I’m at an exercise class recently, trying to work my way into tree pose. I slowly lift my right leg off the floor and align the sole of my foot with my thigh. I wiggle the toes of my standing leg to make sure my weight is on my heel. My hands rest in prayer position at my chest. I’ve never loved this pose, because I usually end up toppling over after a few breaths. But I’m learning to embrace the challenge and be okay with falling.
“If you feel ready, maybe you’d like to grow your tree,” our teacher Julianna tells us from the front of the room. A few of us start to slowly reach our arms up to the ceiling, our bodies begin to wobble. “Maybe even try lifting your gaze.” I start to tilt my head back, feel my body teetering, but I keep looking up until my eyes are on the ceiling, my arms outstretched. I’m doing it! The room is quiet except for our breath, the morning sun is slanting through the windows onto our faces. I feel so utterly strong and magnificent, can’t remember the last time I’ve felt this way.
It’s as if my body was saying, there is something about this posture that reveals a deep and true and important part of who you were created to be.
When we are hungry to approach our faith beyond our intellect, or maybe we have drifted away and want to find our way back, or perhaps what we’ve always done just isn’t nourishing us anymore, sometimes the best thing we can do is invite our bodies to teach us something about God, and about who we are in him.
This particular morning, as I stood in tree pose with my arms and gaze lifted to the sky, my body was reminding my mind of something it so easily forgets in the humdrum of life — my desire for God, to reach for more of him than I have right now, is the deepest part of who I am.
I heard a similar story of embodied faith described by N.T. Wright on a podcast last year. After the fall of Communism there were many young people in Russia who had no faith because it had been drilled out of them in school, but who wanted to reconnect yet didn’t know how. One of the pieces of advice some of them were given was to kneel down in front of a picture of the cross or another such icon, and to simply kneel and stay there. This was a way of letting their bodies communicate to their insides, saying to their emotions and mind, there is something here about humility before the crucified Jesus which is actually going to be the centre of my life.
I have used the posture of kneeling down in my own faith journey, and though it felt awkward at first, to be crouched over on my living room carpet with the kids’ toys strewn about, I found this experience deeply powerful and moving. Letting my body remind me that awe and adoration is a natural response when we realize we are loved by a God so big, so good, and so close to us.
The Message translation of 1 Corinthians 6:19 says
Didn’t you realize that your body is a sacred place, the place of the Holy Spirit? – 1 Corinthians 6:19 (MSG)
Other translations call the body a temple.
Do you not know that your bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God? – 1 Corinthians 6:19 (NIV)
People go to temples because they believe they can meet God there. What if our bodies are not only places where God lives, but also places in which we can meet and notice Him?