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Abbey Bookshelf: An Altar in the World (on the body)

Do you have a body? Don’t sit on the porch!
Go out and walk in the rain!
If you are in love,
then why are you asleep?
Wake up, wake up!
You have slept millions of years
Why not wake up this morning


“In a world where faith is often construed as a way of thinking, bodily practices remind the willing that faith is a way of life.” (xvi)

“Here I am.  This is the body-like-no-other that my life has shaped. I live here.  This is my soul’s address.” (38)

from An Altar in the World: A Geography of Faith by Barbara Brown Taylor

Yesterday I posted a series of images celebrating the body in prayer (smaller version to the left). I recently devoured Barbara Brown Taylor’s book over the course of a day and like all good books, her words have been reverberating over time within me.  There will probably be several reflections here which take her work as a jumping-off point.

With my yoga intensive these last two weeks, I have been present to my body in wondrous ways. My awareness of the ways I denigrate my physical vessel in subtle and not-so-subtle ways has become more obvious to me.  We are so immersed in distorted body images that sometimes it is hard to see straight, to look upon ourselves with graced vision and discover as Taylor says my “body-like-no-other that my life has shaped.”  Last week I reflected on the ways I am coming to see my life circumstances as being the exact fertile ground I need to become fully myself.  The twin reflection to this is acknowledging that in addition to being born into this family and culture as the root of becoming my most wondrous self, so is this body with all of its gloriousness and self-perceived flaws, the exact body with which I will become whole again.

Have you been listening to your body’s gentle whispers during these late summer days?  Do you bring your full embodied self to prayer and honor your “soul’s address”?

© Christine Valters Paintner at Abbey of the Arts:
Transformative Living through Contemplative & Expressive Arts

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4 Responses

  1. the book sounds like one i will love. my body is aching and tired this morning and i realize that i have not found balance in working and feeding it recently. while physically working hard, i forget to feed my body correctly…eating on the run, grabbing a handful of this and that. i love the feel of tired muscles, but feel yukky from too much ‘this and that.’ thank you for this post and helping me reconnect as i begin this day anew. think i’ll go dance a bit. :-)

  2. Lately, all I really want to do is exercise, practice my meditation,…and eat well. lol. I’ve been more physical this summer than ever before… My exercise is The Bar Method – ballet type movements that make me very aware of my body. My meditation incorporates some physical poses (like asanas but more basic).

    I find the more I settle into my body, the less I want to write – especially fiction. Actually… the less my brain wants to work, period. My whole life I thought I had to escape my body – I thought happiness was more about bringing the mind into balance. But I see now how interconnected it all is.

    And the more grounded I become, the more I see all of life as a living prayer.

    Much thanks Christine for your clarity and thoughtful question.

  3. Christine says: “Do you bring your full embodied self to prayer and honor your ‘soul’s address’?”

    Emily Dickinson thinks of the body as a vehicle like a car or taxi, which takes us to a place, so that walking somewhere for her is like driving to a destination. If you think of it that way, this vehicle we have built in is fabulously unique! How about this, it not only can motor, it can dance all the way along, and it has sensory perception, so if we motor in the rain, we can feel the delight of the raindrops on our car. Once you start thinking about the possibilities it is wildly interesting, a lot like your delightful question above! In one of her poems ED begins:

    “A Bee his burnished Carriage
    Drove boldly to a Rose —
    Combinedly alighting —
    Himself — his Carriage was –“