Recently I’ve been pondering author Barbara Brown Taylor’s outlook on how our body’s condition affects our spiritual health. In her book An Altar in the World, she writes, “Whether you are sick or well, lovely or irregular, there comes a time when it is vitally important for your spiritual health to drop your clothes, look in the mirror, and say, ‘Here I am. This is the body-like-no-other that life has shaped. I live here. This is my soul’s address.’”
What I believe she’s saying is that our body’s condition matters a lot because it’s where our soul resides. And since our soul is where the Holy Spirit lives the most reasonable and wise thing for us to do is to care for it accordingly. I mean the sheer likelihood that any moment lived in our body can result in a life-altering encounter with the God who indwells it radically elevates our body’s significance.
To a church struggling to discover the boundaries and fullness of its life with God, Paul poses the fundamental question, “You realize, don’t you, that you are the temple of God, and God himself is present in you? (1 Corinthians 3:16 The Message) and for a church confronting issues of ethical behavior and the role of Christians in the world, Paul prays, “…may your spirit, soul, and body be kept healthy…” (1 Thessalonians 5:23 CEV).
Hoping for my spirit, soul, and body to be kept healthy, this morning I took a long walk in a forest. While sunbeams warmed my body, the memory of some of my previous encounters with God warmed my soul.
Like the time when…
- A friend said, “Fil, God loves you as you are, not as you should be, since you’ll never be the person you should be.”
- I encountered a child with Down’s Syndrome on a crowded beach and heard God say: “Fil, that little boy was a picture of my wild and reckless love for you. The way he looked into your eyes is the way I’ve always looked at you. That beaming smile is how you make me smile. His screaming with glee is how I feel about you. His tight embrace is like mine. The way he kissed you is a faint shadow of my affection. Fil, I’m crazy about you!”
- I watched my four-year-old son run toward me with his arms outstretched while squealing, “Him wants me! Yes! My Daddy wants me!”
- I shared a Boppin’Berry Sip-Up and the end-piece from a loaf of bread with my son when he was five after he’d said, “I wants to remember Jesus dying.”
- I encountered Jesus disguised as a homeless man and heard him ask: “Will you promise to always remember me?”
While wandering through the forest, recalling these divine encounters, I was struck by the fact that each one involved my body; this delicately designed and highly sensitive sacred sensory device that enables all five of my senses to detect the reality that God is with, in and for me. The experience left me overwhelmed by gladness that the spiritual life doesn’t just happen somewhere in my head; it occurs in the marvelous concreteness of my body.
Returning from the forest I borrowed the Psalmist’s words adopted them as my own:
“I thank you, High God—you’re breathtaking!
Body and soul, I am marvelously made!
I worship in adoration—what a creation!”
(Psalm 139:14 The Message)
Join the Conversation
What experiences have you had of encountering God physically?
How do you respond to the psalmist’s words: “Body and soul, I am marvelously made!”?
Fil Anderson is Executive Director of Journey Resources, based in Greensboro, North Carolina. He’s a frequent speaker at conferences, offers individual spiritual direction, and directs retreats and workshops around the country. He's the author of two books, Running on Empty: Contemplative Spirituality for Overachievers and Breaking the Rules: Trading Performance for Intimacy with God.