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Have you ever suffered from a tension headache? Mine usually starts in the bottom of my neck and works its way up. If you have, you can attest to the the fact that sometimes our physical sensations have psychological causes. Why is this so? Part of the answer is that we don’t just have bodies, we ARE bodies (and souls). Job witnessed to this dynamic in Job 21:6, “When I remember, I am dismayed, and shuddering seizes my flesh.” Remembering the horror of his suffering produced both dismay and literal physical shuddering.
Noticing these bodily reactions in ourselves and others can be difficult if you’re not sure what to look for. We live in a society that by and large is less in touch with the body, especially compared to the Hebrew culture of the Old Testament (for example, when you read the Psalms, notice just how often the body is used to express the singer’s experience). Awareness of the body requires intention and attention, and often the help of an outside observer. This is why counselors pay close attention to a client’s physical behavior, which ranges from more obvious - tears, wringing hands, picking skin, shaking legs, averting gaze, wincing eyes - to easily missed internal sensations like tightness in the stomach, muscle tension, temperature in the chest and face, or knots in the shoulders.
Jesus modeled this kind of attending when he carefully noticed the bleeding woman who came to him “trembling” (cf. Mark 5:33, Luke 8:47, Matt. 9:22). Tentatively and compassionately inquiring about another’s embodied signals helps with not only being seen and known but also increased understanding of one’s experience. May we have the same attentive awareness of our own physical selves, and of those we help.
A Quote From Herman Bavinck
“The body is not a prison, but a marvelous piece of art from the hand of God almighty, and just as constitutive for the essence of humanity as the soul…The nature of the union of the soul with the body…is so intimate that one nature, one person, one self is the subject of both and of all their activities. It is always the same soul that peers through the eyes, thinks through the brain, grasps with the hands, and walks with the feet.”
Being able to attend to physical/non-verbal signals from others starts with attending to our own bodies. How do you pay kind attention to your physical self?
Praying for and laboring with you,