Heart and Body

Connie Ridgway

Connie RidgwayMarch 8, 2009

Lectionary: Mark 8:31-38 (especially verses 35-36);
Mark 9:2-9 (especially verses 2-3);
Romans 4: 13-25 (esp verse 17b)

Joan Chittister: “God is indeed everywhere—in the darkness as well as in light, in the ordinary life lived with extraordinary consciousness, in the sacred center of a creation that is secular to its marrow. It is in the separation of life into categories of the holy and the unholy, the spiritual and the material, the earthly and the heavenly that the human soul gets divided as well.” From “Living in the Breath of the Spirit,” collected in In My Own Words (on the “Inward/Outward” website recently)

After the last Prayer of Heart and Body worship in January, I was asked by Harriette Mohr: Now, tell me again exactly why we do this? Then John Mohr came up to me and suggested that I give a sermon about why. That’s how I got here today. I interviewed Harriette & she said, “I enjoy physical activity, I was a Phys Ed major, but I don’t think of it as worship. Growing up, worship was more in my head. Physical activity was not worship.” I would bet that most of the people in this room have had the same experience; including me.

First of all, let me explain for those who don’t know, what the Prayer of Heart and Body is. I didn’t invent it. The actual term came from Fr. Thomas Ryan, but the practice of physical movement with prayer is ancient. Specifically in the Prayer of Heart and Body, we begin with body centering exercises. Thomas Ryan uses yoga. I have adapted this to our congregation by using some movement, some centering, or mindfulness meditation with breath. I lead people through it and hope to allow people a chance to feel their own bodies and consciously bring their awareness to include our physical experience into worship. Then we read the lectio divina—which is taking a scripture passage and reading it four times, responding to it in thought, emotion and spirit. Then we sit in silent meditation for a while. We do this about 3 times per year at 8th Day.

I want to share with you my experience of the body and prayer. One of the strengths of 8th Day is that we share with each other about ourselves, and that we don’t all necessarily have the same experience, yet we tolerate, and hopefully grow from, each others’ experience. I realize that when I lead a service for the Prayer of Heart and Body that not everyone will like or understand it. Similarly, when I listen, for instance, to David Hilfiker talk about empire, I’m uncomfortable and don’t necessarily like it; yet I hear from him that it’s a religious, and powerful experience for him to talk about and deal with these issues. And I grow as a member of the Body of Christ by having his very different experience to be connected to my own.

Some background about me: I have been a worshiper in a Christian church most of my life. I was raised Presbyterian. My parents did not talk about a personal relationship with God or about prayer much or about the body, but more about civil rights and other justice issues. (I was young in the 60s and early 70s). When I was a teenager I briefly joined a cult called the “Children of God” and was attracted to what they seemed to have, a more personal relationship with God. Then I joined InterVarsity Christian Fellowship, a conservative Christian group while in college, and also attended Quaker meeting (my Grandmother had been a Quaker). The Intervarsity leader told me that Quakerism was a “heresy.” None of these early experiences emphasized the body.

Through a friend in Intervarsity I learned about Church of the Saviour and Jubilee Housing, and I moved here my last school semester for an internship and to explore Church of the Saviour. I first joined Jubilee church, and then, I was attracted to the music at 8th Day, and I joined here. I left the church in the late 80s, having divorced and being unsure of my beliefs, and didn’t attend church for about 5 years. Right around that time, I studied to become a massage therapist, and remember having an experience of feeling energy through my hands. I came to think and believe that God was that energy. When I got cancer in 1991 and returned to worship, this time with a Quaker meeting, for about 11 years. When that group dwindled and I wondered where I might go next, I was drawn back to 8th Day in 2004. Again I was drawn by music, as Stefan Waligur had been leading monthly Taize-like services at 8th Day.

Then In 2005 I attended Jim Dickerson’s “Prayer of Embodiment” retreat at Wellspring, and powerfully felt the merging of the body-oriented experiences I’d had through massage and a Chinese movement meditation called Qi Gong, with the “spiritual” experiences of singing and other forms of worship.

Now, I’ve learned that I have in me a part I call “Free spirit”, who wants to have no limits, no boundaries: I don’t want to be constrained by my body’s limits—food, sleep, energy, time limits, tired limits. I regularly push past when I’m tired at night; I regularly push past when it’s time for me to eat. I have been this way ever since about age 10 or 11. I went into fantasy a lot and I didn’t pay attention to my body. Then in my 20s I started having some allergies and hypoglycemia and tiredness, which forced me to pay attention. I learned about massage and alternative healing.

