Originally, I was going to entitle this post, Worship, Bodies, and the Economics of Self-Loathing. But, in the interest of readability and trying to seem less intense (and douche-baggy), I’ve changed this to the above title. But still, as that original title implies, there’s a lot here on this topic that I have to say–and may, at some point. But for now, I just wanted to give some musings and thoughts I’ve been having.
I went to a conference a couple of weeks ago put on by a group of artists called Bifrost Arts, and it was on “Liturgy, Music, and Space”. While there, I attended a workshop on the use of our bodies in worship. I was struck at the immense beauty that the Bible offers as it pertains to our embodiment. Our bodies are essential instruments in the worship and life of God. Heck, it’s essential to our very redemption as God Himself took on a body to save us.
And yet, very few of us engage our bodies in those most meaningful of spheres of life, especially when it comes to our spiritual existence. That blasted dualism of our world that elevates the “spiritual” above the “physical” pervades even those most passionate and dedicated of believers in Jesus. We often see our worship merely as a process of dropping immaterial ideas into our immaterial selves to help stir up immaterial emotional responses. And then we wonder why our embodied actions and obedience don’t follow. Could it be that we need to preach the Gospel to our bodies as well?
As I was thinking about this, I was forced to ask: Why do we hate our bodies so much?
What makes us ashamed or embarrassed to lift our hands in worship, to lie prostrate in prayer, or dance in our joy? What makes women use make-up to conceal and deceive rather than reveal and accentuate? What makes men work out in order to feel well-loved rather than to feel a sense of well-being and health? We use our bodies to fulfill things they were not meant to fulfill and we don’t use them for the glorious things they were meant to fulfill.
We have learned to use our bodies to seek our own interests at the expense of others. The world around us and the philosophies within us teach us to view and treat our bodies as mere commodities; things to be used for some abstract, immaterial “greater” good or “return”. And so we abuse our own embodiment to abuse ourselves and others for the sake of abstract ideals and goals that never truly satisfy.
But the Gospel offers a picture of a God who does not think in this way. He is a God that made our bodies and this physical creation in such a way that he can inhabit it–and He has. He longs to meet and involve our bodies in the experience of him just as much as he intends this for our souls. He let his physical body be broken so he might taste a physical end in order that we might be joined to him in his physical resurrection.
And as I had these thoughts, I was struck by how beautiful this idea is; how deeply it speaks to us as being true for how we are made. You don’t have to use your body to find security; you can use it to accentuate and communicate the rest and security that’s been accomplished for you by another. How could those that aren’t Christians (heck, even Christians!) hear this and not wonder in their minds: Could this be true? Could all that I’ve hoped for in my embodied existence be true? Could I have dignity and goodness inherent even in my physical self? Could I actually feel free in my body?
Ah! Even now, I feel like my words are failing to accurately communicate the Beauty here. I keep talking and restating this hoping that I’ll finally find the articulation that perfectly captures this. But alas, it escapes me.
I think I’ll just stop for now. But just be encouraged: you are meant to fully feel and embrace your embodiment, and to fully engage it in your deepest pursuits. So pray on your face, sing by yourself with your arms upraised, serve those around you with extended hands, linger on the taste of each good tasting food and drink. And dance (oh Christians! Of all the people that might have reason to dance!).
And in all this, may you know yourself and your God more deeply.
[art by Istvan Sandorfi]