Updated: May 29, 2020
"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
I viewed my body for many years as a servant who would do the thankless job of enabling me to lead the life I felt "called" to lead. I experienced physical pains, needs and limitations largely as obstacles for the "rest of me" to pursue my plans and desires, some things to be dealt with rather than listened to.
In the recent years, God has gently taken me on a journey, accompanied by kind guides, of learning to listen to my body as a wise teacher, and as a sensitive, faithful friend. I have started to realize how my body holds massive amounts of feelings, experiences, memories, and information. I have welcomed the invitation from God to begin to, both listen, and to pray with my body.
In this unsettling new reality of life, where most of us have been removed from all or much of physical contact with other people (aka "the Body of Christ"), I wonder how we might have a unique challenge and opportunity to become closer friends to our own physical bodies, and begin to encounter God in new ways within and through our own bodies. Christian psychiatrist Curt Thompson describes our experience of physical isolation as following,
"God made our bodies as part of what it means for us to be human, and much like asking someone to breathe air that is only 15% oxygen instead of the normal 20%, we’re asking our bodies to do things they were not made to do."
— Curt Thompson in online article"A Body of Works"
I am in awe as I continue to learn about how our bodies are designed, both collectively, and individually, to create, support and heal life. In this article, I will share with you four simple prayer practices that you can explore and expand on. You can practice them either on your own with your body, or together with your family at home. The practices are aimed to help us engage our bodies as companions in prayer, and perhaps even, as prayers themselves. Each guided prayer can be practiced with children as well. As mentioned above, our bodies hold a lot of our joys, but also sorrows. I do recommend you to be gentle, practice compassion, and take care of yourself. Be aware that our bodies also store past trauma. Please seek the kind of support you need if past trauma is triggered. None of the practices are meant to treat mental health difficulties, and I trust you to engage them based on your own good judgment. When guiding children, make sure you are equipped to support the child as needed as a compassionate prayer companion, by inviting them to be and speak with God, rather than as a therapist.
Practice 1: Listen to Body's Felt-Senses
1. Get comfortable and close your eyes. Put your hands on your belly and take a deep breath in and out. Notice how the breath moves your body.
2. Together with God, start "scanning" through your body. Notice all the parts of your body from the top of your head to the soles of your feet. What sensations do you feel?
3. Where do you feel most sensation? For a moment, stay with the part of your body that has the strongest sensation.
4. Ask what God might want to show you through your felt-sense in your body. You might want to put your hand or something soft on the part where you are listening, to show that you care and are willing to listen with God.
Optional extension: 5. Draw an outline of your body and color, mark or draw on it what you notice. (Alternatively, you can use a worksheet provided here — both a child and adult image versions included.)
6. Look at your drawing. What do you see? What does your body want to tell you? And what might God be speaking to you through your body?
Practice 2: Form a Breath Prayer
1. Settle down in a comfortable seated position, or lie flat on the ground on your back. Feel the weight of your body. Relax your muscles, let your jaw drop, and shoulders melt down.
2. Imagine God breathing into your nostrils and giving you a gift of life. Take another even slower and deeper breath. Continue following your breath coming in and out through your nostrils. Examine the quality of your breath. Is it short and shallow, or long and deep? Gently start lengthening the breath and noticing your belly move to the rhythm of your breath.
3. Imagine God coming to you, and asking you, “What do you want me to do for you?”
In your own heart answer that question with a word or a phrase. Trust the first strong desire or need that comes to mind.
4. How does God’s nearness feel like to you? Who is he for you now? Or who do you perhaps want him to be for you? Name it and speak that name to him in the stillness of your heart.
5. Now put together the name you chose to call God with and what you are asking him to do for you. It could look something like this: “My Good Shepherd, help me to rest.”
Alternatively, choose one of the prayers on the worksheet that best reflects your desire.
5. Try quietly calling God by his name when you breathe in (e.g. “My Good Shepherd”) and on your breath out express your need or desire (e.g. “help me to rest”.) Repeat this for a few times until it feels more effortless and your words and breath find a rhythm together.
6. Just be. Enjoy resting in God’s love. Whenever your thoughts start to wonder, gently bring them back to the present moment by recalling your prayer phrase and deep breaths.
You can pray this prayer anytime and anywhere. Your very own breath can become a reminder to you of God’s presence with you and the prayer phrase.
The worksheet includes a suggested variation to this prayer using essential oils during the prayer. Sense of smell is our strongest sense. Using essential oils and anchoring your prayer to a smell, gives a powerful support for returning to your breath prayer.
