" and they respond with an authenticity that surprises them. This very much reflects poet David Whyte's definition of poetry-- "Language against which we have no defenses."
The latest poem I have been reading to people who come for Spiritual Direction is one from David Whyte, Just Beyond Yourself. I offer it to you here to read or listen to. Slowly read through it a few times or close your eyes and listen to the recording of me reading it twice. After all, that was the original way of Lectio Divina--hearing the sacred Scriptures being read!
As you read or I read to you, listen for the word or phrase that catches your attention. Then allow that word or phrase to speak to your heart. How does it connect with what is going on in your life right now? Listen for the invitations being offered to you through that word or phrase. Let it shape your prayer &/or journaling (even your next conversation in spiritual direction!).
JUST BEYOND YOURSELF
Half a step
and the rest
There is a road
When you see
the two sides
at that far horizon
and deep in
of your own
it’s the road
how you know.
need to be.
The Bell and the Blackbird (2018)
What do soil, dough, or oysters have to do with reading a text prayerfully?
Meditative or prayerful reading is just one way to read sacred texts like the Bible or the Tao Te Ching.
From studying the context within the text itself and the cultural context the text was written in to word studies and devotional reading, you could stay with one passage for a very long time, especially if you add Lectio Divina to the mix!
Lectio Divina (Latin for “Divine Reading”) finds its roots in the ancient Jewish practice of meditating on Scripture but was formalized by Saint Benedict of Nursia in the 6th century. It was a cornerstone for spiritual development for the first sixteen centuries of Christian history and has been in the process of recovery since the Reformation left it in the monasteries.
And while it has been brought out of the monasteries and even has found its way into apps like Lectio 365, it seems we have to go through a bit of recovery ourselves like letting go of the idea that "more is better"! As we do so, we are ready to enter into the meditative practice of Lectio Divina.
By chewing on and resting with a single word or phrase that grabs our attention after slowly reading a short portion 2-3 times, we open to the divine wisdom offered through that word or phrase. We listen to how God is speaking through it and respond to the invitations and insights through prayer and/or journaling. As it takes up residence within us, the wisdom becomes embodied in our inner and outer world.
But after years of facilitating groups that practice Lectio Divina, it can still be difficult. Why?
It is hard for us to give up control (even when it comes to prayerfully reading Scripture!).
It’s much easier to study a text than allow it to study us! We want it to stay in our heads by looking up the passages before and after the text, by comparing it to other translations, or looking up what words mean in the original languages…all of these are very good practices, but they can be a way to by-pass the heart.
Instead, what if we imagine ourselves to be the soil that a single mustard seed is planted in? Or the dough that a woman worked a little yeast throughout? Or the oyster that allowed an irritant to stay within its shell?
What do these have in common?
Lectio Divina invites us to become soil, dough, or oysters.
Be receptive to the power of a single word or a little phrase (whether it delights or irritates). Spend some time with it, allowing it to spend time with and in your life.
In time, you may discover the “pearl of great price” dwells within you!
In time, you may become the nourishment (or beauty, medicine, wisdom) the world is waiting for! And all of that through a single word or phrase.
Spiritual practices, like meditation and even church-going, can become spiritual bypass—ways of bypassing reality both outside and inside of us, dissociating from wounds within and without, ignoring the healing work that needs to be done in our inner and outer world.
But spiritual practices can also be vehicles for transformation of both ourselves and our world.
How?—by giving us new ways of seeing and being (which is the whole point of authentic spiritual practice).
Let’s take a look at a few practices...
Conscious Breathing: With as little as 10 slow, complete exhales and 10 full, relaxed inhales, we can calm the fight, flight, freeze survival impulse, allowing us to move from a reactive, closed off, defensive place to a receptive, open, deeper place.
Centering Prayer: Through daily practice of 20 minutes of silent surrendering to God’s presence & action, we let go of our ego-drivenness and receive inner healing of compulsions and soul wounds. Not only does this bring personal freedom but it releases us from projecting our compulsions and wounds on others and passing them down to our children.
Lectio Divina: Spiritual reading allows a word or phrase in a small portion of inspired text, whether sacred Scriptures like the Psalms or a poem, to speak to us. Rather than bringing what we already know or studying it, we allow the text to study us! As we bring our story, our lives, to it, we humbly listen for the wisdom and guidance being offered (which may be encouragement to see a counselor or write a letter to your senator!).
Awareness Examen: Looking over our lives at the end of the day through the eyes of God helps us become aware of God’s life-giving presence and action (and the times throughout the day when we were unaware or resistant). The patterns of what is life-giving and life-draining help us discern who we are and what we are to offer this world.
