Body, Senses, Physicality

Isaiah 52 and 53. List the physical description. Note the dynamic.

God has made us physical beings. The story of creation is full of delight in the material of which we are made. We need to listen to our bodies, be reconciled to them as they are (rather than as we would wish them to be) in their shape, their limitations, the disabilities which come upon us with age, the persistent ailments, the deep-seated and potentially life-threatening conditions. How can we love others if we hate ourselves? How can we love ourselves if we despise our bodies? How can we love our bodies if we do not pay appropriate attention to the balance between work and rest, exercise and sleep, various kinds of food and drink. Loving ourselves means, first and foremost, living within our bodies and regarding them with acceptance and gratitude. This attitude is profoundly radical in a culture which encourages the search for an unrealistic physical perfection through plastic surgery or excessive working out. An obsession with perfection suggests that we do not, or even cannot love ourselves as God loves us, as we are made. This is sad, but such a hatred of our own self-image can also lead to various kinds of self-harm: such as when people seek to control their inner chaos by fasting or bingeing, or punish themselves by cutting their wrists or following extreme forms of asceticism.    

As far as possible, follow the rhythms of your own personal body. Above all, take time, if only a few moments each day, to practise deep relaxation techniques. Develop a routine for settling down at night: may need to have several elements (see other sections) but begin with your physical self. Sleep is the body's restorative mechanism. Like anything else, we take it for granted until we encounter problems sleeping, but however good or poor our sleep-pattern, it will be helped by awareness, attention, relaxation, connection and creativity.

The body is the vehicle within which we travel, the home within which we live. It is that part of ourselves which has the most immediate and direct contact with the world around us. It is our interface with other people, and with our environment. It supplies us with information about our context, and monitors and maintains our internal reality. To a large extent, the body sets our immediate agenda, through our appetites, our sexuality, our closeness or aloneness, our comfort, our energy, our appreciation of all that we encounter through our senses.

Throughout our life, our body is changing, so that, however well we know ourselves, there is always something new to be experienced through accident or illness or ageing. While we can control our environment to maximise our comfort, we must also learn to adjust our expectations of our body, and adapt effectively our use of it, if we are to live contentedly through each phase of our life.

A large part of our body's function is automatic, which means that we do not consider how much we owe to it until parts begin to break down. As we age, we have to accept that various parts will go "off duty" temporarily or permanently, an acceptance which is so much harder when it results in pain or in a loss of our dignity or privacy.

Accepting our physicality does not mean that we become self-indulgent in our habits or fatalistic in our attitude to illness. On the contrary, an attitude of consent and praise releases God's healing grace within us and through us.

Our acceptance springs from understanding that in Jesus of Nazareth the Word became flesh in order to redeem the material universe, not by making it less physical, but by enabling the material to fulfill God's original intent. Jesus lived within his body and dealt with other people through their physicality. They were drawn to him by their sickness and weakness, and though physical cures were not his first priority, he healed them. He accepted his own physical limitations, including the constraints that they placed on his ministry, and learned to deal with his own pain in a manner which was redemptive.

The Passion Narrative is a story of intense, persistent physicality: the Christ did not avoid or minimise suffering, nor did he pretend that it could be transcended. All the Christian mysteries - the incarnation, the atonement, the resurrection, the ascension and the trinity - circle around the question as to how the material and the spiritual relate to each other, how God can be immersed in the material universe, and how humanity can be taken up into God.

Hard to keep going. On God depends all our worship. We rely on grace which goes before us, not least when our own light fails. God goes ahead, and inspires us to respond and follow. What God asks is not the sacrifice of our material being, our physical self, but the offering of our inner self in contrition, humility and surrender. Psalm 34.18. Micah 6.6-8.


The mindful, attentive body in prayer:

Posture appropriate to the moment.

Body language & relaxation - open hands, open mind, open heart.

Senses - alertness, awareness, paying attention.

What can I see? Hear? Smell? Taste? Feel - (heat, cold, comfort, textures, weight)

How is my space within the world?

How is my body within my space?

How am I within my body?

Drawing the attention inwards - Centering - Focusing down - Descending stairs to a well - Descending slowly, safely - Mind into heart.



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