The following is a transcript of a Raised Catholic Podcast episode. To listen to the episode, click here.
Today is episode 85: Contemplative Summer Week Seven – Contemplating the Body
Hi friends, as I explained in detail before a break way back in episode 78, I’m taking this summer to focus on contemplation with a variety of methods and focuses, and each week this summer I’ll model a different kind of contemplative prayer for you. This week, we’re contemplating God by considering one of the most complex of the things that God created: the human body.
If you were born and raised Catholic, it’s possible you were taught that your body was not only not your true self, but also that it was your enemy. All those scriptures about controlling and even crucifying the flesh could have led us to believe that our bodies are maybe a sort of prison for our souls or in fact they are our soul’s adversary, all the while missing the fact that our bodies were created and given to us from God. They’re incredibly complex creations that carry us around and provide the means to help us enjoy and navigate through this life. Jesus who is God actually took on flesh – his body was sacred and anointed, and because we’re connected to him, our body is sacred too. And lest we misunderstand that word ‘flesh’ as used in the Bible – it’s not a synonym for the body as many preach today, but rather, the word describes our base instincts and earthly nature and that includes, according to Paul’s letter to the Colossians, “evil desires and greed, which is idolatry.” So, ‘crucifying the flesh’ means to intentionally put an end to our sinful nature. When it comes to our bodies, though, we’re to care for them as sacred, as gift, and our body can even be our teacher.
But we Christians aren’t the only ones who preach disdain for the body. There is a traditional Buddhist meditation whose title is translated as ‘reflections on repulsiveness’. This contemplates thirty-one specific parts or areas of the body one at a time in order to overcome or defeat each one. And there is another set of kind of creepy meditations called Cemetery Contemplations whose goal similarly is detachment from the body, but if you’re squeamish I would not recommend googling that one. And though I understand the inclination to work through acceptance of the inevitable separation from our bodies in a spiritual sense, it does seem to me that a holistic view of our bodies as a gift rather than as an enemy might be a more fruitful path all around.
I’ve been thinking about the body this week as I’m finishing up some rehab of my super tight and clicking left hip so I can return to running. I hadn’t run a step until about nine years ago, and I was shocked, really, to find a love for it, a space where I could process emotions, commune with God, and observe with wonder just how the body transforms and strengthens over time and care, speck by speck.
I had learned similar lessons from years of practicing yoga, the way the body wants to restore itself, to heal and to stretch, and to become a healthy home for us as a good partner and friend. As I’ve come back slowly from this hip injury, I’ve been contemplating the incredibly complex systems of the body and what they might be telling us about God who created it.
So this week, whether you contemplate a major system of the body, like the skeletal, nervous, cardiovascular, digestive, or reproductive system, or a major process of the body, like metabolism, movement, growth, and respiration, or the incredible way our cells know what parts to become as they grow, how our brain and body work to store and deal with our emotions, or just how it all miraculously works together without direction from us, intentional focus on the body is a great route toward contemplation of our very wise and very big God.
This week, I’m contemplating my left hip and the process it’s taken me to return to using my body in one particular way that I love, running.
Before COVID, I had completed a half marathon and was regularly running three times a week up to 10K each time I went out, but just before everything shut down in 2020, I fell while running on some wet leaves and I hit my head. In the months that followed, my yoga studio had closed due to the pandemic, and while I tried to practice at home, I was not consistent. In addition, I had shifted away from running to walking in order to avoid the potential of another fall and hospital visit during that precarious time. So, to all of this my body responded as you might imagine; over time I lost strength and flexibility, and when I did return to running, these deficits pretty quickly resulted in a hip injury. All things are connected after all, friend. So, I rested it, stretched it, and finally went to an orthopedist and weeks of physical therapy. This week I began a ‘return to run’ program and ran my first few steps in so very long.
As I have contemplated my body’s injury and response through the lens of God’s care and providence at each step along the way, I have learned a few things that I’d love to share with you. And as you contemplate a system or component of your body this week, I’d encourage you to see how God is working within you, too.
One thing that God has shown me through this injury is how the systems of the body are truly connected, and further, how the body and spirit are connected, too. In my case, a weak core led to a tight hip which impacted the knee on that side and on and on. Knowing how it’s all connected helps it all to heal, just as an awareness about how we are all attachedwithin the Body of Christ and rely on each other would really serve us at this time, too, don’t you think? Because like the systems of the body, we’re all designed by our Creator to work together. In the same way, spirit and body – these aren’t enemies either. My spirit has led me to seek and find ways to heal my body in this time, and my body is doing its best to heal so I can return to this thing that is so good for my spirit. Working together is not only the best way to heal, but in a larger sense, it’s probably the only way.
