Spiritual Formation and the Body

Photo by Delia Giandeini on Unsplash

In short, the dominant narrative about our bodies is that they have nothing to do with our spiritual lives except hinder us in our spiritual formation. In truth, our bodies are an essential and indispensable aspect of our spiritual formation. Everything we do in the spiritual life (pray, love, serve, study, worship) involves our bodies. Yet there is very little teaching in our churches about the role and significance and sacredness of our bodies in spiritual formation. The body is seen as a source of sin or shame, or an obstacle to growth. Seeing our bodies–our good and beautiful bodies–as sacred instruments is essential if we are to live a vibrant life and have wellness in our embodied souls.

James Bryan Smith, The Good and Beautiful You: Discovering the Person Jesus Created You to Be [affiliate link], p. 33-34

This neglect of the body is a byproduct of our bent toward dualism and reflects the way many think of the relationship between what are distinct yet united dimensions of the human person.

My conviction is that we are embodied souls, or ensouled bodies. Our spirit may go on to dwell to with God in paradise at the moment of physical death, but our eternal home is not there. God will renew all things, in heaven and on earth. And as part of this renewal, we will receive a glorious body that is like Christ’s, at the resurrection.

In Philippians 3:20-21, Paul writes, “But our citizenship is in heaven. And we eagerly await a Savior from there, the Lord Jesus Christ, who, by the power that enables him to bring everything under his control, will transform our lowly bodies so that they will be like his glorious body,” a transformation Paul further describes in 1 Corinthians 15.

Smith is right. In the interim, while we wait, the body deserves greater consideration. The body, after all, is a gift from God. It is the means by which we think, and feel, and act. It is the vessel used for divine service, when the body is stewarded well.

When we praise God, we use the mind, the tongue, the vocal chords. The words we speak reveal not only our capacity for thought or our aptitude for speech, but also the state of the soul.

Disciplining the body can have an effect on the inward disposition of our souls. And seeking God at the level of soul can change our desires, and how we act upon those desires–or not–with our bodies.

What would it be like to engage in a service activity and pay attention to the body? Our hands, feet, eyes, ears, the smells we smell, the emotions we feel, and how we are affected? What would we learn about God, about ourselves, and about our calling to love our neighbor as ourselves?

What principles would we learn that could carry over into other areas of discipleship?

How would a church choose to approach the discipleship of the body? What would it look like to engage this idea as a small fellowship? What practices would be essential, and how would we speak of these practices biblically and theologically?