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How Do Our Bodies Help Us Imitate Jesus?

When I was a little girl, I was taught to “give Jesus my heart” – to be “born again.” This meant that I sincerely prayed a prayer to God, confessing that I had not been living in intimate relationship with God (“I was a sinner”). I was choosing to receive God’s invitation to me to be forgiven and to get a fresh start in learning how to love God and receive God’s love for myself and others. In my mind, the focus of maturing in Christ then became mostly focused on my “inner life” (which I understood to be my thoughts and attitudes) and my actions (which I understood as a kind of list of do’s and don’ts).

I misread scripture to think that my body (“the flesh”) was not to be trusted, but was the place of temptation (especially sexual temptation) and sinning. The path to becoming more like Jesus included the practice of “classic spiritual disciplines.” First and foremost among the practices were prayer, Bible reading, communal worship, and service to others. Prayer consisted mostly of prayers for forgiveness and prayers of intercession, asking for healings and blessings for myself and others. Bible reading was devotional in nature, expected to be daily, with applications to life (mostly  building a sense of do’s and don’ts) so that I would be a “doer of the word” and “not merely a hearer.”

Communal worship was to exalt God and remember God’s centrality in our lives. It was expected that by worshiping and “being in the Lord’s presence,” I would become more like Jesus because I would “see him as he is.” And service to others was the way to demonstrate love and prove my commitment to God (even if it exhausted me and rarely allowed me to acknowledge my own needs for care). Of course, there were many other “commands” and rules in addition (tithing, fasting, submitting to those in authority, and not drinking or smoking or asking certain kinds of questions). But these were the primary means by which I thought I was to become spiritually mature, more like Jesus. It’s not that classic spiritual practices are wrong. I still read scripture and pray, participate in communal worship and serve others.

I didn’t know how much my physical body influenced my ability to authentically be like Jesus.

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About the author

Rebecca Letterman

Dr. Rebecca Letterman is an experienced educator, coach, mentor, and spiritual director. Having taught human and Christian spirituality (along with early church history and theology, and Christian anthropology) for nearly two decades at Northeastern Seminary, she researched ways that our bodies both express and shape who we are - becoming convinced that the most effective path for authentic change is through the inclusion of customized physical practices alongside spiritual, cognitive, cultural, and emotional intelligence practices. Rebecca is passionate about guiding and supporting people who long for change - personal, relational, and organizational change - through integrative work that attends to all the dimensions of what it means to be human.