Spirituality in the Flesh: Bodily Sources of Religious Experiences

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I noticed a whole world of bugs and plants and rocks and trees and streams and animals that were blissfully unaware of the things that seemed so big in my life and all of a sudden many things that had seemed all-important shrank to a more appropriate size in my heart. As I sat on a tree trunk that had fallen across a stream, I prayed and felt myself rejuvenated by the beauty and the silence. As I walked, I came upon a puddle in dried tire rut that was teaming with hundreds of tadpoles and it reminded me that life can spring up anywhere, even in the dry and rutted places of my own life.

I paid attention to how good it felt to be in my body, climbed a hill until my heart beat fast, got sweaty and lay down exhausted when I got back—full of a sense of the immensity and yet the nearness of God. Life in these earthen vessels is an astonishing and glorious and tender thing. It is glorious when we consider the fact that our human being-ness reflects and mirrors the image of God, speaking deeply about who God is. But life in the body is also a tender thing because our bodies are vulnerable. But it is also then that we wonder at the fact that God, our Creator, chose to crawl inside the human experience and participate not just in the glory of life in these bodies but also in the vulnerability.

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Bodies can be hurt, violated, broken, and even killed—but God chose to partake of it all. It was in a body that he came to us. Even now, Jesus chooses not just to be present to us in spirit but to be incarnated in another body—us! It, too, is glorious and strong and full of youthful vigor at times. Other times it is vulnerable and broken and aging. Yours are the eyes with which he looks with compassion on this world. Yours are the feet with which he walks about doing good. Yours are the hands with which he blesses all the world…Christ has no body now on earth but yours.

God has created us for wholeness. When aspects of ourselves that were always meant to exist together are reintegrated, the result is a combustion of joy and vitality that goes far beyond the physical dimension. It is a spiritual vitality that is essential to the abundance of our life in Christ. Moments of physical activity and exercise become prayers of gratitude and moments of consecration. Scheduling at least some of our meals at times when we can eat slowly and prayerfully can make mealtimes occasions of true communion and gratitude.

Paying more attention to the act of bathing or showering can heighten our awareness of our human vulnerability and also the wonder and beauty of our body. Receiving the loving touch of friends and family members can allow God to minister to our very human needs for love and meaningful connection. Paying attention to your breathing is one of the simplest ways of getting in touch with your existence as a body.

Settle into a comfortable position, either in a chair or on the floor, and pay attention to your breathing. Notice if your breathing is shallow, and take time to breathe deeply. Allow your breathing to release any tension you are holding in your back, your shoulders, your arms. Adjust your body for greater comfort, and allow yourself to relax into your chair or cushion as a physical expression of your trust in God.

Gently turn your attention to your body and invite God to speak to you through your body. First of all, just notice how you feel about life in your body. Are you embarrassed about it? Do you enjoy it? What happens inside you when you consider the idea of honoring your body or meeting God in your body? What is the condition of your body these days?

Have you been caring for it consistently—eating right, sleeping enough, exercising, attending to medical issues and concerns—or have you been ignoring it or even abusing it in some way? Sit with your awareness and talk to God about it. Listen for his response. Is there anything your body is trying to tell you? Any place of tension or discomfort that you have been ignoring?

Any medical issue that requires attention? Any feeling of dis-ease that is vaguely unsettling and seems to persist? Is there any way your body wants to pray right now? Any way you could express yourself to God physically? In times of solitude, begin with a few moments for breathing and settling into your body. Download a reprint of this article. This article is from Conversations: A forum for Authentic Transformation. Learn more and subscribe by visiting their site. I think this is a good place to […]. Thank you for encouraging us to pay attention to our bodies, to understand them, to be aware of what they need, and to pursue their care in ways that truly honor Christ.

This life is a marathon, not a sprint, and in order to glorify God we need to truly embrace the fact that our spirits are very much intwined with our physical frame, our minds, and our often-misunderstood emotions. There are disciplines we need to embrace. To say that we are passionately in love with Christ while neglecting our physical frame seems a bit out of integrity. And yet, if we are to be honest with ourselves, this is a great, ongoing struggle for many …. This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

We use cookies and non-personalized tracking information to help improve this site. However you can change those settings at any time. Find out more. However you can change those settings at any time Ruth Haley Barton May 12, 3 Comments. The Gift of Life in a Body That season of spiritual journeying brought me to this startling realization: I had never thought of my body as a gift from God and I certainly had not cared for it as such.

An Ambiguous Legacy Life in the body is a varied and wide-ranging experience, and there is no doubt that some experiences are better than others. Following the Biblical Thread Beginning with the Biblical account of creation, all the great themes of Scripture affirm the significance of the body as a place where the presence of God can be known and experienced.

Listening to the Body Our bodies have much to tell us if we could only figure out how to listen. Praying in the Body While we might think of prayer as an activity that engages us primarily on a soul level, the Scriptures tell us plainly that the body is a temple of the Holy Spirit, and a temple, after all, is a place of prayer and worship. This Tender Body Life in these earthen vessels is an astonishing and glorious and tender thing. Practicing Wholeness God has created us for wholeness. Practice Paying attention to your breathing is one of the simplest ways of getting in touch with your existence as a body.

