Embracing Physical Worship

A couple weeks ago, we drove two hours north to the Abbey of St. Walburga. This beautiful Benedictine abbey is surrounded by the wild landscape that reminds me more of Wyoming than Colorado. On the way up, we listened to an NPR story about the nuns and a mountain lion was mentioned. From that point, Bea’s only goal was to spot a mountain lion “up close, not far away.”

The Abbey was celebrating its 80th birthday, so after Mass, we were treated to hamburgers and hotdogs and hayrides into the cloistered areas. After attempting to start a dance party up front, Bea and Frank spent Mass outside playing with the other kids, but I was seated in the front row, right next to the nuns.

Wet hayride
Wet hayride

Something I have always loved about attending Mass is its holistic nature. From feeling the hard tiles under my knees to the smells of incense and chimes of the bells, all my senses are engaged during the service. Singing in Latin, though I don’t understand the words, reminded me of a connection to the greater church across the world.

Even the architecture tells a story. The Abbey just completed a new guest wing modeled after Bernini’s colonnade at St. Peter’s Basilica in Vatican City – the arms of the church embracing the world. Growing up in an auditorium-like worship space, I love this physical embrace of the building as I walk in.

Arms of the Abbey embracing the world
Arms of the Abbey embracing the world

I just finished reading Tara Owens’ book, Embracing the Body. I had been a bit reluctant to pick it up, in spite of rave reviews. While I’m no stranger to insecurities around my body, I’ve never had real body issues. In high school I was always too tall and too thin, now I wonder if I’ll always be a bit squishy. But, my pragmatic self has always remembered that models are tall and thin and that mothers are meant to be soft and snuggly.

While Owens touches on the body issues that affect so many, her book is so much more. It’s about the way we’ve separated ourselves from the physical instead of remembering that our senses and desires are good. She spends time recognizing that, while paying attention to our intellectual and emotional spirituality is good, ignoring our physical spirituality means missing out on a large part of who God created us to be and how we can experience the world.

One of my favorite parts of the book is that Owens ends each chapter with a “Touch Point,” an activity to bring the intellectual reading of the chapter into physical practice. Some touch points are easily done, others require certain levels of vulnerability, both with my own body and with my community. I appreciate this practical aspect to her book – Owens realizes we live in a culture where embracing the physical does not come naturally and she helps the reader discover a level of comfort in the physical experience of God.

Between reading Embracing the Body and experience the physical worship up at St. Walburga, I am trying to be more aware of my physical space. In some ways, it’s easy to notice my body right now. We have about 5 weeks left in this pregnancy and a very active little girl is growing. There aren’t many moments when she doesn’t remind me that she’s here and part of this family! But, with another active kid, it’s easy for me to push aside my own physical needs or to even stop and notice the physical world right in our backyard.

In these next five weeks, as we nest and prepare for this new little girl, I’m trying to cut back on our schedule, on activities and on life in general. My go-to summer mode is relaxing in the hammock, so this season comes naturally, but this year I want to be more intentional. To stop and really feel the fabric of the hammock, to smell Bea’s chlorine-and-dirt filled hair (that quintessential kid-summer smell), to embrace the whir of the fan as I fall asleep. To really notice my physical world in ways that are easy to pass by.

How do you interact with your physical space? Does it come naturally or do you have to be intentional?

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6 thoughts on “Embracing Physical Worship

  1. This is so beautiful, Annie. I have a hard time taking the moments to experience and embrace the physical, especially in worship. I feel like I’m always in a hurry to go DO something. This is definitely something I will work on. Thanks for the share.

    1. Thanks, Shannon! Isn’t it funny that we live in such a physical world, but it seems to be the easiest part of worship to neglect… I’d highly recommend “Embracing the Body.”

  2. This is such a beautiful reflection Annie – thank you for writing it. I feel like so often in my church I am drawn out of the physical, and into the mental worship of God, and this book (especially with the touch points) really has led me to be more intentional in my ‘physical’ act or worship and meditation with the Lord. I love your last paragraph–I pray your words right back to you–may they lead you to a time of joy, reverent stillness and closeness with our Creator. Blessings! 🙂

    1. Ah, thank you for praying this back. I definitely embrace it! I’m still learning but I love that Tara has helped me acknowledge something I’m not used to.

  3. Annie, thanks for your reflections on the book. I tend to live life inside my head, so could definitely benefit from a more physical approach to appreciating God. Blessings!

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