Practices

Honoring the Body

“To hold a newborn in one’s arms is to know both the sacredness and the vulnerability of the body; indeed, it is to know that there is an intimate connection between sacredness and vulnerability.”

— Stephanie Paulsell

Introduction

Thoughts and questions to help you consider this practice

The practice of honoring the body is born of the confidence that our bodies are made in the image of God's own goodness.

As the place where the divine presence dwells, our bodies are worthy of care and blessing and ought never to be degraded or exploited. It is through our daily bodily acts that we might live more fully into the sacredness of our bodies and the bodies of others.

Stephanie Paulsell writes, "The practice of honoring the body challenges us to remember the sacredness of the body in every moment of our lives...Because our bodies are so vulnerable, we need each other to protect and care for them."

Bathing

Bathing is one of the most fundamental ways we honor our bodies. Let bathing remind you that humans are created in God's image. In what ways might baptism be connected with daily bathing? How did Jesus care for the bodies of his friends when he washed their feet (John 13)?

Adornment

Adornment is a way to protect ourselves, as well as to provide delight. Do you regularly notice what other people wear? What do you hope your clothing says about you and your commitments? In what cases does adornment separate us from others? When does it unite? Has adorning your body ever helped you be more attentive to God's presence?

Touching

Touching, when it is appropriate, seeks to honor, not diminish. Notice the touching in Luke 7:36-50. In what ways does the woman honor Jesus' body? What do we teach our children about "good" touch and "bad" touch? How do children learn to respect their own bodies and the bodies of others through touch? When have you been aware of a healing touch? Recall occasions when you have cared for another through touch. What do we learn about our bodies through liturgical acts of touching such as washing of feet, exchanging signs of peace, and anointing?

Sexuality

Sexuality is a source of both pleasure and vulnerability. In what ways does our society show respect for human sexuality? How is sexuality exploited? What rituals mark the physical development of young people and teach them to affirm the goodness of their bodies? What forms of "body knowledge" enable teenagers to honor their bodies and resist behaviors that degrade the body?

Jesus' resurrected body

Jesus' resurrected body teaches us that bodies matter and shows us the beauty God intends for all bodies. How might Jesus' broken body help us to see the bodies of the sick and wounded and exploited? As we seek God and each other in our bodies, as we pay attention to ways to honor the body, we remember that every body is blessed by God, deserving of protection and care.

Self Image

Many of us are self-conscious about the size or shape of our own bodies. Write down your feelings as you pay attention to honoring your body. What do you affirm and celebrate? What are sources of bodily shame? What "childhood tapes" do you hear regarding your body image? As you grow older, what are you learning about caring for your body?

Bathing

Reflect on what kinds of bathing rituals are important to you. What did the bathing patterns of your family of origin teach you about physical intimacy?

A daughter who was dismayed by an outbreak of acne was taught by her father to wash: "On the first splash, say, 'In the name of the Father'; on the second, 'in the name of the Son'; and on the third, 'in the name of the Holy Spirit.' Then look up into the mirror and remember that you are a child of God, full of grace and beauty."

During a child's bath time, sing blessings over each part of the body. Remind children that the body they see in the tub is a body made in God's image.

Baptism welcomes the body along with the spirit into the community of faith. Read or observe your church's baptism liturgy, noticing the reminders it may contain that baptism blesses and cherishes the baptized one as an embodied being.

bathtub view of feet

Adornment

The newly baptized may wear white robes to symbolize new life in Christ. Religious orders wear simple garments to bear witness to their vocation. Plain dress (Amish, Old Order Mennonite, and Brethren) can signify a commitment to direct the eyes to God instead of to fashion.

Reflect on what your dress and adornment say to others. What does it say to you?

Rather than allowing the fashion industry to dictate what it means to dress up, encourage people to ready themselves for worship by adorning themselves with a garment or object special to them.

