Three Lessons This Christian Learned from Yoga

Each month, we post a series of blogs around a common topic. This month, we continue to post a series curated by Sarah Dianne Jones and written by our workshop leaders at the 2017 National Gathering. What excites them about the Gathering? What are they looking forward to sharing and discussing during their workshop? We invite you to join the conversation on Facebook and Twitter!

by Jen Kottler

FAQs (Frequently Asked Questions) about “The Yoga Workshop”:

No, this workshop is not just for yogis (people who practice yoga).
Yes, if you would like, bring your mat.
No, you don’t have to have any prior experience with yoga to attend our workshop.
Yes, do dress comfortably.
No, we won’t make you sit on the floor (if that is uncomfortable for you), but we might encourage a bit of exploration.
Yes, we will ask you to breathe.

Phew. Now that we’ve got that out of the way…

I do yoga almost every day. It keeps me sane. And it gives me hope. It opens my heart.

This is not why I started doing yoga. I started doing yoga because, well, you know, it seemed the thing to do, right? I’m a pastor, but the “not serving a church right now” kind of pastor, and since I work from home, I settle into a new community by finding a place where I can go to work out – preferably within walking distance of our home. (My husband is an interim pastor/mid-council leader in the PCUSA, and when we change jobs, we usually move. Often, it’s to a new state or a place that we have not lived before.)

So while it started out as an exercise class, it’s become much more than that. As my yoga practice has deepened, my Christian faith has deepened. My prayer life has deepened. And I’ve learned many lessons about Christianity and yoga and life that I’m looking forward to sharing at the 2017 NEXT Church National Gathering. Here are three:

  1. Christianity is a practice. I’ve learned that rather than a set of beliefs, Christianity is more about how I live out my day to day life. One of my yoga teachers taught me to remember that in every moment of the day begins the practice of yoga. In the same way, I am reminded in everything that I do as I go about my ministry and my work, that I am practicing Christianity. I am living it out. Some days I live it out better than others, but each day is a new beginning.
  2. Patience can be learned. Anyone who has tried yoga knows, crow pose wasn’t built in a day. In fact, most of the poses in yoga take a lifetime to master, and so we continue to practice. And we continue to breathe. Even when it’s hard and you really would rather escape the pose and run to the bathroom, you don’t. You remind yourself that it will be easier tomorrow and you just continue to breathe.
  3. Meditation opens us to the voice of God. I like to think that prayer is when I talk to God, and meditation is when God speaks to me. It’s hard to hear what God is trying to say to us when we rarely get quiet enough to listen attentively to the still small voice. Learning to be still allows us to be still and know.

We are looking forward to sharing so much more during our time together! See you there. Namaste.

Diving into the Well: Yoga Practice and Christian Praxis” is offered during workshop block 3 on Tuesday of the National Gathering.

Rev. Jennifer Hope Kottler is a spiritual director and a certified clergy leadership coach (ACC) focusing on vocational discernment, women’s empowerment, self-care and congregations/leaders in transition. A daily yoga practitioner, Jen encourages others to try yoga and other mindfulness practices to deepen their spiritual journey. She will be leading the session, “Diving into the Well: Yoga Practice and Christian Praxis” with Rev. Leslie Mott.

Let Me Run

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 Ashley Armistead

I first started running as a teenager to replace feelings of insecurity with hope. It also fed the need that all of us have to belong and to be accepted. Running gave me a sense of belonging to something greater than myself – much like a church community. It also helped me to relieve stress, deal with my emotions, and generally balance out my life. I have always believed that running develops happier and healthier children. It demands that you bring your best attitude and a positive spirit. Running does not respond to status or appearance, just a big heart and good energy.

let me runWhen I saw the imbalance of society’s stereotypes on young boys, and the power that running had shown me, I had a sense that running would be a good vehicle for boys to experience, camaraderie, emotional balance, and their God-given potential.

