There’s a sign in Meg’s office that says “Come in, we’re awesome.”
Did you know it’s biblical?
In our scripture today, the Psalmist writes that God knit us in our mother’s wombs.
That we are fearfully and wonderfully made.
The Hebrew can also be translated awesomely and wonderfully made.
We ARE awesome. Worthy of awe.
And not just our intellect or our minds or our souls. Our BODIES are awesome.
So you can go home today and tell your friends that your pastor said your body is awesome.
Because our bodies ARE awesome.
Our bodies are created by God, blessed by God, empowered by God to do God’s work.
And so today, we’re going to talk about our connection with those awesome bodies.
Now if you immediately had the thought, well, my body’s not THAT awesome.
Or if you immediately crossed your arms or put up your defenses because you don’t want to talk about the body at all, know that you’re not alone.
The body, though celebrated in Psalm 139, is not a comfortable topic for most of us.
I grew up, like a lot of us, in a body-obsessed culture. A hyper-sexualized culture. And yet, I was simultaneously told in church and in my family that my body was something to hide and something to be ashamed of.
The church taught that my spirit was of God, but my body was of the world, the world being the place where all sin resides.
My spirit was holy, but my body was the source of temptation and sin.
Whether you grew up in the church or not, I suspect all of us have heard this nonsense tossed our way at some point.
This idea the body is like a wild animal that left up to its own devices would do nothing but sin. And that it’s only with our mind and willpower and spirit that we’re able to control and overcome these evil part of ourselves.
This is nonsense.
It’s just straight-up wrong.
But its’ something people have been teaching for at least 6000 years.
And it’s not just Christians. Philosophers like Plato deserve some of the blame.
Plato talked about the body and soul as separate entitities.
Then the Apostle Paul, who wrote a significant piece of the New Testament, picked up on that and made it worse by saying things like “But you, [Christian brothers and sisters], are not in the flesh. You are in the Spirit! Since the Spirit of God dwells in you! Anyone who does not have the SPIRIT of Christ does not belong to Christ.”
In other words – you’re either in the FLESH or in the SPIRIT. The Spirit is holy, and the flesh is evil.
The theologian Augustine of Hippo made it even worse. He promoted this body/spirit dualism and said things like, “With my mind I serve the law of God, but with the flesh the law of sin.”
Then Thomas Aquinas who argued similarly…
And on and on and on.
Western theology over and over again priviledged the spiritual over the physical, understanding the physical as the site for sin, while the spiritual was the place where we could connect with God.
There’s a lot of work to undo.
And modern scholars and philosophers and theologians, and feminist and non-heterosexual theologians in particular are slowly coming around to the idea that the body and soul are not actually separate entities. And that the body is, as Psalm 139 reminds us, beautiful, good, valuable, awesome.
And the soul and body are NOT separate. They’re integrated.
They’re one substance.
For those of us that are science geeks, think about matter and energy. They’re the same thing.
e = mc2
The body and soul are made up of the same substance. They are one and the same.
In the Gospel of John, it doesn’t say the Word, aka Jesus, became flesh and then God then gave Jesus a soul.
It simply says God became flesh. God became physical body. Not body and soul separate. 100% body. 100% Spirit. All one in the same.
Weird we’re so scared of bodies when the incarnation is at the heart of our faith!
John M. Bechtold, a scholar and pastor wrote, “In both the history of Western philosophy and of Christian theology, the body is often neglected, overlooked, or outright condemned. This is particularly odd for Christian theology given that its distinction and uniqueness stems from the doctrine of the incarnation.”
The idea that God became EMBODIED.
So today, I want to give us an opportunity to think about what it means to connect with God through our bodies.
When we live our lives and take actions. When we move our bodies and use our bodies to do work, we are doing work with awesome divine substance.
God knit us together in God’s image. We are made of God-stuff.
It’s not just intellect or this transcendent intangible spirit that are capable of transforming the world in God’s image.
No. It is also our physical bodies. our flesh. that is fully holy. fully divine.
We connect with God when our bodies go out into the world to serve others.
Or when we listen to someone or give them a hug.
Or smile at one another.
Another way we connect with God through our bodies is in worship.
When we come forward for communion.
