Posted in Essay, Spiritual Practice, Terri Stewart

Sacred Space in our Bodies

I am going to resurrect and modify a presentation I did a few years ago with Terra Morgan, Bjorn Peterson, and Denise Ritthaler. In this presentation, we develop the case for a theology of Liberation of the Body. Although we use references, occasionally, from Christianity, the topics transcend that particularity. And unfortunately, this dialogue has framed much of western culture’s understanding of our bodies.

This will be a four part series looking at:

  1. The case for a Liberation of the Body & Liberation of our sexual being
  2. Liberation of women and particularly body image
  3. Liberation of elder bodies
  4. Liberation of men

(Note: This already is too gendered and separated! But it is the beginning of our thoughts on the topic).

And we just barely touch the iceberg!

Why do I consider this sacred space? I consider that we are in relationship with three things:

  1. us and bodies
  2. us and the world
  3. us and the divine

If we are not at peace with our bodies, our own selves, our angst and anger will spill into our treatment of the world and into our understanding of the divine. If we believe the Divine is within, and within us we hurt ourselves, then the Divine is also hurt. If we believe the Divine is outside of us, and has caused this, the Divine becomes capable of vengeance and capricious pain. Either way, it seems a difficult place to hold. Throw in the world and how we use it, and we are done for. So in an effort to move into peacefulness within ourselves and then in relationship with the world, let us consider our bodies as sacred space worth liberating.

Additionally, since nobody has really written “Let’s liberate our bodies!” what you will experience may be music, images, factual stuff, poetry…it’s all fair game!

Do you want the geeky stuff? Here it is!

The Theological Problem: Liberation of the Body

by Terri Stewart, Denise Ritthaler, Terra Morgan, and Bjorn Peterson

We are talking about liberating the body in a variety of forms. It is a theological problem that has developed from Platonism which brings us the realm of forms and particulars. In forms we have transcendence, the soul, and reason. This is the optimal way of being in the world. In the particulars, we have our senses, opinions, and our body. This is not the preferred way of being in the world. Separating ourselves into dualistic (tri-istic?) bits ignores that we are one integrated body and only one way to experience our senses.

Platonism impacts Christianity through an interpretation of Jesus’ ascetic personal practices. Then Paul, who was Greek and had a greater influence from Platonic sources, brought a more extreme sexual ethic into his writings.

Then, through the source of tradition, we then have Augustine who tells us that the body is sinful and that the soul and reason are to be preferred. This places God as “out there.” Away from the body because clearly, God is not sinful, therefore, even though the Divine is incarnational, the Divine has nothing to do with the body.

Maya Rivera, theologian, says, “This privileges “sameness over difference, of the One over the multiplicity, of the universal over the particular…in such systems there is no place for real otherness. Totalities reduce persons to categories.” (Rivera, 57)

However, Neale Donald Walsh reminds us of the inseparability.

“Your mind holds the past,
your body holds the present,
your soul holds the future.
Put another way,
the mind analyzes and remembers, Slide5
the body experiences and feels,
the soul observes and knows.”

So who are we really?

We are the body of the Divine participating in one diverse reality that would cast us all as other.

And who is the Divine?

Slide6God is love in the recognition that we and all of creation exist together and yet the Divine is so much more. The source, the center, the spring of existence. The Divine is other, existence is other, and we are other to ourselves. And yet, we are all each an incarnational part of Love’s cosmic creation.

This approach to liberation of the body is through a demonstration of what it means for humans as sexual beings, humans as women and their body image, humans as the elder body, and humans as men. (Note: I would also consider that this is entirely too gendered, but it is a starting point.)

Liberation of the Sexual Body

We are all sexual beings. Whether or not we have sex, we are sexual beings. In Western culture (and many others around the world), our sexuality is frowned upon. The appreciation for eros is limited. In ancient Greek, we have three words for love – agapos, philos, and eros. Each one describing a different aspect of love. Eros is believed to be that type of love that is the seat of creativity. In sexuality, we see this as the drive to have children – create! Some scholars believe that eros is the seat of all our creative desires. But our religious authorities rarely express this. This is because of a theological battle endured 1600+ years ago between Augustine and Pelagius.