The initial idea for Let Me Run came when I had boys of my own. After becoming a mother and seeing what I had seen in my boys, I was sure that there was something more to being a boy than what society was telling me. What I was seeing did not match with what I was hearing, and I wanted to fix that. For practically my whole life I had been hearing things like, “Boys will be boys” or “What did you expect? He’s a boy!” But I knew that boys were capable of so much more. They aren’t all ruled by testosterone or incapable of growing as people. As a parent it is hard to sit back and watch the ‘Boy Code’ in action. From the ball fields to the office, limiting messages are being sent to males. You’ve heard them: grow up, be a man, suck it up, boys don’t cry, don’t be a sissy, stop being a girl, and always be in control!

I always seemed shocked by these comments, as I know that my boys far surpass me in their caring actions, integrity, and self-control. I became more aware of societal expectations of boys and of men.

I kept thinking about my caring, compassionate, and tough boys. Would they be able to stay spirited and full of wonder?

I want so much for children to be free to experience joy and live into their God-given potential. I want this so much that I created Let Me Run. Let Me Run inspires boys through the power of running to be courageous enough to be themselves, to build healthy relationships, and to live an active lifestyle. The program started with 14 boys in Charlotte and has now served 11,000 boys in 23 states. The volunteers for Let Me Run believe in servant leadership. It is often their faith that brings them to give back through Let Me Run. Seeing their faith in action causes a community to be drawn to such people and learn from their example.

Perhaps the greatest gift in Let Me Run is being side by side with a boy sweating, panting and listening to his boundless thoughts, fears, and dreams. It is sacred to sit with a group of boys after a run and hear the depths of compassion and empathy that our boys are capable of. We get to see boys, “feel more alive,” walk a little taller,” and turn jitters into accomplishment. We get to see what happens when boys are given permission to come together and be themselves. They choose to lift each other up instead of tear them down. They choose to see success for their teammates as improvement. They meet each other right where they are in the moment with no expectations other than to bring your best self. When given permission they naturally create an atmosphere of acceptance and belonging and that is exactly what Christ wants for our community of faith.

Ashley 9871 RTAshley Armistead graduated from Wake Forest in 1991 with a degree in exercise science and University of Delaware in 1995 with a degree in nursing. She spent time working in cardiac rehabilitation and pediatric nursing. While raising her boys, she worked as a school volunteer and with mission and youth at Welwyn Presbyterian Church in Charlotte, NC. In 2009, Ashley founded Let Me Run in Charlotte, which is now in 23 states. Her passions are running, reading, youth sports, and not cooking.

The Mountains Are Calling

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 Rachel Pence

Legs burning. Sweat in your eyes. Your lungs feeling as though they might burst with your next breath, and yet you keep moving forward. And then you step through the clearing, and see the expanse below you, it’s almost as if the whole world is happening under your feet and all you can hear is the wind subtly blowing the dirt, watching the clouds move across the landscape. It is a moment that can only be described as holy.

Rachel2I have been hiking for as long as I can remember. Exploring trails with my family, friends or on my own.  There is something about carrying everything you need on your back, for a day, or multiple days, on trails carved by the feet of strangers. There is something about this that connects me to the divine. There is the obvious creator-creation connection, but that is just where it begins.

Maybe it’s because I have never been very good at sitting still or calming my thoughts on my own, whatever it is, when I walk through the mountains, on the cliffs above a beach, or a rocky outcropping, I find myself engaged in a type of worship I can’t find anywhere else.

The movement of putting one foot in front of another is primal, it requires me to pay attention to the way my body moves, responds, and adapts. I am able to quiet my mind, open my heart, and let the meditations of my body connect to God in a way that I forget in my daily life working at a desk, or living in a city.