In this time, I’ve learned a big dose of patience and acceptance – these often seem like the two major lessons of my life, honestly, and an injury or illness will often be a conduit for God to help us grow in this way. As I return to running so slowly, I find I am trusting the process in a way that surprises even me. I have experience with beginning a running program from the literal couch to a 5k, 10k and half marathon, so I know now to trust the pacing and consistency of a return program as well. The metaphor here for this kind of trust as it relates to our spiritual lives cannot be overstated – you and I can continue on, moving forward in making small and slow and consistent bits of progress as we grow stronger in our faith because we know where we’ll end up. If we know God as a friend, we can know where we’re headed in our lives of faith and we can trust him along the way.
Finally, it took me way too long to seek professional help for this injury. I thought I could rest a bit and then get right back to it. This was pride, and it was silly because there is so much knowledge and expertise out there that I just do not have. Not opening myself up to it was hubris, and really, a waste of time. I needed help from a community of people who knew more than me. In a spiritual sense, too, we can often feel like we can do it all on our own but then find ourselves going nowhere. Putting ourselves in the hands of God who knows everything and who can direct resources and people and put us on a path or community that we could not find ourselves, is the smart move and, friend, the quicker the better. Waiting only prolongs our suffering.
The road to returning to running for me has required stretching, strength building, some activities that are really truly uncomfortable, plus a large commitment of time, trust, and consistency in the small exercises that don’t seem like they could possibly be fruitful in the moment but which over time, are. I can’t believe the impact of the small repetitive motions to take away what had become chronic pain and lead to more flexibility and even joy. And I wonder if any of that resonates for you today, friend? What is one small thing that you could do in your physical or spiritual life that could, over time, bring needed flexibility or strength and lead to an outcome that brings you more joy and peace? I invite you to contemplate on that idea, and even if it seems a little scary at first, to give it a try.
Well, that was a bit of my experience with contemplating God this week, and, friend, I truly hope that you will have your own with whatever system or movement of the body you choose. If you’d like to share your experience with me or if you need me for anything, you can always find me on Instagram @kerrycampbellwrites or on my blog at mylittleepiphanies.com. If you’d like to support this podcast financially, there’s a way for you to do that in the show notes, along with links related to the practices I touched on this week, so do check all of that out, but before we go, let’s pray together.
In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, amen.
God, in this time that is so challenging for so many of us, help us to remember that we have personal access to you, because of your unwavering and selfless love for us. Help each one listening in their experience of contemplation this week – may each one, with courage and with your grace walk through a good door toward a deeper understanding of you in this time. I pray that as we contemplate you through the incredible gift of our bodies, that we’ll uncover some attribute of you that we might not have known before, and that we’ll experience you anew in a way that you’ve made in love just for us.
In the name of Jesus we pray, amen.
Well thanks so much for listening today, friend, and I’ll see you next time.
As we explore a variety of methods of contemplative prayer this summer, week seven is all about the body. As you choose a system or movement of the body to contemplate this week, I pray that you will have a fruitful encounter with God who is crazy about you.
If you’d like to connect with me, find me on Instagram or on my blog. If you’d like to help support this podcast financially, there’s now a way to do just that, and thank you – visit me on my page at buymeacoffee.com! Thanks as always for sharing, subscribing, rating, and reviewing, as this helps our community to grow!
Here are some resources I hope will help you to engage with this week’s topic in a deeper way for yourself:
1. Article: What Does it Mean to Crucify the Flesh, by gotquestions.org
2. Book: The Body Keeps the Score: Brain, Mind and Body in the Healing of Trauma, by Bessel A. van der Kolk
3. Article: Body and Spirit As One, by Fr. Richard Rohr for Center for Action and Contemplation
4. Cover: I Hope You Dance, by Chris Stapleton
5. Video: 7 Minute Body Scan from The Mindful Christian
For by the grace given me I say to every one of you: Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought, but rather think of yourself with sober judgment, in accordance with the faith God has distributed to each of you. For just as each of us has one body with many members, and these members do not all have the same function, so in Christ we, though many, form one body, and each member belongs to all the others. We have different gifts, according to the grace given to each of us. If your gift is prophesying, then prophesy in accordance with your faith; if it is serving, then serve; if it is teaching, then teach; if it is to encourage, then give encouragement; if it is giving, then give generously; if it is to lead, do it diligently; if it is to show mercy, do it cheerfully.