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Reflections from Rev. Alan Taylor

Cultivating a Community of Embodiment
Rev. Rev. Alan Taylor, Senior Minister

Our culture has long emphasized the primacy of the mind over the body—and promoted a dualism between the soul and the body, attributing goodness to the soul and baseness to the body. We are often taught from an early age to dismiss our bodies and pay attention to what is happening in our minds and cultivate our intellect. White there is so much benefit to having a strong sense of critical inquiry and honed faculties of reason, there is much wisdom that gets lost if the experience within our very bodies is ignored.

This month we explore a different dimension of knowing and connection—the wisdom of our bodies. What does it mean to be a Community of Embodiment? What does it mean to cultivate a community where we can embody our values? What essential wisdom is communicated through our bodies? What is the relationship between the soul/spirit and our body?

In seminary, I took a course on Spiritual Direction. Many of the “assignments” were activities that helped us students get in touch with our physical senses, to know ourselves as embodied human beings. We were charged with attending to our sensual experiences whether it was noticing the beauty in the nature and architecture around us, the various textures to enhance our faculty of touch, or eating slowly to revel in tasting our food. One exercise asked us to walk blindfolded next to someone who guides us around—and then switching. We were asked to attend to our senses other than sight and then to be the eyes for our partner.

The teacher, Sister Dody Donnelly, explained that the single most common spiritual struggle is with sexuality, with coming to a positive relationship with our bodies and the physical experience of our world in all its fullness. She challenged us that we could not support others in their struggles until we had cultivated a strong sense of sensuality that underlined our authority as spiritual leaders. This radical nun led me to a unique understanding of spirituality: spirituality is the cultivation of an ever greater capacity to pay attention.

Over 700 years ago, the Christian mystic Julian of Norwich wrote:
I understood that
our sensuality is grounded
in Nature, in Compassion, and in Grace.
This enables us to receive
gifts that lead to everlasting life.
For I saw that in our sensuality God is.
For God is never out of the soul.

I am struck that my understanding of the wisdom of embodiment has come from a number of women teachers, including two Catholic nuns living over 600 years apart!

What are you called to embody? What wisdom is your body holding? Is not spring an ideal time to cultivate greater attention to our sensual knowing?