For me, hiking and my faith go hand in hand. I have experienced communion with granola bars and Gatorade, passed the peace with those on the path, and found unexpected moments of pastoral care.  Hiking connects my body to the body of the world, and in turn, the body of Christ.  These spaces in nature are sacred and protected for a reason. There is much to learn about God in the woods, there is much to learn about ourselves there too, and how the image of God lives and moves and has its being.  

Rachel1Rachel Pence is a graduate of San Francisco Theological Seminary. She is currently living in North Carolina adventuring any chance she gets.

What Are We Praying For?

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 Steve Lindsley

But whenever you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you. – Matthew 6:6

Oops.  Prayer fail.

How did I find myself here, you ask?

steve panthers prayerLast September a lady in my church, a sweet woman who sings in the choir and works for American Airlines and happens to be a rabid Panthers fan, commented how cool it’d be if I did an invocation for a Panthers football game. Which I, of course, heartily concurred with. So she made some phone calls and discovered the application process. I submitted a page of information and she a letter of recommendation.

I actually forgot all about it until the January Monday morning after the final regular season game when an email from Jason in the Panthers Entertainment Division (yes, the Entertainment Division) popped up in my inbox. They needed an invocationist for their home playoff game less than two weeks away and had four tickets and field passes to go with it. Was I interested?

You bet your Keep Pounding hashtag I was.

If you want the play-by-play of the whole affair that brisk January Sunday morning, head over here to my blog. In short, it was a pretty amazing experience for the family and a lot of fun for this faithful Panthers fan. That guy you see standing on the end zone line of a home playoff game was as giddy as an elementary school kid on free snickerdoodle cookie day.

But after initially getting over the thrill of Jason’s email, I faced the hard questions:

What in the world do I pray for? How exactly does one pray at/for an NFL football game?

Jason had given me some guidelines, which were certainly helpful. No more than 45 seconds. Use generic names for God (in other words, “God”). Non-sectarian in nature. They even provided a sample model prayer. I’d need to submit my prayer by next week for official approval.

I have no problem with that; I’m cool to play by their rules. But still – what do I pray for?

Because I don’t pray for the home team to win, right? I mean, not out loud. If you saw me sitting on the living room couch during every regular season game, I think it’d be pretty obvious there was a lot of praying going on. But this would be different. I get that God doesn’t care who wins. That’s our job as the fans.

I also had a couple of people encourage me to take advantage of the “public pulpit” this kind of venue provides. Seize it as a platform to address some hot-topic issue and make a powerful statement to the masses. But I’ve never been a fan of that sort of thing – feels too much like deception and dishonesty and, in the end, being more about you than the issue itself.

So what should this invocation be all about? As far as I know, the Panthers are the only team in the NFL who does such a thing, perhaps modeled after the pre-race prayer in nearby NASCAR world. Twenty minutes before kickoff, when a good chunk of the crowd has just popped the top of an overpriced Bud Light in the concourse. Why pray?

Whatever reasons the Panthers have for this pre-game ritual is none of my concern. And I have no desire to be all platform-ish with words far removed from what I’d previously been green-lighted for. I think society expects this behavior from some segments of the church, whether it’s protesting against this cause or that policy, waving signs and shouting insults instead of listening and speaking in love. I sense a weariness and rolling of the eyes from the general populous over this sort of behavior.  

At the same time, I think something of value needs to be shared. I’m not a fan of content-void prayer. Because as much as I think society rolls their collective eyes at the church’s worst moments, I also believe society longs for the church, and those who represent it, to say and do something of consequence and meaning. They crave authenticity from the church.

So that’s what I’d shoot for in my prayer.  And when all was said and done, here’s what I came up with: 

God of all creation,

we come to you this afternoon with great excitement and anticipation,

as we share in the privilege

of watching two teams compete for their ultimate goal.


We pray for their safety and well-being;

and in return honor their efforts by exhibiting good sportsmanship and excellence ourselves.  


As we relish the joy of gamesmanship and competition,

we remember those near and far who are hurting and in need.  


