Everything proclaims him to you, everything reveals him to you, everything brings him to you. He is by your side, over you, around and in you...your suffering, your actions, your impulses are the mysteries under which God reveals himself to you.
—Jean Pierre Cassaude
Scripture tells us through Paul that we are to present our bodies as living sacrifices to God as an act of worship.
Therefore, I urge you, brothers, in view of God’s mercy,
to offer your bodies [Gr. soma] as living sacrifices,
holy and pleasing to God—
this is your spiritual act of worship.
As Christians, we are called to glorify God in our bodies. Part of loving the Lord our God with all our heart, mind, soul and strength is learning to honor our bodies, by listening to them, noticing any tension or discomfort in them, and learning to care for them.
Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit,
who is in you, whom you have received from God? You are not your own;
you were bought at a price. Therefore honor God with your body.
1 Corinthians 6:19-20
Ruth Haley Barton, in her book Sacred Rhythms, Arranging Our Lives for Spiritual Transformation, says that as we care for our bodies in wise ways, we can become more conscious of the life-giving energy that is always being renewed as a gift from our amazing Creator God.1 Human desire for God may be experienced in the flesh as a visceral longing, a hunger and a thirst. As David writes, “O God, you are my God, I seek you, my soul thirsts for you, my flesh faints for you” (Psalm 42:1-2). In the offering of our bodies and our soul in worship, we are participating in the life of the Spirit with all of who we are—our physicality, our emotions, our intuitions, our imaginations, our minds and all of our experiences.2
For in him we live and move and have our being.
So what we do with our bodies does have spiritual impact. It provides a way for us to relate to the ever-present God. Through our bodies we can tell God that we trust in his presence and that we are open and available to him. Through our bodies, we can learn to discern his presence and to hear his voice. By paying attention to this capacity for flesh and blood spirituality, we can open up windows of insight of which we might not otherwise be aware.3
Author Elizabeth Liebert says that the human body is a powerful carrier of wisdom. Everything we have experienced in life lives on in the body and “indeed, the body is life as we know it.”4 Thus the body is available to us as a vehicle of revelation.
The following is a spiritual formation exercise that opens a sacred space in our bodies for God’s revelation and for our spiritual discernment.5
Take a few slow deep breaths and relax in the presence of the God who is always present to you. In submission to whatever the Lord may have to impart to you in this time of stillness, ask the Holy Spirit to speak to you through your body. Relax as a physical expression of your trust in God.
1. Register what is in your body. Clear a space inside of yourself.
a. Notice how you feel about life in your body. Pay attention to what is happening inside of you as you think about honoring God and/or meeting God in your body.
b. Consider what is the condition of your body these days. Is there anything your body is trying to tell you?
c. Pay attention to any “felt sensations” (adrenaline energy, stomach knots, body tension, smiles, frowns, well-being, a sense of vague foreboding, etc.). Allow yourself to experience the felt sense.
2. Pick one problem, situation, or issue present in your life right now to focus on. Don’t get into analyzing it, just notice what you sense in your body when you recall the whole of that problem, situation, or issue. Allow yourself to sense all of it, the whole thing, the murky discomfort or the unclear body sense of it, and/or the joy, the encouragement of it.
3. Get in touch with the felt sense; find words that express that felt sense. What one word, phrase, or image comes out of this felt sense and describes it best?
4. Stay awhile with the word or image and the felt sense. Are they resonating with meaning for you? If so, when the two (image or word and body sensation) have some resonance together, let yourself feel the body sensation for awhile.
a. Ask yourself what is it about this problem that makes me so__________? Don’t try to answer the question—just let your body give you an answer.
b. Release to the Lord that which is not from him and which drains your strength (body, soul and spirit).
c. Surrender to his love and receive his peace along with whatever else he may be providing for you in this moment.
5. Welcome and receive the wisdom that comes from this felt sense. Be thankful that it has a message for you. Thank the Lord for permitting his Holy Spirit to speak to you through your body.
What was this experience like for me? What insights were gained?
Concluding Principle: Remember that the body is a source of Revelation.
1 Barton, Ruth Haley (2009-12-14). Sacred Rhythms: Arranging Our Lives for Spiritual Transformation (The Transforming Center Set) (p. 89). InterVarsity Press. Kindle Edition.
2 “Praying with all of who we are”: Jane E. Vennard, Praying with Body and Soul: A Way to Intimacy with God (Minneapolis: Augsburg, 1998), p. 5.
3 Barton, p. 87.
4 Liebert, Elizabeth (2010-11-05). The Way of Discernment (p. 79). Westminster John Knox Press. Kindle Edition.
5 Adapted from Liebert, 92-93, and Barton, 89-90.
Larry Hinkle, DMin., DASD, is founder and director of the ministry of Odyssey in Christ, Spiritual Formation for Leadership. Larry has served in pastoral ministry for over 30 years and is a teacher, spiritual director and retreat leader.