Linda Stoll on May 15, at pm.

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Get the Beyond Words newsletter delivered straight to your inbox. This form needs Javascript to display, which your browser doesn't support. Sign up here instead. Cookie Settings Accept Settings. The guiding principle of British philosophy has in fact been that every difference must MAKE a difference, every theoretical difference somewhere issue in a practical difference, and that the best method of discussing points of theory is to begin by ascertaining what practical difference would result from one alternative or the other being true.

In what facts does it result? What is its cash-value in terms of particular experience? This is the characteristic English way of taking up a question. In this way, you remember, Locke takes up the question of personal identity. What you mean by it is just your chain of particular memories, says he. That is the only concretely verifiable part of its significance.

All further ideas about it, such as the oneness or manyness of the spiritual substance on which it is based, are therefore void of intelligible meaning; and propositions touching such ideas may be indifferently affirmed or denied. So Berkeley with his "matter. That is what it is known as, all that we concretely verify of its conception.

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That, therefore, is the whole meaning of the term "matter"--any other pretended meaning is mere wind of words. Hume does the same thing with causation. It is known as habitual antecedence, and as tendency on our part to look for something definite to come. Apart from this practical meaning it has no significance whatever, and books about it may be committed to the flames, says Hume.

Dugald Stewart and Thomas Brown, James Mill, John Mill, and Professor Bain, have followed more or less consistently the same method; and Shadworth Hodgson has used the principle with full explicitness. When all is said and done, it was English and Scotch writers, and not Kant, who introduced "the critical method" into philosophy, the one method fitted to make philosophy a study worthy of serious men.

For what seriousness can possibly remain in debating philosophic propositions that will never make an appreciable difference to us in action? And what could it matter, if all propositions were practically indifferent, which of them we should agree to call true or which false? An American philosopher of eminent originality, Mr.

Charles Sanders Peirce, has rendered thought a service by disentangling from the particulars of its application the principle by which these men were instinctively guided, and by singling it out as fundamental and giving to it a Greek name. Only when our thought about a subject has found its rest in belief can our action on the subject firmly and safely begin. Beliefs, in short, are rules for action; and the whole function of thinking is but one step in the production of active habits. If there were any part of a thought that made no difference in the thought's practical consequences, then that part would be no proper element of the thought's significance.

To develop a thought's meaning we need therefore only determine what conduct it is fitted to produce; that conduct is for us its sole significance; and the tangible fact at the root of all our thought-distinctions is that there is no one of them so fine as to consist in anything but a possible difference of practice.

Spirituality in the Flesh: Bodily Sources of Religious Experiences

To attain perfect clearness in our thoughts of an object, we need then only consider what sensations, immediate or remote, we are conceivably to expect from it, and what conduct we must prepare in case the object should be true. Our conception of these practical consequences is for us the whole of our conception of the object, so far as that conception has positive significance at all.

This is the principle of Peirce, the principle of pragmatism. Such a principle will help us on this occasion to decide, among the various attributes set down in the scholastic inventory of God's perfections, whether some be not far less significant than others. If, namely, we apply the principle of pragmatism to God's metaphysical attributes, strictly so called, as distinguished from his moral attributes, I think that, even were we forced by a coercive logic to believe them, we still should have to confess them to be destitute of all intelligible significance.

Take God's aseity, for example; or his necessariness; his immateriality; his "simplicity" or superiority to the kind of inner variety and succession which we find in finite beings, his indivisibility, and lack of the inner distinctions of being and activity, substance and accident, potentiality and actuality, and the rest; his repudiation of inclusion in a genus; his actualized infinity; his "personality," apart from the moral qualities which it may comport; his relations to evil being permissive and not positive; his self-sufficiency, self-love, and absolute felicity in himselfcandidly speaking, how do such qualities as these make any definite connection with our life?

And if they severally call for no distinctive adaptations of our conduct, what vital difference can it possibly make to a man's religion whether they be true or false? For my own part, although I dislike to say aught that may grate upon tender associations, I must frankly confess that even though these attributes were faultlessly deduced, I cannot conceive of its being of the smallest consequence to us religiously that any one of them should be true. Pray, what specific act can I perform in order to adapt myself the better to God's simplicity?

Or how does it assist me to plan my behavior, to know that his happiness is anyhow absolutely complete? In the middle of the century just past, Mayne Reid was the great writer of books of out-of-door adventure. He was forever extolling the hunters and field-observers of living animals' habits, and keeping up a fire of invective against the "closet-naturalists," as he called them, the collectors and classifiers, and handlers of skeletons and skins. When I was a boy, I used to think that a closet- naturalist must be the vilest type of wretch under the sun.

