RESPONSE: JULY/AUGUST 2018 ISSUE

Our Entire Selves

Spiritual practices can help us be whole persons in Jesus Christ and create space for God in our lives.

Our Entire Selves
A healthy spirituality is not separate from our physical and mental health.

“Bring your entire self into the space,” the yoga instructor advised. As I sat on the foam mat, my legs straining to maintain their position crossed under my body, I tried to focus on what it meant to bring my “entire self” into the space. My body was aware of its inability to maintain that seated position for the duration of the meditation and my mind was going in a million directions—thinking about work, whether I turned off the stove that morning, what I would have for dinner that night. Bringing our entire self into a space, whether its during yoga, worship, at work or with our families can be difficult; our best intentions to be fully present is constantly at war with the demands of life.

In the 2018 spiritual growth study Embracing Wholeness: An Earth Perspective for Covenantal Living, author Jessica Stonecypher explores how we find opportunities to develop this kind of living through understanding, connecting and living with creation. Too often we seek to separate our spiritual selves from our physical and mental; while prayer and supplication may feed our spirits, we can abuse our bodies and minds through too much work, not enough sleep, improper diet, lack of exercise or simply not enjoying life.

Stonecypher reminds us that “a healthy spirituality is not separate from our physical and mental health. Instead, they are interwoven like a tapestry. When these three aspects of our selves are healthy and whole, they enable us to experience a full and healthy life with others in ministry to the world.” Embracing wholeness is a layered experience—tending to our spirit, body and mind is a trifecta of important care.

Permission to take care of yourself

As women in church and society, we are taught (subtly or outright) that our well-being is less important than and dependent on the well-being of others. How many of you have been instructed to love God first, others second and yourself last? While acts of selflessness are a natural part of being a good neighbor, and hedonistic selfishness will pull you away from God, God doesn’t call us to be in a constant state of sacrifice. And rest assured that no place in the Bible calls for such sacrifice—Jesus instructed us to love God and love our neighbors as ourselves, not more than ourselves.

The narrative of self-sacrifice is even greater for women of color whose burden to care for the well-being of others is both personal and systemic. Often left to care for the needs of the family without the interpersonal and systemic resources and support, black and brown women find themselves carrying a weight too great for anyone to bear. Writer and activist Audre Lorde understood this dynamic of self-care as a choice that is much more than taking a break to read a book or find time to engage in our favorite hobby. It is, in fact, equipping our whole selves to be prepared to face a world that makes it difficult to care for oneself.

“Caring for myself is not self-indulgence; it is self-preservation, and that is an act of political warfare,” she said. Black and brown women, faced with insurmountable fears of job insecurity, violence against our bodies at the hand of the State, deportation of loved ones, inadequate health care for ourselves and children add to the typical day-to-day stressors of life. Self-care, then, becomes a critical part of our ability to carry out the work of justice, and enlisting our sisters and allies to ensure this happens is a part of the deep relationship building that we as United Methodist Women members claim and crave.

Acknowledging the disparities between self-care and self-preservation is the first step in developing practices that seek to heal and restore our mind, body and spirit. When I need to recharge after a long day (or what feels like a month) of emotional and physical labor, I like to get into a quiet place with my favorite fuzzy socks and oversized sweatshirt and rest my body. I cut off the television, put down the cellphone and allow my body to be still. Sometimes these moments of self-care require a long walk down my New York City block, giving special attention to nature.

Spiritual practices

Here are some common spiritual practices that can be layered with body and mind exercises to get us toward wholeness:

  • During your early morning or late-night prayers, consider standing and perform gentle body stretches while reciting your prayers. Or, if mobility is an issue, sit in a chair or on the side of your bed and lift your hands toward the ceiling. Moving our bodies while praying engages not only our spirits but our divine bodies.
  • Meditation is the process of slowing down our mind and body to bring focus to our overall being. Meditation can heighten our senses to the world around us and help us be more attuned to God’s voice. Both Joshua 1:8 and Psalm 1:2 encourage us to meditate on the Word of God day and night! Meditation helps us train our minds to quiet the noise and focus on those things that are good and just. You can meditate on a pleasant image, a word like “love” or “peace,” or a Scripture. When your mind gets noisy, focus your attention back to that image, word or Scripture until you find your focus. You can do this exercise anywhere, any time of day!
  • Music can be a great mood booster! Research shows that music not only has positive impact on our mind but is sure to get our bodies moving. Just like David danced before the Lord, we too can connect our spirit, mind and body all at once when we incorporate our favorite music into our day.

For those looking for some resources on self-care, here are a few of my favorites: Self Care Matters: A Revolutionary’s Approach by Anana Johari Harris Parris, Too Heavy a Yoke: Black Women and the Burden of Strength by Chanequa Walker-Barnes, and Start Where You Are: A Journal for Self-Exploration by Meera Lee Patel.

Bringing together all parts of our being is essential to our wellness and wholeness. And just like it takes time to build up our spiritual being, it takes time to nurture our body and mind as well! I still have not mastered the seated yoga position yet, but with patience for my body, keen attention to my mind and some help from Jesus, I know I will learn how to embrace wholeness.


Alisha Gordon is United Methodist Women executive for spiritual growth.

 

Posted or updated: 7/9/2018 12:00:00 AM
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