Embodied Discipleship

imageI’m currently working carefully through James A. K. Smith’s Cultural Liturgies series (2 volumes – Desiring the Kingdom: Worship, Worldview, and Cultural Formation (Cultural Liturgies)and Imagining the Kingdom: How Worship Works (Cultural Liturgies)as part of a small project I’m doing on Lament. The paper is a reflection on the importance of practicing Lament in discipleship. While I’m still finding the thesis, my concern in the paper is the story of our bodies. The way in which our bodies have a story which is for most beyond our consciousness. Our bodies have damage from harm done. It is my contention that the neglected practice of Lament, which makes up 40% of the Psalter’s contents, is a pathway to Gospel living.

Smith’s philosophical anthropology which undergirds his cultural project with its emphasis on the body is revolutionary, although not new. The anthropology moves beyond a reductionistic understanding of person as either cognitive or belief-oriented to a holistic bodily understanding of person. I’ll be sharing key quotes along the way. I encourage you, especially if you are a pastor to weighed through Smith’s works. While the are challenging reading – not toilet reading if you know what I mean – they will no doubt make you rethink the way you are approaching discipleship and formation.

We feel our way around our world more than we think our way through it. Our worldview is more a matter of the imagination than the intellect, and the imagination runs off the fuel of images that are channeled by the senses. So our affective, noncognitive disposition is an aspect of our animal, bodily nature. The result is a much more holistic (and less dualistic) picture of human persons as essentially embodied. Hence, it should be no surprise that the way to our hearts is our stomach; or, if not specifically our stomachs, the way to our hearts is through our bodies (57)

Discipleship and formation are less about erecting an edifice of Christian knowledge than they are a matter of developing a Christian know-how that intuitively “understands” the world in the light of the fullness of the gospel. And insofar as an understanding is implicit in practice, the practices of Christian worship are crucial—the sine qua non—for developing a distinctly Christian understanding of the world. The practices of Christian worship are the analogue of biking around the neighborhood, absorbing an understanding of our environment that is precognitive and becomes inscribed in our adaptive unconscious (68)

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  • That’s an interesting take, on the lament, Joel. Will be interested to see how your project progresses.
    Over recent months, I’ve been approaching the lament as a justice request. If things were not working as they should in the ancient world, one could draw the issue to the attention of the sovereign, with the request for justice to be done (or for rescue from injustice). Both individual and corporate complaints typically conclude with a vow of praise that affirms the honor of the sovereign even in the face of the complaint. From this perspective, “complaint” probably captures the intent better than “lament.”
    Your perception of holistic bodily awareness is still relevant, of course. Just suggesting another angle.