Updated: May 22, 2021
When you think of the body being involved in spirituality or religion perhaps your mind wonders to the images of the Indian ascetic yogis contorting their bodies beyond recognizable human form. Or perhaps you know the stories of the self-flagellating Italian monks of the fourteenth century who attempted to drive away the Black Death with their whips. I wonder if modern society has attributed the body with a spiritual value as we attempt to deify it, pumping it with weights and marathons, plumping it with rat-poison, pasting it with make-up and dyes?
The tradition I’m most familiar with, the Western Christian worldview, seems to say that the body is lesser than the non-physical part of us and spiritually speaking is simply a temporary ‘vehicle’ that enables us to engage in spiritual activities of prayer, worship and service. It’s basically like a car that gets us around and enables us to do important spiritual things, but isn’t of spiritual value in and of itself. However, I want to suggest that the body might be the site of spirituality. I think some of the ancient yogis got this. I think Jesus more than got this, offering his crucified and resurrected body as the centre of the Christian faith. But something has been lost over the centuries as Westerners have absorbed the Greek ideal that we need to transcend and escape our bodies in order to be spiritual. So, what does it mean for the body, our own bodies, to be the site of our spirituality?
I suggest that it means we start living as whole beings: as a body-soul-mind totality. This means living ‘in’ our bodies as well as our minds (or very often our ‘monkey minds’). To live in our body means to be mindfully aware of our physical form: how it sees, hears, feels, smells and tastes and so we become aware of how it ‘lives’, ‘moves’, and ‘has it’s being’ as a Greek Poet explained. This reconnects us as a body-soul-mind being which offers wonderful therapeutic benefits. This re-connecting is actually spiritual as to be connected within ourselves, leads to connection beyond ourselves: to others, to the environment and also to God. It might sound like a big claim, but start small by connecting to your body through mindful breathing and see where it takes you!