When I was 11 I fell on the ice behind the playground at my school and had a semi-concussion. I had an out-of-body experience, watching myself from above for a while. A while back I wrote in my journal: “My body wants to come home. It’s time, after a long sojourn away. She never fully came back that wintry afternoon after the concussion. Now she wants a permanent resting place. I told someone, it’s wonderful to be a traveler if you have a home base; but if you’re homeless the traveling is just weary.” This is why the body experience of my massage training was so powerful, and why it remains today a very powerful way to bring me back to consciousness.

So, being in my body is not second nature for me. It takes conscious awareness. I found out recently about ways of being as described through Audio, Kinesthetic and Visual ways of perceiving the world, and the various combinations of the 3: It turns out I’m first Visual, second Audio, and third Kinesthetic (or physical). According to this system, the third way is the most unconscious way of being and learning. Yet the most unconscious brings more spark and gift, and creativity, because it is not second nature.

So I would invite those of you who are uncomfortable with focusing on the body, especially in worship, to consider this—if we are to be fully conscious beings, are we not to bring to God all of ourselves, not just the comfortable parts? And I DO believe that our goal as Christians is not to be GOOD, but to be CONSCIOUS.

This is where I want to bring in the lectionary scriptures. In reading Mark 8:35-36: “Whoever cares for her own safety [I would equate the word Safety with Comfort] is lost; but if a person will let herself be lost for my sake and for the Gospel, she is safe. What does one gain by winning the whole world at the cost of one’s TRUE SELF?” This scripture invites me to go to the edges of my comfort, to explore those areas that are not as conscious and bring them into awareness. For me, this is the realm of the body, are also the realm of the abstract concepts connected, for instance, with Empire (I’m a “Feeling” type in the Jungian/Myers Briggs Model—meaning I make decisions based on feelings and values, so “Thinking” is more uncomfortable for me—making decisions based on logic and rationality. I’m uncomfortable with a lot of things! And YOU, through your experience, help me learn what I’m uncomfortable about.

Our whole culture, and especially the Christian church, has a big split between the spiritual (on the left) and the material, or body (on the right). We usually read some of Paul’s letters as making a huge division between spirit and body. Our “higher, or spiritual” nature vs our lower nature.

Romans7,8; I Cor 15:43-57

Spirit Body
Glory Humiliation
Power Weakness
Spiritual Animal
2nd Adam 1st Adam (sinful)
(Jesus, w/o sin)
heaven Dust/Earth
Life-giving Death-giving
Victory Death
Glorious Poor
Resplendent Humble
Reason Sin

Many people would also put “Man” in the first category and “Woman” in the 2nd. In fact, John Mohr has recently given me a book that talks about this, “The Alphabet versus the Goddess,” which explores how written language spurred the devaluation of the right column (and the right brain) and elevation of the left column (and the left brain).

Yet, this same Paul talks about the Body of Christ, and more “humble” parts being more elevated. (I Cor 12). We as a community have been talking about our gifts, and how important every one of them is. And earlier in I Corinthians, (I Cor 6:13 and 19) Paul writes-- Are you not conscious that your body is a house for the holy spirit which is in you, and which has been given to you by God? Let God be honored in your body.

Earlier in I Cor 6, Paul talked about food and sex, two very material, body experiences. He did not say that they were bad. In the Message translation,( I Cor 6:14-16) he put it this way: “It may be true that the body is only a temporary thing, but that’s not an excuse for stuffing your body with food, or indulging it with sex…Remember that your bodies are created with the same dignity as the Master’s body. Sex is as much spiritual mystery as physical fact.”

And in Ephesians (Ephesians 5:29, 30, 33) Paul says—Love your spouse as you love your own body. For no one ever hated his own body; on the contrary, he provides and cares for it.
And in Timothy (I Timothy 4:3)—(speaking of some people who go away from the truth)—“they forbid marriage and inculcate abstinence from certain foods, though God created them to be enjoyed with thanksgiving by believers who have inward knowledge of the truth.”

So, over the past 3000 or so years, we’ve developed this split. I would like to submit that, instead of splitting ourselves into two parts, the spiritual and the corporal, Jesus showed us a way to be fully in our earthly bodies AND fully connected to the spirit, at the same time. Jesus is the new prototype for Full-Brain and Full-Person Consciousness.

So, when we are CONSCIOUS and submit our bodies to God as vehicles of the spirit, we don’t split into head and torso, good and bad; our whole bodies, our whole selves, can become transformed.

