A new Augsburg Fortress book has a title that might make you a bit nervous. It did me. It's Praying with Body and Soul: A Way to Intimacy with God by Jane E. Vennard (1998; paper, $12.99). It's the first part of the title that makes me uncomfortable — and for that very reason made me realize I needed to read the book.
Western Christians are so mind-and-word oriented that we forget (or never knew) the many creative ways we can pray with and through our bodies.
A United Church of Christ pastor who teaches at the Iliff School of Theology, Denver, Vennard has written a wonderfully encouraging and creative book for those of us who typically ignore our bodies, especially in connection with our religious faith.
She writes about learning how to pray through breathing, physical play, exercise, sexuality and physical art forms such as dance. She talks, too, about how to pray with our bodies when we feel they have betrayed us through illness, disability, an accident or aging.
Vennard also describes "action prayers." These include work and service — which we do but don't recognize as prayer, thus missing an essential element of meaning in our daily lives.
Other areas Vennard covers that often give church people trouble are humor in our relationship with God and the use of imagination to create "prayer pictures" and dream images. In these sections, as in others, she evokes the natural tendencies of children, pointing out that as adults we have lost much of our capacity for spontaneity and creativity. At the end of each chapter she introduces several inviting activities for reflection and discussion.
I'll be using this book as a New Year's resolution to reintroduce body to soul.
© 2014 Augsburg Fortress, Publishers