Silent Retreats: Extended time in silence and solitude creates space for our souls to rest and play which opens us to better hear the “still, small voice” which may be drowned out by the external noise of daily life or the internal noise of comparing ourselves to others.
There are so many practices I could list here but the point isn’t the practice itself, it’s the “fruit.”
Seated meditation may not fit you. You may desire some kind of moving meditation, like dance or qigong. Or you may prefer to spend time in nature or doing art.
What practices have you found that cultivate love in you? What helps you have eyes to see and tend to the suffering both inside yourself and in others? Which ways of wisdom help you discern what is yours to offer this world (not out of compulsion but compassion)? A Spiritual Director can companion you on this journey of discovery of spiritual practices.
But remember, it’s not necessarily the practices, it’s the humans who are transformed by these practices, that this world needs. What do spiritual practices like Centering Prayer offer a hurting world?—YOU!
When I was present to him
I saw his crinkled little brow of curiosity
looking at the commonplace.
Such seeing changed my day.
When I was present to her
I saw her dark eyes shine while
the rest of her danced with delight.
Such being invited me to play.
When I was present to him
I saw his furrowed brow and tired eyes
and I was invited into silence.
Such sharing meant more than I could say.
I wrote this poem in 2012 after being curious about what would happen if I was present to my ordinary surroundings for fifteen minutes. Knowing so much of my time can be filled with my to-do list (of which spiritual practice can be a part), I decided to "throw a stick in the spokes" of my day. Am I ever glad I did!
I saw my family members in such a different way in a mere quarter of an hour. And in seeing them, I felt seen by God and was invited into seeing as God sees...and isn't that the whole point of spiritual practice?!
Try it. Whether or not there are other humans in your house, be curious as to what you see and how it/they "speak."
While they may share silence and look the same on the outside, join me in taking a look on the inside…
Different forms of meditation offer the practitioner different gifts depending on their focus. Some of these forms and gifts are mindfulness, movement, awareness, breathing, insight, chakra-opening, loving-kindness, relaxation, guided, calming, and creativity.
As one who meditates, I appreciate and practice a variety of methods and even combine some, but I call Centering Prayer my main practice. However, many do not understand how Centering Prayer offers anything different from other forms of meditation.
Centering Prayer was developed by Trappist monks, Fathers William Meninger, Basil Pennington and Thomas Keating, to help bring the ancient practice of contemplative prayer within the Christian tradition to people outside the monastery—which is most of us!
Inspired by early Christian contemplatives and the medieval text, The Cloud of Unknowing, their process—20 minutes of silence once or twice a day—allows the power of and presence in Silence to be accessed by those of us who live in the “world of words.”
This prayer’s nickname, the "Prayer of Consent," reveals how it differs from other forms of meditation. Rather than focusing solely on being present to sounds and sensations or giving the ego mind something to do like count, follow our breath, or say a mantra, Centering Prayer’s sole focus is surrendering. We consent to the presence and action of God within us.
During the 20 minutes of sitting comfortably, but alert, with head up and eyes closed (or with a resting gaze toward the floor), we introduce a “sacred word” as a symbol of our intention to consent. This can be a word like “Peace,” “Jesus,” or “Love.”
Whenever we become aware of our mind being engaged with thoughts (no matter how interesting or enlightening!), we simply and gently say our sacred word. We come back to surrendering all—every plan, worry, person, to-do list, dream, ah-ha, observation, insight…you get the idea. We let go of everyone and everything, trusting God with and for all.
Given the focus is learning to trust God, it does not matter how many times we catch ourselves wandering and returning. Every instance is an opportunity to “come home” and trust the Beloved with each. Some days we will find ourselves saying our sacred word quite often, for we may have more weighing on our hearts, minds, and bodies than other days.
Notice how relational Centering Prayer is!
It can certainly expose an unhealthy image of God which may be why a part of us rightly refuses to surrender! To explore that being a possibility rather than the normal ego tantrum of giving up control, go here.
How we enter into Centering Prayer can help us consent.
We see a model for this powerful and humble consent in Jesus, especially in the Garden of Gethsemane after asking to be spared from suffering but willing to surrender anyway. His deep trust in the Heart of God leads him to say what he taught his disciples to pray, “Thy will be done.”
Jesus’ response echoes the words of his mother, Mary, after being told she would bear the Messiah. To this overwhelming and possibly dangerous news, she says to the angel bringing her the announcement, “Let it be done unto me according to Your Word.” Perhaps Jesus learned his prayer of surrender from her!
Every time we enter into Centering Prayer, we join Mary and Jesus in this powerful, humble, and holy consent. For twenty minutes, we practice releasing our grasp on our plans, desires, abilities, and attachments.
