Pastor and Tyndale University alumna Abby Davidson (BA ’09, MTS ’13) will join us this week as we conclude our series on spiritual disciplines that our speakers have leaned into and practiced with their circles of influence during the pandemic. This week’s message is called “Honouring God with our Bodies.”
Abby writes, “God created our bodies in His image and declared them good. God's Spirit dwells within us and, as such, our bodies are worthy of care and blessing. The spiritual practice of honouring the body is about caring for God's creation and learning to listen to His voice through our physical vulnerabilities.”
Abby is Pastor of Missional Discipleship at Spring Garden Baptist Church near Tyndale. She has served as a pastor since 2015 and before that worked in parachurch ministry for five years. Abby loves ballet, travelling, and playing (but not watching) sports. She is passionate about discipleship and building kingdom leaders. Abby is married to Bruce and they live with their son Miles in the east end of Toronto.
Well, good morning Tyndale community, it's so great to be back here with you in this very strange time. But good for me to be back in the place where, as George said, I got glimpses of my vocation for the very first time.
I'm going to be talking to you today about honouring the body, and so I want to start by reading a passage from Psalm 139. This is verses 13 to 16. "For it was you who formed my inward parts, you knit me together in my mother's womb. I praise you for I am fearfully and wonderfully made. Wonderful are your works, that I know very well. My frame was not hidden from you when I was being made in secret, intricately woven in the depths of the earth. Your eyes beheld my unformed substance. In your book were written all the days that were formed for me, when none of them, as yet, existed." Thank God for His word for us today.
I was cleaning up my office recently, George mentioned that I'm a pastor at Spring Garden, and I just transitioned between churches. And as I was cleaning out my office, I discovered a thumb drive. So of course, I plugged it into my laptop to see what was on it, and discovered some recordings, and it was from my time here at Tyndale, when I was a part of the Tyndale dance team, and we had a very short run, but we had recorded some stuff that we used in worship, as a way of worshiping God with our bodies. I'm not going to dance for you this morning, although I'm sure that would have been a fun surprise, but I will be talking about how we can worship God with our whole bodies, how we can honour God with our bodies.
Now when George had asked me to share about a Holy habit that I had been practicing, I knew right away, I wanted to talk about this, this flesh and blood spirituality. This is a practice that I started taking very seriously throughout the pandemic, and it wasn't actually something that I started out of a desire for Holiness. It was more out of a realization that I needed to change something, that my body wasn't doing as well as it should be doing. No, I have been an athlete, I'm a dancer, so when I feel pain, my response is often to ignore it or to push through it, or to numb it, make it go away, hope it will go away, by doing those things. But as I was considering the state of my body, I was reminded that my body is a gift from God, that aging is a gift that we receive every day. And I was reminded that God often speaks to us through our bodies. This is often maybe the first place we hear him speaking, when we sense that tiredness or feel that pain. And so I decided to listen, I decided to to see caring for my body as stewardship of God's creation. And thankfully, this Holy habit has really been one that has helped to sustain me and my family during this time of disruption that we've been in.
Now, depending on how you grew up in, which church tradition you grew up in, and how your parents talked about the body, you may or may not connect the physical body with spirituality. And yet so much of our faith centers around this idea of the human body, this idea of enfleshment. In the beginning God created our bodies. When God came down to earth, He took on a human body, and Christ, Christ He was all about the body in his ministry, He would serve people by washing feet, by feeding them, He encouraged his disciples to care for their bodies. Our central sacrament is one of celebrating and remembering the body of Christ. We remember his body, his death, his resurrection. Yet somehow when it comes to our own bodies, we can be neglectful. We can be dismissive, or we can even be apathetic.
Now a lot has changed in the last year. We've had our COVID anniversary this week, and it's been a time to reflect on how different our lives are. But one good change that has come out of this time is that we've all developed more body awareness. We're aware of our own bodies. We're aware of other people's bodies, in ways that we haven't had to be before. I briefly mentioned this earlier, but I was hit with this body awareness a few months before the pandemic began. I was really struggling, I was feeling sore and tired all the time. I was dependent upon caffeine to wake up in the morning, it would be the first thing I would reach for when I got out of bed. I was exercising probably once or twice a week, but it was kind of, as time would allow, not something I was doing with intention or purpose.
I was eating takeout a lot, because again, the time. I was eating chocolate, probably more than I should have been. My back was constantly hurting, and I was even pulling it out often, and not being able to lift things, struggling to carry my son. And it was something where I probably looked healthy, but I just didn't feel good. Then we entered the lockdown, we entered a time of disruption, and whenever our lives are disrupted, this is an opportunity for us to change, an opportunity for us to challenge our habits. I was forced out of my habits, and I realized that I needed some new ones.
Now my first attempt was to start running, something that I used to do during my time at Tyndale, maybe a few years ago, but hadn't done in a while. It was great because it didn't require any special equipment or a gym. I could just be outside and run, and that would be my exercise. So I started this, and it was slow. I didn't go for too far or too long. But I did it for a few days. And then I just got this awful pain, this pain that wouldn't go away, and it was kind of deep in my hip. I thought okay, I'll give it a couple days, and I'll rest and then I'll try again. So I ran again, the pain came back worse than it had before. I rested a couple days, and I continued this cycle, until it was at the point where I couldn't sleep at night because the pain had gotten so bad. I was worried. I didn't know what was happening. If this was a consequence of aging, I just wouldn't be able to run anymore. So I decided that I should do something about it. And of course, the first thing you want to do, is you want to pray. So I asked my young adults group to pray for me, that God would do a miraculous healing and take this pain away. God did not. That's okay.
