A couple months ago I wrote a post about the importance our bodies in spiritual formation. I’m coming back to the same topic because I just can’t get it out of my mind (and my body!). What Your Body Knows about God (Rob Moll …If you are interested in more on the body and its impact on formation I strongly encourage you to read it) is also at work in my reflections on the body. As I have read it (and pay attention to my own experience) I am more and more convinced that our bodies REALLY influence the trajectory of Christian transformation.
For example, spiritual disciplines are “activities within our power which bring us to a point we can do what at present we cannot do by direct effort” (Dallas Willard). Disciplines shape us so that we become the kind of people and do the kinds of things that Jesus wants of us. They change our being through our doing. Habits of the body shape habits of the heart. Grow in love, patience, hope, goodness and the like involve disciplined actions of our bodies. If I want to develop a kind heart I need to practice regular acts of kindness.
Neurologists tells us that what most fundamentally drives us is not directly accessible to us (no matter how solid our thoughts or determined our volition). Our instinctive feelings and emotions matter far more than rational ideas. This is not to say our frontal lobes aren’t important in regulating emotions and actions. Thank God we can reflect on and reverse a course of action that will get us in trouble. But Christian transformation will need the help of emotions that are sensitive to what is true, good and beautiful (from God’s perspective).
And that is where the body comes in. Emotions are body states. Spiritual disciplines that involve our bodies shape the emotional (instinctive) reactions we are likely to have. Any time we can instinctively follow God we will be in better shape than relying only on the executive, cognitive center to make us follow God. Rather than needing to choose them we can become people who desire them.
As any top athlete or musician will tell us, training the body to instinctive do at the highest level takes time. But a great game or great music requires people who have disciplined their bodies so that they can do something great. As Christians we cannot overlook the importance of our bodies in play the game/music of being loved and loving God, others, and ourselves.