The Role of the Body in Prayer

"Geometry in a stained glass window"  Cathedral of Learning Photo by Pamela Crane
“Geometry in a stained glass window”
Cathedral of Learning
Photo by Pamela Crane

It’s midterm time, so I have no original words to write. So I offer some wise words from Fr. Tom Ryan:

A sound holistic spirituality recognizes the importance of proper and disciplined care for the body and its needs while cultivating union with God. In Christian understanding, we are rooted in our bodies. At birth, in our work and play, in our eating and love-making, in our living and dying, it is not simply that we have bodies, but that we are bodies.

In spite of all these reference points in Christian faith, little positive attention has been given to the role of the body in prayer in the Western world. The irony is that the Eastern religions–which embrace either reincarnation (Hinduism) or karmic rebirth (Buddhism)–emphasize the enduring nature of the imperishable soul (Hinduism) or surviving karmic energy (Buddhism), but offer no salvation to the body; and yet they ascribe an important place to the body in their spiritual practices. Yoga, tai chi, aikido, breathing exercises, and walking meditation all come from Eastern religions. 

Christians, on the other hand, with their high theological evaluation of the body, have little to offer by way of spiritual practices that work with and through the body. So it should come as no surprise that in this new era, when Westerners and Easterners are finding themselves living and working together and sharing notes with one another on the spiritual journey, that Christians would be learning from followers of Eastern religions and translating their own theological convictions into practice. 

Ryan, Thomas. “Toward a Positive Spirituality of the Body.” Reclaiming the Body in Christian Spirituality. Ed. Thomas Ryan. New York: Paulist Press, 2004. 39-40.

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