Embodying Spiritual Practices

Weekly Reflection, Friday, January 29

By: Denise Bennett

I have been attending an online conference this week on Christian Spiritual Formation with the theme “Embodying Spiritual Practices.” I don’t know when the theme was chosen, but it could not come at a better time. Sitting in front of a computer screen for way too much time for school and other meetings, and even worship, has awakened me to my need for spiritual practices that speak not only to my intellect but also to my body which also includes my emotions.

At the beginning of the conference, we were led through a short prayer with sung responses. After that, the leader from General Seminary in New York led us through a guided meditation where we were to put out our hands and think about all that we were holding right now – what was especially heavy? He invited us to tense our arms and hands to feel the strain and tension of holding onto whatever it was. I have to admit that it took me a minute to decide what it was that was bothering me the most, but as I physically tensed my body it became clear that the things vying for my attention were all connected. The content is not important; what matters is that when the leader told us to unclench our hands and drop our shoulders as if we were dropping our problems, I felt that too. The last step was to turn our hands, palms- up, to receive the goodness and healing and love of God. Maybe that sounds a little contrived, but at least for me, if the simple embodiment of the prayer had not been included, I might have “thought” about things but not felt them and received some much-needed clarity.

The other simple yet profound practice I experienced during this conference is conscious connected breathing. If you have ever done any yoga or certain kinds of meditation, you are likely familiar with this. It is deep intentional breathing, something we often don’t do because breathing is automatic and we may have developed certain habits such as breathing shallowly or even holding our breath. Coming from the Christian Wisdom Tradition – the word for “Spirit” in Hebrew is Ruah which also means breath –the facilitator leads us in several rounds of taking three deep, full breaths. The point of this simple healing breath practice is to bring us into the present moment, which is where God is and if you think about it, is the only place we can truly be. The past is over and the future does not yet exist.

This moment is where God transforms us and having just preached about that, I felt pretty excited when the presenter said it. I also appreciated that he said that this breathing practice was short and simple and easily incorporated into a busy life. As the newest “ancient wisdom” about exercise is coming to acknowledge, all movement “counts.” It does not have to be an hour at the gym to benefit us. In the same way, all Spiritual practice “counts” whether it is practicing Lectio Divina with a group (see the announcement about the women’s spiritual practice group forming) or a few moments of breathing in the Holy Spirit on the go — if it brings us into the presence of God which is not “in some galaxy far, far away” but right here, right now in the midst of our messy beautiful lives, then it is, as God said at the creation, “very good.”