As a Chicago resident, I find that I have more freedom of movement during the warmer months, generally June through September. No multiple layers of sweaters and scarves. No heavy snow boots and gloves I must keep track of. Much easier to move in blue jeans and a T-shirt and sockless sandals.
So, while we’re exploring prayer this summer, it makes sense to talk about body movement and how it is—or can be—related to prayer. We’ve already touched on the subject of walking and pilgrimage. Let’s focus even more precisely on the body itself.
Because I’m quite new to this topic, I turned to a couple of books that were helpful.
50 Ways to Pray: Practices from Many Traditions and Times by Teresa A. Blythe. The book is exactly what the title describes, and some of these prayers involve attention to body and movement.
God in Your Body: Kabbalah, Mindfulness and Embodied Spiritual Practice by Jay Michaelson. The author explores how Jewish tradition and its various prayer practices help us work with our bodies and truly embody our spirituality.
Both authors ask that we slow down, find places to pray and positions in which to pray that enhance our ability to notice our bodies—arms, legs, breath, heartbeat—and pay attention to what our bodies tell us.
This can be difficult for some of us who did not grow up in cultures that celebrate the body and give it any credit for goodness or wisdom. Some of us are accustomed to approaching faith first through the mind, then maybe through the emotions, and last of all through our physical selves. I have to include a quote here from Michaelson: “Thinking is a gift from God, but it doesn’t help you make love, it doesn’t help you dance—and it doesn’t help you pray in an ecstatic way.” (p. 29) Amen to that!
To begin “embodied” prayer, I encourage you to slow down several times this week. Slow down when you’re walking, when you’re eating, when you’re busy at a task, when you’re bathing, even when you’re using the bathroom (yes—there are Jewish blessings for that bodily function!). Slow down in each case, enough that you can pay attention to what your body is doing and how that feels.
Then try to listen to what your body is telling you. Are you stressed? Which muscles tell you that? Are you tired or excited or angry or brimming with affection toward someone? How does your body respond?
Slowing down takes practice, and I confess that this is rather new to me, so I’m learning along with everyone else. But I’m willing to give it a try.
- How does your body help your spiritual life (if it does)?
- How does your body hinder your spiritual life (if it does)?