Of course it was a Monday morning when I hit snooze a dozen times, pulling the covers further over my head for each nine-minute reprieve. That it was Monday made the morning worse, but it wasn’t all Monday’s fault. I was waiting for test results from the doctor; the stakes were high. I’d been praying all morning in that desperate, groaning sort of way. “Oh, Lord,” I said, and, “Please!” But my despair wouldn’t budge.
The alarm sounded again; this time I got up. Though nothing changed but my position, rising also lifted my spirit a little. As I went about morning rituals—making the bed, getting dressed, brushing my teeth, washing my face—the tightness in my chest began to loosen. The movement forward down the stairs and toward the kitchen offered momentum to my soul. “You can do this,” I told myself, body leading, spirit following.
I prepared a cup of coffee on the Keurig and sat down with an open Bible as I have thousands of times before. I don’t remember for sure what words I read—likely the promises of Psalm 18, a favorite in similar circumstances. But the act of opening, reading, meditating, remembering—it was enough. Hope returned, not just spiritually or emotionally, but bodily. My breathing slowed, my shoulders dropped, and the tight lump in my throat softened. When the text message from my doctor’s office arrived giving me the “all clear,” tears came even before I felt relief in my soul.
My faith in Jesus has always been a spiritual experience: I pray to an unseen God and believe in abstract concepts.
My faith has always been an intellectual experience: I study ancient texts and know truth despite obvious mystery.
But my faith has, my whole life, been a physical or bodily experience, too: How I see and feel and hear and taste and experience the world around me affects how I understand and connect with Jesus.
The incarnation revealed God’s priority for this type of embodied spiritual life. In Christ, God became present to us in new ways. For centuries, the Lord’s faithful knew Him primarily through oil, basin, and lamp; through lamb, ox, and ram; through outer court, altar, and temple.
And then, when Jesus took on human flesh and walked and interacted with the world, He borrowed from His physical surroundings to teach His disciples about faith, love, and the kingdom of God. A fig tree, a storm, a blind man, a wedding, a field, a coin—real things Jesus encountered became the makings of His parables, a way for Him to use metaphor to convey truth. Hunger, thirst, fatigue, pain: The bodily urges and sensations He and His followers all experienced provided context for His teaching.
What’s more, when Jesus healed the sick, exorcised demons and raised the dead, He didn’t just save bodies, He often used His own body to bring about the miracle—real touching, covering, laying on of hands, and lifting.
Knowing this, it’s tempting to believe He intended to relieve us only of our bodily burdens. But our faith talk often centers more on knowing, being, feeling: These are all spiritual, emotional, and intellectual words. When we imagine our future resurrection bodies, we often forget that though they are “imperishable,” they may well carry the scars and wounds of this life, just as Jesus’ body did (1 Cor. 15:42; Luke 24:39). And our current bodies? We often feel shame, embarrassment, and frustration with them. We equate them with sin and death. But that’s not what Scripture teaches—and not what God intends. If we’ll allow them, our bodies become wonderful tools in our desire to grow into Christlikeness.
Last Sunday, our church celebrated Communion. I watched as the pastors broke the “body” and poured out the “blood.” I saw the servers go forward, partake themselves, and then prepare to feed the congregation. I knew I should be examining myself for this sacred meal, but I had gotten too caught up in what was happening before me, and suddenly it was time to go forward.
“Lord forgive me …” I began as my family walked toward the front of the church. But we had to search for a place on the kneeler and then scoot down so there was room for everyone. Still not yet in the right frame of mind, I fell to my knees, opening my hands to receive. In that moment, the change of posture finally prepared me for repentance. The texture of the bread and the taste of the grape juice together on my tongue drew my heart and mind to the foot of the cross. And my soul was filled with gratitude and love.
In these moments, and indeed in all of life, we need to commit ourselves to living a fully embodied existence—letting our movements, habits, and limitations lead us toward understanding, where sometimes our minds are not yet prepared to go. If we don’t, we may miss the kingdom lessons in the things and people and activities all around us, here and now. Because even with all the body’s weaknesses, it is the dwelling place of God—not a curse, but a blessing. A reason to give Him thanks and praise.
Illustrations by Jeff Gregory. Originally published at In Touch Magazine on December 26, 2015.