May this game inspire us to live our lives to their fullest potential,

so that collectively we may pursue the greater good for all.  


We humbly ask that you hear our prayer this day, and may all the people say, AMEN.

Steve Spring 2015When he’s not being the senior minister of Trinity Presbyterian Church of Charlotte, or songwriting/gigging, or keynoting/leading music for various retreats and conferences, or blogging at, or playing pick-up basketball with his two sons, or cheering on his beloved Panthers and Hornets, or watching music reality TV shows with his lovely wife, Steve Lindsley is probably sleeping.

Matter Matters

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 Madeleine Benishek

What if our foundational story started with a garden full of flourishing trees and abundant life? Then suppose God formed a human from the soil of that blessed Earth and called that human ‘good.’ Imagine that this story was then shaped, molded and passed from mouth to ear around the fires of people wandering in a rocky desert wilderness, a people guided by a pillar of fire and a pillar of smoke. Then after struggles and wars, imagine that God came and walked the dust of that same Earth, touching human beings, loving them and making them whole. Imagine if this God on Earth was recognized in a meal of bread and wine. In fact this God-with-us was so powerful that we were scared and killed him. But God continued to love and sent a spirit that rushed through the air into the bodies of everyday people, filling us with God’s presence, God’s prophetic voice, song and courage.  

princeton frisbeeFor me, this story means falling in love with the stuff of this world. It means playing Frisbee on Friday afternoons with friends, feeling my muscles contract and release, sweat covering my face. It means going on runs through the woods, bowing my head to the ground in prayer, even doing a ridiculous dance in the sun before finishing my final paper. It means sobbing when I hear of the havoc humans are wreaking on creation. It also means gathering together with other people for a meal in which we remember our story, not only in words but also with our bodies in chewy bread and the sharp taste of wine.

Finally it means letting myself be changed by the stuff of this world. A mentor of mine once told me to sit down and hold a drinking glass in my hand. He told me to just sit and get to know its way of being in the world. So I went home and sat in a chair and picked up a glass. It felt ridiculous at first. It was ridiculous. Words kept distracting me, but I let go of them and kept returning to this object that started feeling stranger and more enigmatic the longer I held it. I can’t say I learned what it’s like to be a drinking glass. But I did learn the beginnings of a way of being in the world. I began to exist as a peer, as one among an infinity of other things with their own God-given ways of being in the world, each with their own power and grace. God is the source of all creation and so, all creation speaks of God. For me, listening to God means stopping to feel the tension my body is holding. It means letting the light around me change me. It means when I sing, feeling the vibrations fill my whole body. Light, sound and sensation are sent as our teachers as much as a book or a professor.  

Churches are searching for new stories. We make sense of our world through language and story. But so often we forget to return again and again to the ground, the womb which gave rise to those stories in the first place. God delighted in creating and inhabiting the fabric of this world, in light and sound and bodies. I wonder what it would look like to learn, not as a mind seeking dominion and control over material things, but as a lover, seeking only to listen, understand and cultivate that which is beloved in the world.

madsMadeleine Benishek is from Minneapolis and is now a third year MDiv. student at Princeton Theological Seminary.

Energizers: Movement with a Purpose

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 Omayra González- Méndez

Can you imagine fifty people doing silly movement to a song? What about 2,000 of them all together before worship? Well if you get the idea, you kind of know what “doing an energizer” is! Yep, it’s a silly thing that we do primarily at youth conferences, but I’ve been seeing it more often in other church gatherings.

Screen Shot 2016-06-11 at 2.03.02 PMWhat is the spirituality of having a group of people just dancing together on a song with movement that does not make any logical sense, not even professional movement? Or doing friendship bracelets or play outside with a ball? Well, that is all part of what we call recreation.

