The Wisdom of the Body has been a welcome addition to my morning practice. There are passages to read, questions on which to reflect, visual art practices, movement suggestions including yin yoga poses, and poetry to inspire. The variety of practices are drawn primarily from desert, Celtic, and Benedictine monastic traditions with body-based practices from conscious dance and yin yoga. (Conscious dance is a practice of meditation and awareness without prescribed steps. It's a dance that is "inner directed and improvisational.") Artist Karen Newe created lovely drawings to help clarify the yoga poses.
Some of the poetry is from women who have followed Christine Valters Paintner's live and online versions of the material. They really help to create a community of other women getting in touch with the wisdom of our bodies. Each of the ten chapters ends with a "BodyPsalm" written by Celeste Snowber who is a professor of arts education in Vancouver, British Columbia.
"This book is rooted in the conviction that our bodies offer us the deepest wisdom—wisdom that can guide us through the river of life," Paintner says in the introduction to the book. She writes from her own lived experience so that readers know they are not alone when it comes to the tendency to ignore the needs of our bodies as we push through a multitude of tasks. She has been trained in the practices she shares such as yin yoga and the expressive arts.
"Central to the expressive arts is an emphasis on process," Paintner points out. I appreciated that reminder as I engaged in the creative art practices such as a drawing a mandala and putting together a collage.
There are allies along the healing, contemplative journey, including Hildegard of Bingen (whose visions appeared to her in mandala form); Sophia; the Unnamed Woman from Song of Songs; Eve; St. Bridget of Kildare; and Amma Syncletica, one of the Desert Mothers who went out into the deserts of Egypt and Syria "to find a different way of life in intimacy with God."
I particularly appreciated the chapter entitled "Senses: The Threshold and Sacrament of Experience." The senses are doorways into the holy as Paintner points out. Her invitation is to create a special place at home, which could be an altar, where there are symbols for each of the five senses. Simply opening the window to the sounds of birdsong can represent sound. There are also suggestions for blessing each of the senses through eyes, ears, nose, mouth, and skin.
In the chapter on "Feelings and Desire," Paintner writes about "Sexuality and the Erotic Impulse." She poses the question: "What if our call is to make love to life itself, whether or not we express it in a physically intimate way with another person?"
"A Prayer of Lament" is one of the suggested explorations in "Exile and Lament: The Vulnerability of the Body." Readers are invited to write a poem that "brings the gift of tears" as a way to refuse to be silenced and "against the voices that tell you your body is anything but beautiful." The lament ends with a "vow of praise" and an expression of gratitude.
As Paintner points out in the introduction, her book is "meant as more of a journey and process than a quick read." I'm glad I took her advice to work through the book slowly, engaging in the practices, reflecting on them and honoring the process. She has come to see the care of her body as her "primary vocation regardless of how that facilitates my doing." Reading this book and following its practices, women can have the opportunity to honor their bodies and reach a new state of self-acceptance. Writing a love letter to the body was one of the final practices in the book and I was glad to do it to appreciate all my body has carried me through.
Christine Valters Paintner is the author of nine books on monasticism and creativity including Water, Wind, Earth, and Fire; The Artist's Rule; Lectio Divina: The Sacred Art; and The Soul of a Pilgrim. She leads pilgrimages in Ireland, Austria, and Germany as well as online retreats at her website, living out her commitment as a Benedictine Oblate in Galway, Ireland where she lives with her husband, John.
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