Being Shaped by the Body

Each month, we post a series of blogs around a common topic. This month, Steve Lindsley is curating reflections on a physical faith. How does one practice a physical faith – inside or outside of the church? In what ways can we experience God through our bodies and our communities? And how does movement, of many forms, bind us to a deeper sense of spirituality? We invite you to join the conversation on Facebook and Twitter!

by Rob McClellan

I was nervous the first time I tried it out at a men’s night at the church.  We had gathered to enjoy fellowship, to sing, to hear a speaker from the congregation, to engage in discussion and then… to practice body prayer. “One of these things is not like the other…” as they say.

Yet then it happened. As I led them through some simple motions, I looked up to see everyone, young and old, moving in concert, not a snicker in the room. There is something powerful about moving in prayer and doing so in community. I believe people are yearning to have faith with their whole selves not just their minds.

To learn a simple routine of body prayer, watch this video.

On paper, I’m a funny one to ask about physical faith. I have spent much of my life in the academy, relishing pursuits of the mind. I am keenly aware, however, that increasingly people enter the faith not because they have been convinced, but because they have been moved.

Rarely does anyone come to the church I serve looking to be told what to believe, and yet I found that many of the forms of ministry we offer are predominately focused on what occurs from the neck up — classes, sermon-centered worship, and intellectually stimulating discussion. Those forms are both meaningful and important. They are also not everything.

If our messages have grown more and more open in the church, then our forms ought to follow suit. We would do well to put just as much care into the art of ushering people into the experience of the sacred as we do into crafting good doctrine. Experiential ministry is a wonderful way to make room for the Spirit to work and play.

For these reasons, I am engaged in a Doctor of Ministry (DMin) project on pilgrimage, reframing this ancient practice for these new times. A lot happens when you walk in the Spirit. Conversations flow with ease between utter strangers. Thoughts and memories emerge with the gentle nudging between soil and foot. Singularity of intention leads to clarity of mind. Energy usually built up behind a desk is released, and with it all sorts of creativity pours out. The dividing walls between the sacred and the secular sweetly dissolve.

Two years ago, I went on an interfaith pilgrimage on the Camino in Spain. We shared in the practices of each other’s tradition and I was struck by how embodied the other traditions were. We have a lot to learn from them. Many of us spend too much time (not of our own choosing) shoring up our church buildings. What if the church gave equal attention to (and received surpassing joy from) the living temples that are our bodies?  

This spring, I return to the Camino, this time with members of my congregation. My job won’t be to teach them, or even to move them. The Spirit will take care of that.  I’ll just be there to show them the way.

Rob McRob McClellan, Pastor/Head of Westminster Presbyterian Church in Tiburon, CA, is married to The Rev. Sherri Hausser, has a 3 1/2 year old son, studies pilgrimage, and believes Christians “find God in nature” too.