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Five-Senses Spirituality: Why Our Whole Bodies Need God

Mar 20 2012
'Awaken Your Senses' teaches Christians to know the Father through our flesh.

This, year, as last, I'll make an empty tomb cake for my Sunday school class of 4- to 6-year-olds. I'll bake one small square cake for the base, and one small dome-shaped cake for the tomb. I'll frost both with sand-colored frosting, perhaps scatter raw sugar for a sandier appearance, and carve out a hollow in the dome's side. Candy-coated chocolate rocks will accent the ground. A large plain cookie will become the rolled-away boulder, guarded by a tiny wooden angel. Two wooden women will approach the empty tomb. We'll look quietly at the cake for a while; we'll tell the story, and we'll eat the cake.

Once I would have scoffed at the practice. For a brief time in my university years, I became enamored of a narrow approach to worship that privileged all things left-brained. Christianity is a religion of the Word, I insisted. Images, incense, Christmas pageants, even instruments were suspect. After all, Nadab and Abihu offered "strange fire" and were soundly extinguished by God, which somehow meant that we should also be suspicious of churches that encourage worship including drama, painting, or, heaven forbid, dance.

Christianity is a religion of the Word—the written Word, yes, but also the Word made Flesh, who dwelt among us, who turned water into wine, who made the blind see and the mute speak, who washed the stinky feet of fishermen and broke bread with unsavory characters. Christianity is a religion of that Word, too. The psalmist knew that words were not the only way of knowing or even worshiping God. His songs suggest that dancing, animals, birds, trees, oil and wine all speak in their various ways of God's infinite wisdom, beauty, and love. The trees praise God with their seasonal dressing and undressing, the mountain goats praise God as they bring forth their light-footed young, and the bread and wine and oil speak of God's sustaining love that's worth savoring.

The prophetic (if curmudgeonly) Wendell Berry insists that many of us think of our bodies as "shipping cartons to transport our brains and our few employable muscles back and forth to work." And so often, we ship our brains and muscles to church, too. We've been missing out, say Brent Bill and Beth Booram in their new book, Awaken Your Senses: Exercises for Exploring the Wonder of God (InterVarsity Press). We humans have a great capacity for learning, knowing, experiencing, and understanding that goes well beyond our ability to analyze and process words.

Think of what a 6-month-old baby does when presented with a new toy: she grasps it, tastes it, turns it over in her hand, pounds it. She encounters it with all her senses, and in so doing, learns more than we might guess. Young children do some of their most important learning through the senses, which is why my boys are outside as I write this, building a tiny cabin out of sticks and stones scavenged from the yard, alternately shrieking out directions and ideas and humming either "Jesus Loves Me" or the Lumos! theme from the Harry Potter soundtrack.

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Five-Senses Spirituality: Why Our Whole Bodies Need God