In the other gospel reading (Mark 9:2-3) Peter, James and John witnessed Jesus becoming Transfigured. What if that were Jesus’ True Self? Meade said the other day in Mission Group—transfiguration is Reflecting the Light of God. Jesus did not leave his body; instead his body became dazzling, shining with light. What if that was what Jesus was referring to when he urged us to become our True Selves in Mark 8? If that is the case, we humbly go into the unknown parts of our psyche and body and mind and become more conscious, letting more and more of the dark corners shine with God’s light, and continue to allow more and more of parts our selves to become our True Selves.

In our Epistle reading in Romans 4:17, Paul uses Abraham’s experience of being called, into a new name and a new identity, and describes “the God who makes the dead live and summons things that are not yet in existence as if they already were.” Paul is urging us to see God as the ultimate Encourager, the One who has confidence that even our most unknown and possibly scary parts are being called into a covenant.

I talked with Gail Arnall last weekend about her experience of the Prayer of Heart and Body. She shared that it’s hard for her to stay still and focus on the body, because her hands hurt all the time. So what about pain? We played with it a bit, and experimented with, instead of sitting rigid, imagining a sense of floating in water while doing the body centering, and this was really pleasant.

Most of Jesus’ ministry was of healing the body. We don’t seem to know what to do with this—we explain away miracles of healing, yet we are obsessed with trying to make our pain “go away.”

What if I don’t hold back the feelings of discomfort or pain, and invite them into my awareness? I recently have been reading a children’s book called “The Subtle Knife”, part of the Golden Compass series by Philip Pullman: “Just sort of relax your mind and say yes, it does hurt, I know. Don’t try and shut it out.” This reminded me of our 8th Day retreat last year with Charlotte Rogers. She said, regarding being a spiritual friend with someone—if I let myself go out completely to that other person’s pain and forget myself, I will then become overwhelmed and want to pull back comepletely to myself, try to shut out the pain. Instead, what if I opened myself to another’s pain, and then came back to my own, not doing anything about either, just nurturing my own sense of care for myself in the midst of it, not trying to fix anything, just cultivating my own island of serenity in a sea of sorrow, just being with what is, breathing into it. I am also reminded of exercises at Josephs House, just being with and breathing with a person who is ill or dying.

So, On auto-pilot, I leave my body and go into the external, into another person or into thoughts of the past and future. But to be Conscious, I must find a way to stay in the Present. The breath and the body awareness do this for me.

When I was sick over the holiday (I had thyroiditis), and after the emergency part was over, my thyroid was spent and I felt this this serenity and relaxation. And I decided – Relaxation IS God.

Our spiritual tradition comes from the Middle East, where prayer is physical—people pray through kneeling and bowing and chanting. In our Jewish tradition, the Name of God is unpronounceable—we have changed it into “Yahweh” but the actual name is like a breath, going in and out. Try it with me: YHWH---The sound of BREATH. Breathe in YH, Breathe out WH. “Breath is a membrane between form and formlessness…” When breath hits up against rigid places in my body, meet myself at that edge. Feel them interact. Then Feel a softening. This is the spirit to me. Relaxation IS God.

Jesus’ language was Aramaic, which, unlike Greek or English, has many meanings for the same word, and the Sound of the word itself also has much spiritual significance.

In Aramaic, RUHA Is the word for Spirit, Breath, wind, atmosphere.
SHEM is the word for Light, Sound, Vibration, Name and Word.
Shelah is the word for Prayer—it means To Hollow something out, creating spaciousness, yet with a canopy or protective covering. We create space within ourselves to become in rhythm with the Holy One.
Do this through breath, body centering, sound/vibration.

In the Middle Eastern, Aramaic tradition, Heaven is not a separate place. When we are connected to Sacred Unity we ARE in heaven.

Eucharist as an embodiment experience—we partake of bread and juice during the service. We don’t just do an abstract…”Do this in memory of me”—Christ as Embodiment in the flesh. Mark 14:22: Take and eat; this is my body.

Qi Gong is a practice of being the bridge between heaven and earth. Our bodies are a necessary vessel to go between.

So, when I talked to Harriette, she said that when I’m learning to do an activity, I want to do it by myself. I want to listen inside myself , follow my own voice, use music to help me (eg at Dayspring after a retreat, we just put on music and danced).

So, I’m going to put on some music to have people float with, move with as they will, and see if you can connect inside yourself that movement with the spirit of God, just for a few moments:
I’m going to say the quote from the beginning again: