Friendship, listening, and empathy: A Prayer GuideTwo Hands: Grief and Gratitude in the Christian LifeSabbath Keeping FastingA Renewed SpiritualityNurturing Hope: Christian Pastoral Care in the Twenty-First CenturyThe Power of ListeningJoy Together: Spiritual Practices for Your CongregationPersonality Type in CongregationsPrayers of the Old TestamentPrayers of the New TestamentSabbathFriendingA Garden of Living Water: Stories of Self-Discovery and Spiritual GrowthDeath in Dunedin: A NovelDead Sea: A NovelDeadly Murmurs: A NovelBeating Burnout in CongregationsReaching Out in a Networked WorldEmbracing MidlifeAdvent DevotionalDraw Near: Lenten Devotional by Lynne Baab, illustrated by Dave Baab

Draw near: Praying to listen to our bodies

Lynne Baab • Tuesday May 9 2023

Draw near: Praying to listen to our bodies

Two disciples are walking home after Jesus’s crucifixion. They meet a stranger on the road, and he talks to them about the pattern of God’s work in history. When they invite him into their home to have dinner with them, he breaks the bread, they recognize that he is Jesus, and he vanishes. Reflecting back on the conversation on the road, they say, “Were not our hearts burning within us while he was talking to us on the road, while he was opening the scriptures to us?” (Luke 24:13-35).

Jenna Smith, the director of a Christian youth center in Montreal, has an interesting take on the specific aspect of the story when they say that their hearts were burning. She writes:

“The Emmaus story is often told as an example of scriptural illumination, of the opening of the mind, of spiritual revelation through teaching and discussion. But it also is a story of people who rely on their bodies’ signals to confirm a truth, and an unlikely one at that: the resurrection of their Lord. The disciples listen to their bodies.” [1]

Learning to listen to my body has been a big part of my journey as an adult. As a child, I was encouraged to suppress “negative” emotions. When I read the book Anger: The Misunderstood Emotion in my 30s, I started paying attention to my body when I got angry, and I learned that anger for me shows up first in my stomach, chest, and throat. What a revelation! In my childhood, I was taught not to pay attention to my hunger signals but instead to eat designated amounts of food at designated times. For the past two years, I have been trying “intuitive eating” rather than regimenting what I eat, and it has been a fascinating and healing practice.

I was interested that Jenna Smith opened her article with a story about intuitive eating. She mentions a friend who says to her kids: “Listen to your bodies. . . . Are you actually hungry, or are you just bored?” Smith explains many of the ways that our emotions connect to our bodies: “When we refer to being ‘heartbroken’ or ‘heart-struck’ or when we say our ‘hearts skipped a beat,’ we know these expressions are deeply emotional in nature, and yet they evoke something physical as well. A ‘gut feeling’ is similar: the spirit and body are intertwined in the experience.”

Many Christian communities minimize the significance of the body, instead focusing on spiritual truths and the human soul and spirit. I’m fascinated that so much recent brain research locates our emotions and even our intuitions in our physical bodies. We are unified beings. Our inner being, soul, or spirit cannot be separated from our bodies. I love Jesus’s words: “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength” (Mark 12:30). In other words, love God with your whole, unified self. Many Christians need encouragement to pay attention to their bodies, particularly those who have frequently been in settings that put a lot of focus on the “spiritual.”

Smith describes many of the sensory components of the Road to Emmaus story:

“The disciples, on the road to Emmaus, are living out their Easter Day in this weaving of spirit and body. The entire story is steeped in the physical and sensory: the long walk, the burning of their hearts, the touching and breaking of the bread, and the narrative twist of recognition when ‘their eyes were opened’ before Jesus disappears from sight. Interestingly, one of the first things Cleopas and his companion say to the stranger on the road is that the women went to the tomb early that morning but did not find a body.”

She goes on to talk about the bodily experiences in other post-Easter stories:

“The resurrection stories engage with this gift in so many significant ways: not simply in Jesus’ body — scarred, breathing, hungry, and at times unrecognizable — but also in the bodies of those around him. They are invited to place their hands on his wounds, to break bread with him, and to sit with him. They are the companions of Easter, through sight, touch, and taste. This act of incarnation — God made flesh, existing and walking as one of us — lives on in the hope and the revelation of the resurrection. Flesh, with its wounds, fatigue, hunger, breath, and intimacy, is honored and celebrated. This is a lesson not only of intellectual understanding or of spiritual awareness but of embodied action.”

We can pray for God’s help to appreciate and listen to our bodies. We can pray that we would be disciples who love God with our heart, soul, mind, and strength, and that we would grow in viewing discipleship as involving embodied action as well as cognitive understanding and spiritual awareness. We can thank God for giving us physical bodies, and we can thank God for the many pleasures our bodies give us.

“You knit me together in my mother’s womb.
I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made.
   Wonderful are your works;
that I know very well” (Psalm 139:13-14).

(Next week: First post in a new series on nurturing creative prayer through spiritual practices. Illustration by Dave Baab: kite festival in Nelson, New Zealand. If you’d like to receive an email when I post on this blog, sign up below under “subscribe.”)

[1] All quotations in this post come from Jenna Smith, “April 23: The Third Sunday of Easter,” The Christian Century, April 2023, page 28

This is the last post in a series called “Draw near,” which began almost a year ago with a post about asking God to be the gardener of our souls. Here are some posts I got a lot of positive feedback about:

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