By Rev. Jenny Sung
There are no words for so much of what our bodies experience and hold. We just haul it around in our sinew and bones hoping eventually we will be able to shake it off without tending to it or even acknowledging its existence. Beloved Church, when has that ever worked? I do not think anyone is capable of shaking off this past year.
Will our jaws ever unclench? How many times did we hold our breath or have it taken away? Recently, I learned I breathe in such a way that allows just enough air in, and just enough air out, so I don’t die. Faith can feel like that sometimes. Some days serving a congregation with over 10,000 members can feel like that. Just this past month we buried and celebrated the life of 22 of our members. HOW DO WE PRAY WHEN THERE ARE NO WORDS FOR SUCH LOSS?
Our bodies carry endless stories, some beautiful and others heart-wrenching. Our flesh and blood is a physical representation of the both/and. Nestled inside these stories and cells is a space where we have never been wounded, never been hurt, where there is still a sureness. There is still a holy space where the power that raised the crucified Christ lives and dwells in and among us. How often do we tend to that space or allow it to have voice?
Before I became a pastor, I was a professional modern dancer. I began dancing as a child and grew up learning the language of movement and bodies, yet I catch myself acting like my body, mind and heart can be kept separate. I gave up coffee one year for Lent and learned I treat my body like a machine. I fuel it so it will do more and be faster. When it malfunctions, I betray it with unkind words and figure out how I can get it back up and running, so I can do more and be more. Thankfully, I ran into a woman who was wiser than me who said, “For Christ’s sake, GET OFF THE CROSS BABY, WE NEED THE WOOD. The church no longer needs your body to be sacrificed on the altar of righteousness.”
Tending the holy temple of your body:
I invite you to recognize that your body is a holy place where the sacred dwells, so treat it like someone you love. Here are some places to start:
- KNOW: Wake up in the morning knowing anything you accomplish is icing on the cake because you are already beloved.
- BREATHE: Set an alarm on your phone or watch to do a body scan and breath check. Our minds may lie to us, yet our breath never does. Take a moment to literally catch your breath.
- SLOW DOWN: Breathe before you make that hard decision. Take a holy pause when you receive critical feedback that encourages your defensiveness. You do not need to respond in the moment. You have permission to give yourself time to process. Many of us are constantly in fight, flight or freeze mode. Give yourself permission to breathe yourself into a fuller, more loving narrative. Move from your primitive brain into the frontal lobe cortex where you can actually process and think logically.
- FEED: What would feed your soul today? Your spirit? Your body? Ask yourself and see what answer emerges. Is it prayer, taking time to make a favorite home-cooked meal or the ritual of pouring a cup of tea? What would feed you today? Lean into that.
- REST: We can either choose when to rest or our bodies can choose for us. This moment has asked so much of our bodies. The amount of cortisol in our blood right now has us constantly ready to pounce, move or fight. The body’s response to this much cortisol in the blood is to crash, to shut down into depression. Our bodies cannot maintain that frantic space for too long. Therefore, its way of helping us—protecting us—is to shut us down. Instead of frustration, how could we meet ourselves with compassion in those moments?
- MOVE: Instead of cursing your body for betraying you, maybe try leaning into your body. Take a breath…take another one. In fact take a moment, stop reading and just breathe. What is your breath trying to tell you? Do you hear that? Can you feel it? Your body is trying to communicate with you. Take a holy pause and listen.
The body was created to worship and pray without words
We all have different levels of comfort with our bodies and no amount of shame will change that. Meet your body—where it is in time and space—what is it telling you? Will you listen? Will you follow through? What does it cost you to listen to that knowing? When we are infants, we are very aware of when we are hungry, thirsty, tired or playful. As we grow older, we ignore those signs and in turn reduce ourselves to mere products. We are fed the message that we are only as good as what we produce; yet how can we share a different narrative as Christ-followers and holders of things divine and beautiful?
- Where in worship can you allow a holy pause, a moment when we allow the congregation to breathe?
- Before the invocation is a good place to plant a holy pause to transition “from all of the places you have traveled to this place, to pause and worship… Let us rise and worship in the name of…”
- At the end of a sermon is another great place to create a moment for the congregation to close their eyes if they feel comfortable, and ask questions to take them deeper… “What’s one thing you’re taking from this time?”
- In the “Prayers of the People” we may give a space of silence and reflection to offer up the prayers in our hearts that have no words.
- Finally, I always invite the last song to be considered a dance song. All ages should feel free to move and worship. For some, this will mean neatly folding their hands and mouthing the words. For others, it will mean arms raised and tears… and all are welcome. Because truly worship is about holding space for holy beings, gathering in spirit and heart to worship God. How can we give freedom to our whole selves to do that in all the different ways we feel called?
Speed of the leader, speed of the pack
As adrienne maree brown tells us, we move at the speed of trust. When church leaders build trust in ourselves, in our own bodies, we live into the truth of our belovedness and model that for others. I know in our beings we care very deeply for people’s wellness and bodies. But until we start taking care of ours… it is just dust in the wind.
About the Author
Rev. Jenny Sung serves at St. Andrews Lutheran Church in Mahtomedi as Pastor of Outreach and Missions. In her spare time, Rev. Sung enjoys going on outdoor adventures with her husband Carl Torgerson and their dog Leo. Rev. Sung is the founder and co-director of One Dance Company in St. Paul. She has been preaching without words for over 30 years through the art of dance and is grateful God has called her to use her voice and show up in the community and the Church that happens outside the building.
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Hybrid Ministry in a Post-Pandemic Church
Understanding, Exploring, & Managing Bias and Burnout
Mere Science and Christian Faith
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