Practice 3: Listen to Important Feelings in the Body
“All of us, especially children, must be encouraged to listen to our bodies as teachers and not as enemies. Our bodies speak through important feelings and the deeper felt meanings within them. Experiencing this inner resource generates courage, self-confidence, and a creative human spirit.”
— Edwin M. McMahon, Rediscovering the Lost Body-Connection within Christian Spirituality
1. Gently close your eyes. Take three slow, cleansing breaths at your own pace. Ask God to bring to your mind a memory of a strong feeling or reaction that you have had in the recent past. It could be a good feeling, an experience of joy, or a difficult feeling, a one of restlessness, conflict, fear, or sadness. It does not matter, trust your intuition and stay with the memory of an emotion that comes to your mind.
2. Recall the details of the events surrounding the strong feeling you had. Where were you? Who were you with? What thoughts were going through your mind? What did you feel in your body? Breathe deeply and notice what happens in your body when you allow your body to feel the experience once again.
3. Notice where you hold this experience in your body and how it feels inside you. You may put your hand, or something soft on the place where your body feels the most sensation, just to say that it matters to you and you are ready to listen. Together with God, listen to whatever your body might want to say. What do you notice? What might God show you through your body’s sensation?
4. Draw an outline of your body or use the worksheet provided to draw, color, doodle or write what is happening inside you. Stay offering a compassionate attention to your body’s felt-senses. Take long, deep breaths as you draw.
5. Pause, and put your pen down. Look at the image with a gentle, kind eye. How does your body feel now about your memory of that strong feeling and experience? Does it feel any different than it felt when you first brought the memory back to mind? If yes, how does it feel different? Draw this.
6. What do you notice about yourself, body and feelings? What might your body be showing about God's invitation to you?
7. Thank God for your body, and how he helped you to listen to the important feelings your body holds. Perhaps you will want to return to listening at another time.
Practice 4: Movement as a Prayer
"When the body teaches us to pray, our relationship to God is expanded and deepened."
— Jane Vennard, Praying with Body and Soul
1. Get comfortable and close your eyes. Take a deep breath in and out. Notice how your body feels. See if there is any place in your body where you are holding tension or using muscle strength that you might be able to relax and release at this moment.
2. How does your body come to be with God now? Move to a posture or position that feels natural to your body's needs right now. What posture feels good and comfortable to you?
3. Bring to your mind God's loving nearness with you. Wonder, how God might feel as he looks at you with tenderness and kindness. How does his closeness feel inside you? How does it make your body feel?
4. What happens in your body? How does your body respond to God? Do you feel a need to change your posture? Either stay where you are or move into a restorative prayer pose as a response to God with you now. Some examples of restorative, peaceful poses are included here. Rest in God’s love for as long as you wish.
Felt-Peace Prayer Tool
Felt-Peace tool is one of the results of my learning journey of praying with body. It is a tactile prayer tool that aims to help people of all ages and backgrounds to experience God's delight in them, and to compassionately listen to their body's felt-senses with God. It includes an illustrated prayer card, unique Felt-Peace doll, a stack of illustrated prayer position cards with breath prayers, and an eye pillow. All bits of the tool are lovingly hand crafted by me and the card hand painted by my sister. Our hope is that the tool helps, both children, and adults to nurture the same kind of affection and care for their own bodies that they often intuitively feel toward babies, pets or beloved toys.
You can order your Felt-Peace Kit, or just the doll along with the card or the prayer card alone on Kutsu Companions' Etsy shop.
Rediscovering the Lost Body-Connection Within Christian Spirituality by Edwin M McMahon and Peter A. Campbell
Praying with Body and Soul: A Way to Intimacy with God by Jane E. Vennard
Anatomy of the Soul: Surprising Connections Between Neuroscience and Spiritual Practices That Can Transform Your Life and Relationships by Curt Thompson
The Soul of Shame: Retelling the Stories We Believe About Ourselves by Curt Thompson
Handle with Care: How Jesus Redeems the Power of Touch in Life and Ministry by Lore Ferguson Wilbert
Embracing the Body: Finding God in Our Flesh and Bone by Tara M. Owens
The Wisdom of the Body: A Contemplative Journey to Wholeness for Women by Christine Valters Paintner
Online BioSpiritual Institute (includes several practices for listening to body's felt-sense)
Caring for Our Inner Child podcast audio mediation by Christopher Heuertz
Picture Books The Little Bird Who Found Herself by Edwin M McMahon
Listening to My Body by Gabi Garcia
God Made All of Me by Justin S. Holcomb and Lindsey A. Holcomb
I Feel Teal by Lauren Rille
God's Very Good Idea by Trillia Newbell Let's Talk About Body Boundaries, Consent and Respect by Jayneen Sanders
When God Made You by Matthew Paul Turner