Recreation is more than “time to play.” It is about creating community. For years, I have been a rec leader in many events and people think “Oh, that’s so fun, you are just playing around.” Don’t get me wrong, we play and have fun, but we do with a meaning and purpose. The psalms often talk about dancing and praise – “Praise him with the timbrel and dance; praise him with stringed instruments and organs” (Psalm 150:4).  Ecclesiastes 3:4 also tells us that there is “a time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn, and a time to dance.”

The truth is that some people don’t feel good about their body or they see other people moving and feel ashamed and don’t know how to express their joy. That’s why we dance. When you dance with a lot of other people, you don’t feel shame. It is part of feeling good about who you are and being with others who feel the same. The energy goes around, the spirit moves.

I learned this when I was a youth myself. At that age you don’t always understand your body – everything is changing and you are much more self-conscious about what you’re doing and how you look. But when you create space for people to feel safe, when you create the expectation that we don’t want you to be perfect, that we accept you as God accept you for who you are, you start moving, you start dancing and you feel free.

And what about games and crafts? Well, that is another way to express yourself. Doing crafts allows you time to sit down and focus on something specific. Many crafts have connections with a sermon or a specific Bible verse. The idea is to keep you thinking on the word of the Lord. A teacher just told me that you remember only 10% of what you hear but 70% of what you do, so I think that crafts and games have their importance.   

I try to lead games that invite people work together, help people understand the need to be part of the greater body of Christ. Everyone has a purpose. Sometimes people don’t stop to think of the theological part of what they are doing – and that’s okay – but I know that God works in every single moment of the day.

Energizers may not be the traditional way of doing worship or teaching the Bible, but is a way and sometimes that’s all that we need – a way to start doing things. God will take care of the rest!

OmayraOmayra L. González- Méndez is news editor, movie lover and super passionate about the church. From media reports, pictures and videos, she takes every free minute to work in different organizations of the Presbyterian Church, both locally and internationally. As an elder in the Presbyterian Church in Hato Rey, she works with youth society and finance ministries. Omayra understands that all parts of the church are equally important. She will take a summer to sit and follow the committees of the General Assembly of the PCUSA, and fly the next day to lead recreation in a youth event. All matters of the church, processes and creation, fascinate her.

Walking in Love

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 Roy Howard

Solvitur Ambulando: “It is solved by walking.” The problem to be solved depends on the person. What I have discovered is that walking provides a medium for reflection, discernment and physical delight. This can be said of other activities like running or biking. Yet, after running six marathons and numerous half marathons, I know the difference. Walking slows me down, running speeds me up. Walking compels me to consider my surroundings differently, notice things as I pass and become more mindful. I experience the earth differently when I am walking.

roy caminoI adopted walking as an ongoing spiritual practice after an epic experience of walking a pilgrimage route that begins in a French village at the base of the Pyrenees Mountains and ends in a Spanish village, overlooking the Atlantic Ocean. In between is a path that millions of pilgrims have walked since the 12th century. In the spring of 2015 I was one of them on sabbatical from my pastorate. The way is known as the Camino de Santiago de Compostela, an 800 km (500 mile) path over the mountains and across northern Spain. Modern pilgrims are a mixed company of many languages; some traditionally religious and others non-religious, though walking with an explicit and often spiritual intent. I didn’t walk as a religious penitent. I did walk with a purpose that included listening for God’s direction and being free enough from my normal patterns to see them afresh. From the first day I crossed the mountains, walking through snow and rain in the bitter cold, the Camino became an exploration of self-understanding in an utterly new place. The freedom was exhilarating.

