Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
Week of October 30, 2000
Priest puts body in prayer
Ecumenical mission hears plea to treat body as temple of the soul
By RAMON GONZALEZ
WCR Staff Writer
Prayer is more than saying prayerful words. As temples of our soul, our bodies should be nurtured and fully involved in the act of prayer, says Paulist Father Thomas Ryan.
Speaking at Sherwood Park's 11th annual ecumenical mission, Ryan said conjugal sex and exercise are also "languages of prayer" and "should be seen as part of the way in which Christians pray and respond to the graces of the Lord."
Ryan, a renowned ecumenist and author who presently serves as coordinator of ecumenical and interfaith relations for the Paulist order in New York City, led several sessions at the Oct. 22-25 ecumenical mission.
Rev. William Derby, a Montreal Anglican pastor currently working in Cuernavaca, Mexico, was also a mission leader.
A Spirituality for Sharing the Gospel with the Whole People of God was the theme of the event, which brings together members of eight churches in the Strathcona County, representing four denominations - Roman Catholic, Anglican, Lutheran and United.
Ryan's talk on the role of the body in prayer was held at St. John's Lutheran Church, a small country church just east of Sherwood Park. Some 50 people attended the session, which included prayer exercises using the whole body.
Ryan noted Christianity has the highest theology of the body but, strangely, "the lowest practice of giving the body a role in the way we pray or in our own spiritual lives."
This neglecting of the body's role has allowed other theories to gain prominence, such as the theory of the reincarnation, which proclaims the immortality of the soul, he said. This theory, which has being bought by many, maintains that when the soul outlives the usefulness of the body it leaves it behind "like a worn-out jacket" and pops into another body.
Christians do not see the body as a prison for the soul but as a temple that should be nourished and cared for, Ryan said.
This belief is sustained by the doctrines of the Incarnation, in which God becomes flesh, and the resurrection, which proclaims the resurrection of the body.
The doctrine of the incarnation proclaims that life in our bodies has value and "is not a kind of second-rate practice field for the real life in heaven."
"What (this doctrine says) is that life in this flesh is already life in God," Ryan explained. "This is the place that God came to and called home. This is the kind of embodied existence - being - that Jesus took back with him (into eternity)."
Ryan said the reincarnation theory "is not the understanding of the Christian faith" because "Jesus never preached the immortality of the soul. He insisted on the resurrection of the body. Christian heaven is not a state beyond our skin."
The Paulist priest called on his audience to restore the importance of the body in Christian spirituality by nurturing the body and by bringing the whole body into the act of prayer.
"How can we pray more fully, more totally, as embodied beings than by bringing our bodies into the act of prayer?"
Ryan noted there are many experiences of prayer that arrive spontaneously in the course of the day that most people wouldn't even consider as prayer.
He said ordinary events like walking in the woods, bathing, showering, dressing up for an occasion, having conjugal sex, touching and even exercising can be powerful experiences of prayer when we are attentive.
"I think at the heart of a prayerful experience is attentiveness," he said. "If we are attentive and embrace that moment in all its sacredness, we don't need to be saying prayerful words."
He encouraged his audience to "tune into those spontaneous experiences of prayer" and to "simply offer that embodied prayer, a prayer in which our whole body is participating."
People in the audience said the ecumenical mission is invaluable not only as an educational outlet but also as a sign of unity of Sherwood Park Christians.
"This (mission) brings us together once a year and affords us the opportunity to share our (Christian) journey," said Dan Bingham, a Roman Catholic.
The mission is a worthwhile project "because it gives people with shared interests an opportunity to meet and share their journey," said Anglican pastor Rev. Eileen Conway.
"It allows people from different denominations to come together to celebrate their unity in Christ," noted Hugh McGregor of Sherwood Park United Church.