Touch

Pick up someone else's hand and look at it closely. Imagine the experiences this hand has had. Think of the work it has done and the care and caresses it has given. Look for signs of age and injury. Pray that God will bless this hand.

When appropriate, practice therapeutic touch (especially for the ill): stroke the hands and feet, offering a sense of the body as a source of comfort, not of pain alone.

Sexuality

Talk with teenagers about how "honoring the body" can frame our understanding of human sexuality. How does discussing this topic within the framework of a shared practice differ from approaches that are most concerned with warning teenagers about what they should not do?

University of Chicago professor Tikva Frymer-Kensky published a book of prayers about menstruation and pregnancy. Drawing on her own Jewish tradition, she linked the monthly cycle to spiritual cycles of faith communities, history, and lifetimes. Churches and families can use such prayers to affirm the changes in sexually developing bodies.

New Moon Girls produces media for girls entering puberty and for adults who want to support girls in developing healthy respect for their bodies.

Worship Materials

"Your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you."

— I Corinthians 6:19

We desire God not only in spirit, but also in our bodies:

"O God, you are my God, I seek you. My soul thirsts for you, my flesh faints for you, as in a dry and weary land where there is no water." (Ps. 63:1)

Communal worship provides opportunities to nourish our bodies with the Lord's Supper, touch in peace and love (exchange peace), adorn for worship, kneel in prayer, draw breath in song, fast, and wash one another's feet.

Prayer

God, who knit us together in a mother's womb,
help us honor what you have made.

Let us touch this masterpiece gently,
with reverence,
with delight,
blessing what you have blessed.

[worshippers touch body parts as they are blessed]

The face
For the housing of our thoughts
For the muscles of our emotion

The arms
For embracing what is sacred
For grasping, then releasing, your gifts.

The belly
For taking in nourishment
In some, for the nurture of new life.

The thighs
For carrying another's burden
For pushing off from the ground

The feet
For walking your paths of peace,
For standing on holy ground.

God, who formed these inward and outward parts
Fill us with wonder at such knowledge,
knowledge that we are wonderfully made. Amen.

— Lani Wright, Cottage Grove, Oregon

Hymns

I Cannot Dance, O Love

"I cannot dance, O Love, unless you lead me on.
I cannot leap in gladness unless you lift me up..."
Text: based on the writing of Mechtild of Magdeburg © 1992 Jean Wiebe Janzen

Guide My Feet

"Guide my feet, while I run this race, for I don't want to run this race in vain!"
Text: African-American spiritual

Draw Us in the Spirit's Tether

"All our meals and all our living make as sacraments of you"
Text: Percy Dearmer

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Books & Films

Read more about Honoring the Body: Meditations on a Christian Practice
Honoring the Body: Meditations on a Christian Practice
Stephanie Paulsell

In Honoring the Body, Stephanie Paulsell speaks to those who have ever wondered how to celebrate the body’s pleasures and protect the body’s vulnerabilities in a world that seems confused about both. What we need, she shows, are practices that honor the body.

Read more about Can’t Buy My Love: How Advertising Changes the Way We Think and Feel
Can’t Buy My Love: How Advertising Changes the Way We Think and Feel
Jean Kilbourne

Many advertisements these days make us feel as if we have an intimate, even passionate relationship with a product. But as Jean Kilbourne points out in this fascinating and shocking exposé, the dreamlike promise of advertising always leaves us hungry for more. We can never be satisfied, because the products we love cannot love us back.

Read more about Caretakers of Our Common House: Women’s Development in Communities of Faith
Caretakers of Our Common House: Women’s Development in Communities of Faith
Carol Lakey Hess

This highly readable study asks whether the church can make a difference in the development of young women in a culture that destroys the self-esteem of girls. Caretakers of Our Common House should be required reading for all those involved in theological education and ministry.

