Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Body building

One of the many beautiful things about young children is the union of their bodies and minds.

We learn to be ashamed of our physical selves. This is the figleaf moment - the loss of an innocence that accepts the body as myself. Before this severance, a toddler's arms will swoop, their legs bend and flex spontaneously as they walk or sit. Mind and body work together, in harmony. It's lovely.

We Western, capitalist, post-Christendom adults don't really attempt to recover from the loss of this union. We celebrate our competence at remaining stuck inside our minds, cut off from our bodies.

Many of us are anxious and stressed because we ignore or have forgotten how to recognise physical signs of weariness and intolerance. We exercise and diet to annihilate or mould ourselves rather than to live. We are obsessed with sex but our failure at, abuse and neglect of physical intimacy is often a major cause of marriage breakups.

Many of our Christian churches and denominations have lost the bodily aspect of faith and worship. Discussion, extempore prayer, long, directive sermons and performance-based music have replaced liturgy, chant, ritual, hospitality, meditation and sensory experience. The mind of the leader dominates.

This is a shame. There are good reasons for repetitive spiritual practices like yoga, tai chi, bending to a prayer mat at set times, repeating mantras, stillness and silence, ritualised meals. Many of these, or similar habits, are part of Christianity's heritage too.

Like it or not, your body is a much better indicator of who you are than your thoughts. It needs to be respected. Your heart beats and keeps you alive without any help from your will. If you are Christian, you can be confident that human flesh is a temple of the holy spirit, whether or not the individual can articulate that. People are always and forever made of God's earth and breath, whether they feel themselves to be spiritual or not. We are children of God, whatever we think and profess about that fact. Incarnation (carne - flesh) is the way God lives with us.

If I want to try to rediscover my real self in my practice of faith, this will involve a rediscovery of my body and a recovery from my addiction to thoughts and words. A more ritualistic and 'religious' approach, with liturgy rather than debate, contemplative practice and physical work to unite mind and body, radical community engagement to frustrate my mind's ongoing attempt to control my world.

Jesus doesn't say much about professing a faith in him. But he does say we won't enter the kingdom of heaven unless we become like children. Take time to watch some at play and consider how that might be done.

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