Each day at dawn I would arise from my bunk bed, place my belongings in a small backpack and walk out the door. The Camino winds through wide valleys and small villages, among vineyards and the vast grasslands of the high plains. It crosses the rugged mountains of Galicia before descending to Santiago. On an average day my companions and I would walk 12-15 miles. The spring flowers are breathtaking, especially the acres of brilliant red tulips on the hills. Songbirds are abundant, including the ubiquitous call of the cuckoo. Most days I didn’t know what I would eat, where I would sleep or whom I would meet. It was a wondrous sense of being on the edge of fear and faith. Daily I prayed, “I will receive this day with gratitude and an open heart.” Sharing simple meals with bread and wine, engaging in slow honest conversations that frequently reached rare spiritual depth, tending the pains of another: the Camino is a profound communal experience of conviviality. In nearly every village, there is a daily mass for the pilgrims, who greet each other with “Buen Camino” roughly translated “enjoy your walk.” The response is “UltreÏa” a French word of encouragement that means “forward always; keep going [into God].”

I reached Santiago de Compostela in thirty-one days; celebrating joyously with my Camino family. I then walked three days more to Finisterre, the village known as the end of the world. Here, 543 miles from the beginning, the original pilgrims faced the ocean, literally the end of the road, where the world ends and the unknown begins.

There is a saying: the Camino begins when the Camino ends. This has been true for me. Since returning I have continued my practice of walking. I have chosen to arrange my schedule differently and slow my life down to allow walking 2-3 miles to the hospital for pastoral visits or a home for pastoral conversations. I experience the neighborhoods around our church mindfully and even better, I know my neighbors with whom I share stories during my walks.

A month ago, my daughter, knowing how much the Camino has touched my life, suggested I walk the two-day 39.3 miles Avon walk to end breast cancer. Perfect! Remarkably, she, her sister and my wife, who is a breast cancer survivor, decided to walk. We formed a team – Walking in Love – and invited others to join us. We have raised $27,000 and the 13 of us will walk a marathon (26.2 miles) on one day and a half-marathon (13.1 miles) the next. When the Camino ends, the Camino begins.  We are walking in love.

roy_howard_04_webRoy W. Howard is Book Editor of the Presbyterian Outlook and the Pastor of Saint Mark Presbyterian Church in North Bethesda Maryland.

The Reunion of Body and Spirit

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 Henry Brinton

Open the Sunday worship bulletin at Fairfax Presbyterian Church, and you’ll see prayers, scripture readings, and hymns — activities that have long been standard exercises in an active spiritual life. You’ll also find an invitation to have your blood pressure checked after worship, and announcements about church members participating in marathons, triathlons, and 100-mile Century bike rides.

fairfax pres bikingThis focus on physical fitness might seem odd in an institution devoted to the health of the spirit, but it represents a growing trend in American houses of worship. Congregations are now reclaiming the ancient biblical truth that human beings are created with a unity of flesh and spirit, not with an antagonism between the physical and the spiritual popularized by dualistic Greek philosophy. After thousands of years of separation, body and spirit are coming back together.

Many Americans are seeking this connection through diet and exercise. “In thinking of body, mind, and spirit, I feel that it is important to stimulate each, and keep the three aspects well balanced,” says Thomas Larsen, an aerospace engineer and member of Fairfax Presbyterian. “I should take good care of my body, which I believe is God’s temple.”

Ten years ago, Thomas joined a group of 40 church members in monthly meetings that I led along with Vik Khanna, an exercise specialist certified by the American College of Sports Medicine. Called “Ten Commandments of Faith and Fitness,” this program encouraged endurance exercise, strength training, and good nutrition in an effort to improve participants’ spiritual and physical fitness. It seemed to work — one woman thanked us for helping her to complete her first 100-mile bicycle race.

Across the country, congregations are adding full-service fitness facilities to their buildings. Fellowship Church, in a suburb of Dallas, provides basketball cages, a rock climbing wall, and a walking trail around a lake. Its ministry includes a variety of sports clubs and team competitions, and even offers a fitness “boot camp.” On the grounds of New Birth Missionary Baptist Church in Lithonia, Georgia, is “Samson’s Health and Fitness Center” — a facility offering athletic leagues and massage therapy. Its motto: “Total Health, Total Person.”