Read more about Motherprayer: The Pregnant Woman’s Spiritual Companion
Motherprayer: The Pregnant Woman’s Spiritual Companion
Tikva Frymer-Kensky

The first spiritual guide to the pregnant woman, Motherprayer is filled with poems, rituals, prayers, and incantations from a variety of religious traditions.

Read more about The Body and Society
The Body and Society
Peter Brown

First published in 1988, Peter Brown’s The Body and Society was a groundbreaking study of the marriage and sexual practices of early Christians in the ancient Mediterranean and Near East.

Read more about Holy Feast and Holy Fast: The Religious Significance of Food to Medieval Women
Holy Feast and Holy Fast: The Religious Significance of Food to Medieval Women
Caroline Walker Bynum

Rejecting presentist interpretations of women as exploited or masochistic, Bynum shows the power and creativity of women’s writing and women’s lives.

Read more about Killing Us Softly 4: Advertising’s Image of Women
Killing Us Softly 4: Advertising’s Image of Women

This newest edition of Jean Kilbourne’s influential and award-winning Killing Us Softly series shows how the advertising industry continues to reinforce, and glamorize, a regressive and debased notion of femininity.

Read more about Slim Hopes: Advertising and the Obsession with Thinness
Slim Hopes: Advertising and the Obsession with Thinness

Jean Kilbourne’s award-winning video offers an in-depth analysis of how female bodies are depicted in advertising images and the devastating effects of those images on women’s health.

Read more about Pack of Lies: The Advertising of Tobacco
Pack of Lies: The Advertising of Tobacco

Pack of Lies reveals, with powerful insider information, the deception of tobacco industry claims that they do not seek to addict children to nicotine.

Read more about Schindler’s List
Schindler’s List

Based on the story of Oskar Schindler, an opportunistic businessman who uses Jewish labor to start a factory in Nazi-occupied Poland. As World War II progresses, and the fate of the Jews becomes more and more clear, Schindler learns to respect his workers’ humanity, and he finds ways to protect more than 1,100 Jews from death in the Auschwitz gas chambers. Note the stark contrast between honoring and dishonoring bodies throughout the film.

Read more about Mask
Mask

Based upon the story of Roy L. “Rocky” Dennis, who lived from 1964 to 1980 with craniodiaphyseal dysplasia, a bone disease that causes extreme facial disfigurement. In spite of the way he is often treated because of his physical appearance, Rocky is an honor student and a surprisingly upbeat and responsible kid. Note how Rocky is accepted by other “outsiders,” including his mother’s motorcycle gang and the young people he meets while working as a summer counselor at a camp for the blind.

Read more about An Altar in the World: A Geography of Faith
An Altar in the World: A Geography of Faith

In An Altar in the World, Taylor shows us how to discover altars everywhere we go and in nearly everything we do as we learn to live with purpose, pay attention, slow down, and revere the world we live in.

What Others Are Doing

Read more about Practicing an embodied faith through yoga
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Resources

read more about Suffering (in series “Christian Reflection: A Series in Faith and Ethics”)

Suffering (in series “Christian Reflection: A Series in Faith and Ethics”)

Robert Kruschwitz

This issue of “Christian Reflection: A Series in Faith and Ethics” features a collection of essays on the topic of suffering. (c) 2005 The Center for Christian Ethics at Baylor University. All rights reserved. Permission is granted to reproduce these materials for personal or group study.

read more about Study Guides for “Suffering”

Study Guides for “Suffering”

Robert Kruschwitz

This is a companion study guide to the “Suffering” issue of “Christian Reflection: A Series in Faith and Ethics.” (c) 2005 The Center for Christian Ethics at Baylor University. All rights reserved. Permission is granted to reproduce these materials for personal or group study.

read more about A Tale of Two Tables: The Practices of Coffee and Communion

A Tale of Two Tables: The Practices of Coffee and Communion

Amanda Musterman

The author explores the relationship between coffee table and communion table, pondering how each table helps us honor the body and reflect God’s image and creativeness.