Divining the Body:
Reclaim the Holiness of Your Physical Self

by Jan Phillips

Skylight Paths Publishing, 2005. ISBN 1594730806.
Reviewed by Mary Ann Moore
Posted on 10/26/2005

Nonfiction: Faith/Spirituality/Inspiration; Nonfiction: Body Language; Nonfiction: Life Lessons

When I heard the title of Jan Phillips' new book, I thought of the word "divining" as a diviner finds water with a divining rod to know where to drill a well. I used the word myself in a poem I wrote calling "Divining Lake Louise," and in that context I was divining the truth. The Divine is also the Creator. In Jan's book, the word seems to apply to all the contexts: the well of wisdom inside us, the truth of our own authenticity and the Divine Creator inside.

At the beginning of the book, the author writes, "We need to climb back into our bodies and honor them as instruments of our souls. They are the means through which the Divine takes shape in this world, crucibles in which the raging blaze of spirit is transformed into luminous thought, radiant creations, enlightened action . . . In the process of divining our bodies, we embody the Divine as the mystics did."

As amazing as it is to be inspired by poets who lived long before our time (such as Rumi and Hafiz), it is just as inspiring to have Jan Phillips, a mystic in our own time, creating her own divine poetry. She ends her love song to the Divine with these lines: "So I am to you, Love, and you are to me. We dwell in each other, like salt in the sea."

There is a lot of damage to be undone as women have been bombarded with media images that have nothing to do with our divine selves, but only our outer shells. Jan goes a long way in helping us to heal those damaged selves. Reading this book was a journey of reverence through the sacred terrain of the body. Jan weaves her own story throughout the book that is full of research on the body. That weaving is evidence of her expertise as the information cited blends, as if effortlessly, with Jan's memories and the stories from women she has met in her workshops. Each chapter of Divining the Body has some questions for reflection and some exercises, including writing prompts.

Two years after Jan entered the religious community of the Sisters of St. Joseph of Carondelet in 1967, she was dismissed as being a "radical." Her radicalism took her around the world on a peace pilgrimage, gathering stories and taking pictures. She wrote about that pilgrimage in "Making Peace." The peace pilgrimage, Jan says, became "an act of living prayer. It wasn't about changing the world or changing myself. It was about experiencing myself as an incarnation of a great force and being as true to my heart as I could be."

Another of her books, Marry Your Muse, was winner of the 1998 Ben Franklin Award. Jan also wrote God is At Eye Level: Photography as a Healing Art and Circling: A Guidebook for a Group Experience in Consciousness.

All of Jan's creations including her songs, photographs, documentaries, are from the heart and make her a "part of the ever-spiralling flow of creation." It's how she loves, shares her joy and it's how she knows who she is.

Jan's relationship to her body, particularly her back, changed dramatically when she was hit by a car that ended up on top of her. She was pinned under its exhaust system and received third-degree burns to her back and hip. The night before her skin transplant surgery she gave thanks for the back that had served her in so many ways. I found this section of the book very moving and yet Jan felt her "litany . . . stayed on the surface." She then received a healing from a physician friend who placed stones on each of the chakras in Jan's body. Jan came to believe that "it's this level of intimacy, this tender loving communication with our own vital energy, that enables and sustains well-being for all of us."

So as not to succumb to the outside world's "self-hating rant," we need to set up "rituals of self-love." Jan offers suggestions in the form of soothing meditations. Another idea is to throw a dinner party for a group of women friends with the theme of "Loving Our Bodies." A list of questions is provided so you can have women draw one at a time and give their responses.

Jan finds the Divine in the moment she takes a photograph for instance. It's a way of actualizing our potential and our ability to take a stand against violence. It's a way of activating our faith. Self-expression is also good for our health. Jan gives many examples of studies in her book including the work of neuroscientist Candace Pert. In Jan's words, "If we do not express our emotions and keep the energy flowing through systems, we are setting ourselves up for emotional and physical distress."

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