Encouragement From The Word

A theology of place

When I was co-leading a pilgrimage in Israel recently, we visited the place along the Jordan River where Jesus was baptized.  It’s in a narrow spot in the river, with perhaps 7 or 8 metres separating the shores of Israel and Jordan.  Both sides have infrastructure set up for pilgrims who visit the site.

Numbers of these pilgrims choose to be baptized (or, in some cases, re-baptized) in the spot where Jesus was baptized.  Being nearly all people of the Reformed faith whose faith is vibrant and whose first baptism ‘took’, none of our group opted for rebaptism.  (It was just as well, since the water was about the colour of chocolate milk!)

I suppose that for some, the place is significant, and they want to celebrate their faith in that place.  Yet while I think there can be great inspiration by being in a place of biblical or historical significance, there is no inherent holiness about it.

Now, to the Jews, it’s another story; when we visited the Western Wall of the second temple in Jerusalem, Jewish pilgrims (even on a quiet day) were flocking to the wall to pray, because, though the temple was destroyed in AD 70, the wall is closest to what would have been the Holy of Holies when the temple still stood. Faithful Jews today believe that the glory of the Lord resides within that wall.

But Christians do not believe that God resides in any one place.  Indeed, we believe God resides in the whole world, and in the human heart, by the power of the Holy Spirit.  So you need not be concerned that you can’t sense God’s presence because you’re not at a particular site or in a particular building; by faith, he is with you wherever you go.

However, the Most High doesn’t live in temples made by human hands. As the prophet says,

‘Heaven is my throne,
    and the earth is my footstool.
Could you build me a temple as good as that?’
    asks the Lord.
‘Could you build me such a resting place?

Didn’t my hands make both heaven and earth?’” (Acts 7.48-50 [NLT], citing Isaiah 66.1-2)

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Encouragement From The Word

Your body, God’s temple

North Americans are woefully ashamed of their bodies.  I could cite hundreds of examples, thanks to the Internet, that prove our obsession with being frustrated with our bodies.

As a fat guy, I understand this at least as well as anybody else does; whether for health reasons or for aesthetic reasons, most of us wish we could be thinner.  Or taller.  Or hairier.  Or less hairy.  Or able to grow longer fingernails.  Or be smaller of nose.

You get the idea.

Few of us (save perhaps the naturist community) really understand that the body is a good gift of God.   When God made our first ancestors, he said that, as part of his creation, they were “very good” (Genesis 1.31).  The Psalmist extols God who “knit me together in my mother’s womb” (Psalm 139.13).

North American society has taken this wonderful gift and offered it to idols – idols that exemplify unrealistic and unhealthy images of the human body, idols that glorify the misuse of sex, idols that work to cause healthy adolescent women to believe they are fat, or cause men to believe they lack what it takes to satisfy their wives.  And it’s all very sad.

God has given us our bodies as integral parts of our being.  As C.S. Lewis famously quipped, we are souls and we have bodies, rather than the reverse; but our bodies were made for God’s glory, too.

Our bodies involve spiritual practices:  caring for our bodies, listening to our bodies, praying in our bodies.  These are ideas that Ruth Haley Barton shares in her book, Sacred Rhythms.  Caring for our bodies is a spiritual discipline.  Caring for our bodies includes listening to our bodies, which are always the first to be able to tell us when we are experiencing stress or trauma or any other difficulty.  And our bodies are used even in prayer.

Too often, we think that there is only one posture for prayer, depending on our denominational or cultural tradition:  whether it’s head-bowed-eyes-closed-hands-clasped, or kneeling, or standing with arms extended, or falling prostrate – or any other physical position – we might have our own preferred posture, but God gave us a body that can be used in a variety of ways in prayer.

Try this:  next time you set aside time for private prayer, choose a different position.  If you’re used to sitting with your hands folded, extend your arms; if you’re used to kneeling, stand with your face lifted toward heaven.  And so on.  Try something different, and see if God speaks to you more clearly, or in a different way, through your prayer time.

The apostle Paul wrote to the church in Corinth, “Don’t you realize that your body is the temple of the Holy Spirit, who lives in you and was given to you by God?” (1 Corinthians 6.19a, NLT).  Many people talk about the body as a temple, but in a lot of cases, they’re thinking the body is to be worshipped.  But a temple is not something that is worshipped, but something that is used for worship.  We worship the Lord in our bodies, with our bodies.

Your body is a very good gift of God.  Care for it.  Listen to it.  Pray with it.