Clearly, religious institutions have caught the fitness bug. But what does this focus on physical health have to do with spiritual vitality? As a Presbyterian pastor, I spend a lot of time studying the New Testament, and I can’t help but notice that Jesus sees the body as a good gift of God — he rejoices in the pleasures of touch and taste and other bodily sensations. Jesus comes on the scene in the Gospel of Mark as a man of action: curing the sick, casting out demons, cleansing a leper, and healing a paralytic — clearly, he cares deeply about the health of human bodies.

Throughout the gospels, Jesus focuses his efforts on saving people from illness, destruction and death, and then at the very end of his ministry he gives the gift of his own body, saying, “Take, eat; this is my body” (Matthew 26:26). He doesn’t say this is my mind, or this is my spirit — he says, this is my body. From the very beginning, Christianity has taken seriously the fact that God came to earth in a human body — “the Word became flesh and lived among us,” says the Gospel of John (1:14). This tells me that there is something good and important about our human flesh.

Because Christian spirituality involves both spirit and body, worship on the Sabbath and work-outs throughout the week are critical elements in a life of health and spiritual growth. For me, a core conviction is that God has given each of us the gift of a body, and wants us to take good care of this gift. That’s why my day off almost always includes swimming, cycling and running — activities that help me to keep body and spirit together.

HenryBrinton4Henry Brinton is Senior Pastor at Fairfax Presbyterian Church in Fairfax, VA.  Henry writes freelance articles on religious topics for the The Washington Post and USA Today, and has been a writer for the preaching journal Homiletics since 1998.

Running is an Invitation to Listen

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 Meghan Gage-Finn

meghan shoes

Photo credit: Tom Northenscold

I never saw the point of running for the sake of running. As a high school and college athlete, I was motivated to run in order to get the ball away from another player, or to keep her from getting the ball away from me. Running served the purpose of conditioning me for my sport, keeping me strong and fast and full of endurance on the field. But running in and of itself was not a sport. I held firmly to this belief until the last game of my senior year in college, when I had to turn in my uniform and I was left wondering how I could consider myself an athlete any longer. It felt like this part of myself I had identified with for the past 16 or 17 years, through awkward middle school years and late adolescence, through relationships and new landscapes, was being shed forever as I pulled my jersey over my head for the last time. The structure of a season and daily practices was gone, and the connection to others who were all putting themselves out there for the same goal, pulling in the same direction, was lost. As the time clock counted down and blared its caustic horn, I felt empty.

And so I ran. I ran through the quiet cemetery in my tiny college town, and farther out through the farmlands and pastures. I ran to clear my head, to trick my mind and my body into thinking I was still an athlete, even though there was no one to chase and no one chasing me. I ran farther and for longer, as I contemplated a strange sense of call by God, as I moved to new places knowing no one, in a hesitant attempt to serve God and love God’s people. I ran to connect with myself and disconnect from the noise and the needs of others. Without realizing it, not only did I see the point in running for the sake of running, but along the way I had become a runner. And somewhere in the midst of the miles, I realized that running was prayer and sacred and holy, and that it makes me a better person and pastor, parent and partner.

More often than I would like these days, my runs happen at odd times, in the darkness of one end of the day or the other, or while pushing a stroller filled with a child or two. But the feel of my feet on the pavement and my breath in my body, reminds me that God created me not just for sharing God’s love and justice with the world. I am affirmed in knowing that God created me to live and move and have my being, finding my best self in the midst of the chaos. For me, running is God’s invitation to listen to the world around me, to take care of myself so I can care for others, and it is God’s reminder not to chase or to be chased by the things of this world, but to place my footfalls in the rhythm of God’s steadfast love and grace for all.

Meghan Gage-FinnMeghan Gage-Finn serves as Executive Associate Pastor at Westminster Presbyterian Church in downtown Minneapolis. As a triathlete and veteran marathon runner, including the fabled Boston Marathon, she has found this valuable training for both ministry and keeping up with three children, age 5 and under.

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.