When we stand to sing.
We put water on the heads of children who are dedicated in baptism and some of us even physically go under water and come back out in baptism.
We smile and hug or shake hands with one another.
We eat together.
All of these rituals are ways we connect with God and with one another.
One of the most powerful ways we connect with God is through prayer.
And our bodies are involved in that.
And the way we’re taught to pray has a history and it has an effect on the way we view and interact with God.
One of the oldest ways of praying is to lift up our hands, palms up.
This is called the Orans stance, and it’s been used for generations, including by members of Jewish and Pagan communities long before Christians adopted it, and it’s the traditional posture for prayers in eastern churches and Jewish synagogues.
It’s also biblical – on the day of his transfiguration, in the Gospel of John, Chapter 17, Jesus looks to heaven as he prays.
In the book of 1 Timothy, the author says, “I want people everywhere to lift up holy hands in prayer…”
And yet in the West, somewhere along the line, we decided, well, someone decided that connecting with God with hands out-stretched was not the “right way” to do it.
We were taught instead to bow our heads, kneel, or prostrate ourselves before God.
One of the most common postures we take is looking down with our hands clasped in front of us.
<summarize in worship using gestures>
“This is the traditional posture of a shackled prisoner of war who is brought before the conquering king. The hands are clasped at the waist as if they were shackled in chains.”
“The eyes are averted—in ancient times, looking directly at one’s captor was insolent and a good way to get killed on the spot. This posture is for submissive petitions or for intercessory or penitential prayer, as we see in Luke 18:10-13.
(Ken Collins – http://www.kencollins.com/worship/pray-20.htm)
Is that the kind of relationship with God that we want to communicate with our bodies?
Another common one is kneeling with our eyes closed, hands folded.
(again – Ken Collins’ explanation – summarized in worship) “This is the traditional posture for requesting favors from a king, and so it became the traditional posture for prayers of repentance or supplication. The Council of Nicaea in AD 325 forbade kneeling on Sundays, because penitential prayer is not appropriate during a celebration of the Resurrection. In western Christianity, kneeling came to mean simple humility and submission, and so kneeling became the normal posture for most prayers in the west.”
It’s the type of prayer Jesus offers in Luke 22 when he’s begging God to spare him from the crucifixion and all the trials ahead. He kneels down and prays, “God, if you are willing, take this cup from me. An angel came down and strengthened him, and being in anguish, Jesus prayed even more earnestly, and his sweat was like drops of blood falling to the ground.
It’s the stance of a beggar.
So let’s consider for a minute, instead of a captor greeting a king, what would it look like for us to pray to God the way we might talk to a beloved friend? Would we use our hands to talk the way some of us do when we get excited? I’m going to invite you to try this on for a minute with me. So try this, if you’re comfortable.
“God, you will not believe the day I’ve had.”
<slap hand on knee>
What would it look like and feel like in our bodies to pray to God and experience God holding us close the way a nurturing parent holds a child?
Try this one on. “God, hold me close to you.”
<arms crossed across chest, holding self>
What about those of us in crisis, who just want to hold our head in our hands? That seems authentic to me.
“God I am broken. Let me experience your healing and wholeness.”
<bent down and holding head>
Or what about hands up to receive God’s mercy and grace?
“Thank you God.”
Instead of praying to God as subjects asking something of our king, what would it look like to pray to God as partners in God’s creation?
Would that look like a hand-shake? I’m not sure. Let’s try that one.
“God, will you be my partner in my next project.”
<hands holding other arm’s forearm>
What about praying to God as a confident person, unashamed of our awesome bodies, hearts forward and open to God’s message.
“God, I’m here and I’m ready for duty.”
<hands on hips, head up>
Could we dance while we pray? Or walk a labyrinth or just sit with the sunrise? Absolutely.
There is no where in the Bible where it says there is ONE way to pray.
As we lift our silent prayers to God, if you want to try on one of these postures, know that this is a safe place to do so.
<invitation to pray – invitation to stand or spread out if space is needed
Note: One of the most powerful things about this sermon was the talk-back from the congregation mid-sermon. I’m sorry I can’t communicate that better in this post, but if you’re reading this online, please do try these postures – they feel very different!