But surely the systematic theologians are the closet-naturalists of the deity, even in Captain Mayne Reid's sense. What is their deduction of metaphysical attributes but a shuffling and matching of pedantic dictionary-adjectives, aloof from morals, aloof from human needs, something that might be worked out from the mere word "God" by one of those logical machines of wood and brass which recent ingenuity has contrived as well as by a man of flesh and blood.

They have the trail of the serpent over them. One feels that in the theologians' hands, they are only a set of titles obtained by a mechanical manipulation of synonyms; verbality has stepped into the place of vision, professionalism into that of life. Instead of bread we have a stone; instead of a fish, a serpent. Did such a conglomeration of abstract terms give really the gist of our knowledge of the deity, schools of theology might indeed continue to flourish, but religion, vital religion, would have taken its flight from this world.

What keeps religion going is something else than abstract definitions and systems of concatenated adjectives, and something different from faculties of theology and their professors. All these things are after-effects, secondary accretions upon those phenomena of vital conversation with the unseen divine, of which I have shown you so many instances, renewing themselves in saecula saeculorum in the lives of humble private men. So much for the metaphysical attributes of God! From the point of view of practical religion, the metaphysical monster which they offer to our worship is an absolutely worthless invention of the scholarly mind.

What shall we now say of the attributes called moral? Pragmatically, they stand on an entirely different footing. They positively determine fear and hope and expectation, and are foundations for the saintly life. It needs but a glance at them to show how great is their significance. God's holiness, for example: being holy, God can will nothing but the good.

Being omnipotent, he can secure its triumph. Being omniscient, he can see us in the dark. Being just, he can punish us for what he sees. Being loving, he can pardon too. Being unalterable, we can count on him securely. These qualities enter into connection with our life, it is highly important that we should be informed concerning them. That God's purpose in creation should be the manifestation of his glory is also an attribute which has definite relations to our practical life. Among other things it has given a definite character to worship in all Christian countries.

If dogmatic theology really does prove beyond dispute that a God with characters like these exists, she may well claim to give a solid basis to religious sentiment. But verily, how stands it with her arguments?


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It stands with them as ill as with the arguments for his existence. Not only do post-Kantian idealists reject them root and branch, but it is a plain historic fact that they never have converted any one who has found in the moral complexion of the world, as he experienced it, reasons for doubting that a good God can have framed it.

To prove God's goodness by the scholastic argument that there is no non-being in his essence would sound to such a witness simply silly.


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Ratiocination is a relatively superficial and unreal path to the deity: "I will lay mine hand upon my mouth; I have heard of Thee by the hearing of the ear, but now mine eye seeth Thee. In all sincerity our faith must do without that warrant. Modern idealism, I repeat, has said goodby to this theology forever. Can modern idealism give faith a better warrant, or must she still rely on her poor self for witness?

The basis of modern idealism is Kant's doctrine of the Transcendental Ego of Apperception. By this formidable term Kant merely meant the fact that the consciousness "I think them" must potentially or actually accompany all our objects. Former skeptics had said as much, but the "I" in question had remained for them identified with the personal individual. Kant abstracted and depersonalized it, and made it the most universal of all his categories, although for Kant himself the Transcendental Ego had no theological implications.

It was reserved for his successors to convert Kant's notion of Bewusstsein uberhaupt, or abstract consciousness, into an infinite concrete self-consciousness which is the soul of the world, and in which our sundry personal self-consciousnesses have their being. It would lead me into technicalities to show you even briefly how this transformation was in point of fact effected.

Suffice it to say that in the Hegelian school, which to-day so deeply influences both British and American thinking, two principles have borne the brunt of the operation. The first of these principles is that the old logic of identity never gives us more than a post-mortem dissection of disjecta membra, and that the fullness of life can be construed to thought only by recognizing that every object which our thought may propose to itself involves the notion of some other object which seems at first to negate the first one.

The second principle is that to be conscious of a negation is already virtually to be beyond it. The mere asking of a question or expression of a dissatisfaction proves that the answer or the satisfaction is already imminent; the finite, realized as such, is already the infinite in posse. Applying these principles, we seem to get a propulsive force into our logic which the ordinary logic of a bare, stark self-identity in each thing never attains to.

The objects of our thought now ACT within our thought, act as objects act when given in experience. They change and develop. They introduce something other than themselves along with them; and this other, at first only ideal or potential, presently proves itself also to be actual. It supersedes the thing at first supposed, and both verifies and corrects it, in developing the fullness of its meaning.

The program is excellent; the universe IS a place where things are followed by other things that both correct and fulfill them; and a logic which gave us something like this movement of fact would express truth far better than the traditional school-logic, which never gets of its own accord from anything to anything else, and registers only predictions and subsumptions, or static resemblances and differences.

Nothing could be more unlike the methods of dogmatic theology than those of this new logic. Culling together insights from scientific observations, historical allusions, and literary references, Spirituality in the Flesh offers a bold look at the biological underpinnings of religion and opens up new and exciting agendas for understanding the nature and value of human religiosity.

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