The flu is going around. When I hear my 4-year-old whimpering and crying “ouchie,” I leave my quiet space and squish into the twin bed next to my feverish daughter and curl around her. She flings her arms around my neck, telling me she loves me. This is the call of parenthood: to be faithfully present to our children with body, soul, and mind. Yet, it’s hard. While she rests fitfully, I mentally run through my to-do list that’s not getting done. Anxiety creeps in and I breathe deeply. I pray for her little fitful body and my own fitful mind. I memorize her profile and the way ringlets stick to her forehead.
When she falls asleep, I sneak out of the bedroom. There’s too much to do to stay. As much as I take moments to be fully present with her, there’s still the business of making dinner, meeting deadlines, and getting the house in order—all good and important work.
Yet I wonder if I’ve made the right decision. My to-do list—especially my writing and speaking tasks—offers me an escape from pressing needs. But have I chosen it over my daughter? Do I feel most myself when I indulge my mind instead of using my body in service to others? Do I understand myself primarily as a mind, so that what is most “me” are my thoughts? Although I know that being present with a sick child is a way to show love, my body seems less important, not “spiritual enough” to use for loving others. Rather, the mind and soul seem better designed for nurturing spiritually.
Recently a woman asked what God might be speaking to my soul, and I came up short. I could have told her all I knew from theology and Bible reading, or what God said about Himself. I could have rehearsed prayers, or even shared how such things made me feel. But I didn’t have a vocabulary for my soul.
When she falls asleep, I sneak out of the bedroom. There’s too much to do to stay.
Here’s the thing: Because God made Himself flesh, our bodies matter. Because the breath of life was breathed into humanity, we are more than impulses, sinews, and feelings—our souls matter. Because we are called to love God with our heart, soul, mind, and strength, it matters how we think, reason, and know—in other words, our minds matter. All of it—every glorious part of us—matters.
Yet in spite of affirming that truth, functionally we still tend to live as if our bodies are lower down on the priority list. Bodies seem to be pesky houses for our saved souls. They’re needy and broken. We lump bodies into the category of “the flesh”—those sin patterns that draw us away from God.
But God breathed life into the dust of the ground to create humankind. At the beginning of time He stood, like a proud father, and called His created world good. Why wouldn’t our bodies matter?
The Gospels are full of dusty roads—where Jesus spits on a blind man’s eyes, or where He breaks bread and there’s more than enough to go around. A bleeding woman touches the hem of His garment, and she is healed. Jesus looks around Him and uses grain, wheat, chaff, seeds, nets, sheep, and goats to teach about the kingdom of God . Zaccheus climbs up a rough tree—the very stuff of earth—to meet the Lord in space and time. Jesus leaves us with a meal—bread and wine—to remember and rehearse the gospel story. In His death, with an outpouring of blood and water, He suffers with thorns in His flesh, nails in His hands,. And in His resurrection, His body is glorified.
Besides lifting hands or voices in Sunday worship, or taking communion—how do we know God through our bodies during the week?
Surely our bodies have something to teach us about experiencing God. Surely the material world can draw us deeper into the truths of the gospel to enrich our minds and souls. We must revel in nouns, knowing that persons, places, and things give us a vocabulary for our faith.
What would it look like to practice an embodied faith—one that nurtured (rather than ignored) the body as a way to know God? Besides lifting hands or voices in Sunday worship, or taking communion—how do we know God through our bodies during the week?
I take long walks regularly, moving my limbs, grateful for sunshine on my face, and while I walk, I pray and think—body, mind, and soul working in concert. My heart pumps harder as I crest a hill, and I am reminded that I am cared for by a gentle Father.
When my daughter awoke that day, fitfully in her illness, I crawled back into bed with her. I used my body to tell a story without words, so she would know in her bones that I love her—so that through my love, she might also come to know that Love Himself became flesh and gave Himself as a ransom for her. I wrapped my body around hers so that she could feel the safety of that love, which never lets go.