Body-Words of Love

Valentine's Day is that highly commercialized holiday of chocolates, flowers, and Hallmark cards. In many ways it has become another way to mark how inadequate we feel about ourselves if we are without a partner, or about our relationships and how to express love if we are partnered.

February 14th does offer us another invitation, however—            to consider the call to become "body-words of love." I understand this invitation as beginning with myself and then allowing that felt love of my own body to radiate out into the world and offer loving presence to others.

How many of us treat our bodies with the lavish attention they deserve? What does it mean to treat our bodies like the temples they really are? What is the damage caused by the endless messages we receive each day about our bodies' inadequacies? What if for one day we could put to rest the damaging stories we tell ourselves about how our bodies don't measure up? What if we could bring our full presence to our bodies' needs instead of endlessly ignoring them?

St. Gregory Palamas (1296-1359), an orthodox monk who later became an Archbishop, upheld the doctrine that the human body played an important part in prayer rooted in the Incarnation; that is, the whole person, united in body and soul, was created in the image of God, and Christ, by taking a human body at the Incarnation, has "made the flesh an inexhaustible source of sanctification."

I am in love with this image: What if our bodies truly were an "inexhaustible source of sanctification" and we treated them as such? To sanctify is to bless or make holy, to set apart for sacred use. To consider our bodies a blessing is another way to become "body-words of love."

This Valentine's write a love letter to your body, offering both gratitude and forgiveness. Instead of using words, offer it in food, in warmth, in touch. The body loves slowness. Instead of rushing from place to place until you crash into bed exhausted, allow holy pauses to breathe deeply, take a long bath as an act of offering, lavish yourself with oil. Prepare a nourishing meal for just yourself. Eat chocolate, but make sure it is the deepest, darkest, richest kind you can find and eat it with as much attention as you can summon. Make an appointment for a massage and receive some loving touch imagining that you are being anointed for blessing others. The senses are the gateway into the body's wisdom.

Body Examen Prayer
The Examen prayer was created by St. Ignatius of Loyola and invites us to reflect on our day and focus on two essential questions: where did I experience desolation and consolation? I have adapted the prayer here as a meditation on the body. Consider taking this on as a dailypractice for the rest of February or perhaps for the season of Lent

Allow some time to settle into silence and draw your breath down into your body. See if with each inhale you can imagine receiving the gift of life breath sustaining you each moment. With each exhale, imagine you are releasing all the thoughts and judgments that take you away from your body. Then bring your breath to any places of holding or tightness.

From a place of stillness, reflect on this past day. Ask yourself, when today did I experience pain in my body? When today did I neglect or abuse my body? Notice what memory stirs and be with it with compassion and gentleness, allowing space for this experience. Breathe in the possibility of forgiveness, breathe out release.

Then ask yourself, when have I experienced joy in my body? When did I deeply honor and nourish my body? Again notice what memory stirs and sit with it, savoring this moment, entering into it fully again with your body. Breathe in love, breathe out gratitude.

When your prayer feels complete for this day allow some time to journal and notice what memories and experiences stirred for you. Keeping track of these over time will reveal patterns for you that can help foster greater freedom.

2/13/2012 5:00:00 AM
  • Progressive Christian
  • Seasons of the Soul
  • Valentine's Day
  • Body
  • Health
  • Holidays
  • literature
  • Love
  • Poetry
  • Sexuality
  • Christianity
  • Christine Valters Paintner
    About Christine Valters Paintner
    Christine Valters Paintner, Ph.D., is a Benedictine Oblate and the online Abbess ofAbbey of the Arts, a virtual monastery without walls offering online classes in contemplative practice and creative expression and pilgrimages to Ireland, Germany, and Austria. She is the author of eight books on monasticism and creativity including The Artist's Rule: Nurturing Your Creative Soul with Monastic Wisdom (Ave Maria Press) and her forthcoming book The Soul of a Pilgrim: Eight Practices for the Inner Journey (Spring 2015, Ave Maria Press). Christine lives as a monk in the world in Galway, Ireland with her husband of twenty years.