Slide9If we had only chosen Pelagius! But the foundation is there to have a theology based in free-will and the idea that we are indeed born in a state of being good rather than in a state of being a worm. And it was good! Very, very good!

created by Terri Stewart
graphic created by Terri Stewart

The Unity Church developed a philosophy of “The 12 Powers.” Spiritual abilities that we are perfectly able to express and that are present in every person. These powers hold that the body is good, very very good! This connects very nicely to the Chakras as described in so many ways and visualized to the right.

But through it all, from the beginning to now, the body, mind, and spirit has been connected to our bodies. Pelagius knew that and we can see it. And our creative, generative bodies can also experience being liberated through the concept of liberating our own bodies to give and receive love. We are created, we create. That is the Divine circle of our eros bodies.

One way to experience a liberated body grounded in eros-creativity is through music and movement. I encourage you to listen to the below, simple music and to move your body however you will–without shame or reservation. Reach an arm to the sky! Roll your head from side-to-side! Sway! Thou shalt do what thou shalt do! And this is the end of part 1, laying the groundwork for a Liberation of the Body and using cultural items to show that we are already liberated! Let’s claim our sexual, eros selves as liberated beings.

How would you write your eros liberation?

Pour Yourself In Me ~Rickie Byers Beckwith

A Unity Church Artist

Shalom and Amen!

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Author:

I am a monk disguised as a passionate prophet. My true loves are God, family, and the creative arts. And maybe just a little bit of politics too. (PS My photo is by Eric Lyons Photography).

13 thoughts on “Sacred Space in our Bodies

  1. I cannot tell you how much I have enjoyed this! Wow! I am looking forward to more (Yes, I know that it is written – but oh so little time and I am behind). This is truly wonderful and I am sure that it plays into the spiritual personalities of many here. It also makes me smile as I review my own spiritual life. I bookmarked The 12 Powers – for later. Thank you so much!

    Like

  2. Terri, this is rich. Rich! … and I look forward to the posts to follow. John is right. It is refreshingly honest, open … and sensible. Yes! If only we had chosen Pelagius!

    Bravo!

    Like

  3. As you may guess, I was very much inducted into the Augustinian point of view. This is such a valuable and thought-provoking post, Terri. I need to bookmark it so as to review the bibliography. Looking forward to the series, Terri…especially the one for us elders! John, you add wise insights, too.

    Like

    1. Most of us were raised in the Augustinian p.o.v. whether or not we were raised “Christian” just because of the sheer influence that has put on typical western society!

      Thanks!

      Like

  4. This is a fascinating read, Terri. Given your own belief, it is refreshingly balanced and open minded, but to call it geeky is to play down the importance for every one of us to commit to greater and higher thinking on the subject of the human condition, its relation to our wordily realities and our abilities, as individuals, to deal with those realities. Digging into the fundamental philosophies of Plato and that classical era of some of the earliest recorded writings ion the subject, brings to mind my own tendency to muse often about the state of humanity from the perspective of the realities it faces as contrasted with its attempts to understand itself and how it should behave, or even how we should behave as individuals. I believe that taking responsibility for our actions as well as our thoughts is the first step to enlightenment.

    In this respect, I take the basics of the theological battle between Pelagius and Augustine, as being a measure of our abilities to move on. I feel Pelagius would win the day, but only if every single human being could be born and raised with that optimistic outlook and a collective conscience that we are fundamentally good, so essential to our wellbeing, and an ability to ‘grow in maturity and take responsibility’. Sadly, this is not an ideal world, but education can open minds, however well disposed those minds are to learning and thinking for themselves. It is essential that we keep trying, which is, I guess, exactly what you are doing here.

    Well, done, M’am. I am looking forward to the next part of this presentation.

    Like

    1. Thank you! Sometimes, there are elements of what we say behind the walls of academia that I wish we could bring outside. And this is one of them! I’ve been pondering bringing it here for quite a while. It takes a bit of adapting, but lo! It is done.

      I appreciate your comment regarding geekiness. I should not disparage my own and others that way.

      I have been thinking a lot this week about human relationships with others. It was brought on by the shooting, I suppose. And reading history. Sigh.

      Like

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