The body language of God

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by Paul Judson

I came across a really interesting image recently. Mark Oakley calls Jesus ‘the body language of God’. I think that’s a pretty good way of describing who Jesus is for us.  

We know that body language is a very powerful communicator – people will often pick up more from our body language than from our words. What does it mean for Jesus to be God’s body language?

We might think about the way Jesus used his body – his gentle touch, lifting a sick girl to her feet – his urgent action, turning over the tables of the money changers, his breaking of bread and sharing of the wine.

There are things we can imagine Jesus doing – and things we could never imagine Jesus doing. That’s a very important window into what God is like. Michael Ramsay said ‘God is Christlike and in him is no unChristlikeness at all’.  So if we can’t imagine Jesus killing someone, that might make us question whether God would ever kill people.

We might also think about the way Jesus experienced his body – enjoying good food, walking long footpaths, feeling thirsty and hungry, laughing with friends, being exhausted and sleeping. His spiritual life was lived out through his physical life – although that isn’t always what you see in religious art. We can make a false distinction between what is Godly and what is human. Did Jesus fart? I imagine that he ate his share of beans, so it seems pretty likely. And God wasn’t less present in him then.

There are other things which Jesus experienced in his body which tell us very important things about God – he felt longing, anguish, despair, pain. His body was beaten, tortured, and eventually hung up to die. Bodies are fragile, vulnerable – what does that tell us about God?

If this is true for Jesus, what about us? We are called to be the body language of Jesus. You may know this prayer by Saint Teresa:

Christ has no body now on earth but yours,

no hands but yours, no feet but yours;

Yours are the eyes through which to look out Christ’s love to the world,

Yours are the feet with which he is to go about doing good,

And yours are the hands with which he is to bless us now.

Our faith is not just a head thing or a heart thing – it is lived out through our bodies. That’s true whether we like it or not We communicate the life of God in us firstly through our bodies.

So how can we live that prayer? Maybe we could try loving our bodies more. They are an amazing gift – not just to us, but to God. That might mean taking care of them – but it won’t mean punishing them.

And maybe we could try letting our bodies do more of the talking. Not easy for some of us! I saw a wonderful video recently of a woman spending time with a person in the later stages of dementia. Most of the way that she communicated love and care was through the patient, gentle use of her body.

And perhaps we could begin by praying with our bodies – standing, sitting, kneeling, noticing how we feel, trusting that as we breathe in God, so we allow him to breathe his life out through us.

Look at your hands… the strength, the tenderness… How have your hands been a gift to you today? How does God use your hands?

We give our hands to you, Lord…

Feel your feet on the floor… Where have they taken you? Where might they? Can you offer them to be led by God?

We give our feet to you, Lord…

As you close your eyes, be aware of your face. The way you communicate through it – the way God communicates through it.

We give our face to you, Lord…

You might like to explore focussing on other parts of your body in prayer, following the same pattern…

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