After coming to an end of our own words in prayerful petition, no matter how a situation may look to us (and others) on the outside, we trust in the presence and work of the One who dwells in secret on the inside.
*Contemplative Outreach offers an app with a timer and ways to enter into and end your time of Centering Prayer. And no matter what level of experience you have, you are always welcome to join me for communal Centering Prayer every Friday morning from 9:00 AM- 10:00 AM (Central Time Zone). Contact me for the Zoom link.
Trembling and bewildered, the women went out and fled from the tomb. They said nothing to anyone, because they were afraid.
Mark 16:8 (NIV)
Sometimes our reaction to resurrection isn’t joy.
Sometimes it’s trembling and bewilderment (or as the NRSV translation says “terror and amazement”).
This Easter, my family of four paused at this ending of the book of Mark before continuing on with the two endings that were added later on.
My teen daughter jokingly calls the latter the “fan fiction endings” (alternate endings or additional info added by those who love the story rather than the original author). She is a reader of fan fiction when it comes to her favorite novels.
Clearly the women's fear and silence was not the end of the story given how it unfolded in the other Gospels and in the book of Acts, but the earliest manuscripts stop at verse 8.
And it got us wondering how many times in our own stories has God presented us with resurrection and we’ve been too scared out of our minds to accept it (let alone tell anyone!).
This might be resurrection in the form of a new dream, calling, or relationship arising just when we thought all hope was dead and gone. Maybe this has happened to you (or is happening to you) and instead of joy, your first response is trembling, bewilderment, and keeping it to yourself. Why?
Why might terror and amazement be our first reaction to the reality of resurrection?
It doesn’t fit our storyline. We’re not expecting it. The women were expecting to see Jesus’ body, that’s what they were prepared for. Their biggest challenge was how they would roll the stone away, that’s the story they were prepared for. They were utterly unprepared for this.
Years ago, my husband had just broken off an engagement. He told God he was ready to be a lifelong bachelor, then less than two months later, I came along…terror and amazement.
We don’t want to let go of our old storyline. If we let go of what is familiar (even if it’s painful), what might that mean? What might others think if something is voiced that is out-of-the-norm, completely other than what is expected? They were just ordinary women going about their plan to anoint their loved one’s dead body. Nothing out-of-the-ordinary. Now they are told to be evangelists! Women sharing the Good News with men—of the risen Christ—not so easy, definitely tremble-worthy.
In Russ’ hidden handbook of dating, two months was not enough time in between relationships. What might others think? Could he let go of what others (and even a part of himself) thought?
The new storyline seems too good to be true. Who wouldn’t want to hear that their loved one has been raised from the dead?! Sometimes when something is beyond our own imagining, it triggers all of our insecurities and fears. Given women’s role in society, perhaps the women that early morning felt especially vulnerable in sharing such news. Would they be believed and if not, what then? Could they bear being mocked and belittled?
Entering into another relationship for Russ, meant entering into another possibility of exhausting dysfunction, hurt, and rejection. Staying to himself seemed easier, but after our first conversation, he could not resist the feeling of hope for a healthy relationship. He had to decide if stepping out of hiding was worth the risk and ridicule.
He decided to take the risk that comes with resurrection.
After learning I had just had my wisdom teeth out, he walked up to me after a church service (he played in the worship band and I was the youth pastor) and asked how I felt after the surgery. Awkward? Yes. Did it trigger not only his, but all of my own insecurities? Yes. But, we will have been married for twenty years this October.
As I write this, I’m staring into the face of another resurrection. It has come while I have not yet totally released my grief and attachments to the old, dying storyline (what, how & who I had planned on being part of the unfolding of a dream I had pictured over fifteen years ago). Much like Russ experienced twenty-one years ago, God has raised up a new dream before I have felt ready, causing much trembling and bewilderment!
And like the women that morning, I have been afraid. I have needed time to ponder whether or not the eyes of my heart have been deceiving me. And I have needed to further loosen my grasp on the old while becoming aware of what has been triggered in me so as to open my hands and give my heart to the new. As the Spirit of God gives me courage, I share the good news of this new dream with others. And I imagine it will spread soon enough (as good news eventually does!).
When resurrection happens may your eyes be open to see it. And may the terror and amazement lead not to shame but to solitude with the God who raises the dead and to community with spiritual companions who can give you courage. May you trust that you will not remain afraid forever, but step boldly, no matter how clumsily, into the truth revealed by the resurrected Christ.
Kasey is a scarf, ball and club juggling spiritual director just outside of Nashville, TN. Play helps her Type-A, Enneagram 1 personality relax, creating space for poetry and other words to emerge. She also likes playing with theological ideas like perichoresis, and all the ways we're invited into this Triune dance.