So I went to see my doctor, and my doctor, he's great. And God often speaks to me through him. He just looked at me and said, "You need to care for your body. You need to listen to your body. You don't need a hip replacement. You just need to figure out what your body needs right now, and take better care of it." Now we are fearfully and wonderfully made, as the psalmist said. God made our bodies to feel pain when something is wrong. Our bodies get tired when we need to rest, and to withdraw. And what my body was telling me was that I was weak, that I had neglected to strengthen my body. And I realized that I needed to do something about that. But of course, the question was what, during this time that we were stuck at home, what could I do?
Now thankfully, God had paved the way for an answer to this prayer, a year before actually. I had been praying for my husband, you see, because we were having a conversation about his own exercise. My husband loves to play baseball in the summer, and he loves to sit still for the other three seasons of the year. And so, I gently suggested maybe you should add some more activity into your life and there was a little bit of resistance. So, as I learned early on, in marriage, when we have a disagreement, I don't try to convince my husband, I instead commit it to God and trust that God's will transform his heart. And that's exactly what happened. My husband's office, they decided to do this team building activity, and they went to visit a CrossFit gym. And my husband really latched on to this type of exercise. He joined a gym himself, he started going regularly. He then started going before dawn, he would get up so that he could exercise and then come home for breakfast. When the lockdown hit, he decided to buy some weights, so that he could continue his exercise routine at home.
Now this was probably an example of God answering my prayer a little bit too well. I had to get back on my knees and ask him to just take it down a notch, because it was a little bit intense, and I was worried about our son's college fund. But he kept it going. So of course, when I came to my husband and said, "I think I need to strengthen my body." He said, "Great, let me write you up a program. I was not excited about that. But I did it.
It's been several months, and I started out very slow, very light weights. But it's been good. And a few months in, the pain in my hips completely went away. I've noticed my back is stronger. It hasn't had that ache that I had gotten so used to, and I'm able to, to play with my son, to throw him around. He's about 35 pounds, and I don't get tired or sore from it. It's been a good transformation for me. It's also helped with my family, my husband and I, our dates used to be going out to eat food. We can't do that now. So our dates have become exercising together, lifting weights together. Sometimes my son will even join us, we have a little 13 pound kettlebell, which is about a third of his body weight, but he likes to throw that around with us too. And he's doing pretty well with it. So that was step one, in honouring my body.
The next thing God was speaking to me about was really my eating habits, what I was eating, how I was eating. So, a few months ago, I realized that I needed to take all this effort that I was putting into my exercise and put it into my eating habits. So, I started seeing a nutritionist, I decided I would learn about food. I started drinking more water. I started eating salad and I don't like lettuce. I don't understand how it's a food, but I've been doing that, and God is helping me. I replaced my morning coffee with a morning glass of water. I spent time cooking every meal. I added regular fasting to my schedule, something I've never done before. And I started going to bed early, which was probably the biggest help. No, I don't want to come off as advocating for any type of diet, or any type of exercise, because we all need different things. What my body needs is not what your body needs to be healthy.
This is because we are fearfully and wonderfully made, we are unique. But I do want to advocate for you, listening to your body, listening to how God is speaking to you about how you can honour the body that God has given you. What is this connection to our physical well being and our life in Christ? I know many of us, of us are willing to run our bodies ragged for the cause of Christ. Maybe you're willing to run your body ragged for the cause of education. The problem is that God doesn't ask us to do this.
You know, we see that Elijah had this problem, as we look at First Kings 19. Elijah, he was doing God's work, he was running up and down Mount Carmel, he was literally destroying all the evil that existed in Israel. And he gets to a point where he's tired, so he withdraws. But he's gone too far. And he says, "God, I want to die. I can't do this anymore." So he falls asleep. And God in His compassion, sends an angel to care for Elijah, and the angel gives him food to eat, and water to drink. And Elijah sleeps again, and the angel comes to him again, and gives him food to eat and water to drink. And once his body has been cared for, once Elijah has rested, only then is he ready to continue to do God's work. You know, he's been working in God's power, but he's still human. He still has limits and vulnerabilities. And this is why we need to care for our own bodies. God's created us with limits. Part of honouring our bodies is respecting those limits. No, we need to give our bodies rest, and care, and attention. This vessel that we've been given is our connection to the world, the world that God is working to restore. Our body is what we use to serve other people.
The Kingdom of God is not only an intellectual endeavor, it's not only a spiritual endeavor, there's a physical element to it, and this is because we are not fragmented beings. We are whole beings. The Kingdom of God is being realized, in our minds, in our souls, and in our bodies. And our bodies, talking about sacred spaces, our bodies are the place where the Spirit has chosen to dwell. You know in First Corinthians 6 we read, "Your body is the temple of the Holy Spirit, so glorify God in your body." So not only should we care for our bodies, but we should treat them with reverence. And maybe, maybe if we can repair our own relationship with our bodies, then we can start to see the image of God not just in ourselves, but in others, as well.
When we treat our own bodies with reverence, when we accept our vulnerabilities, we won't look down on others vulnerabilities, and we will begin to treat them with reverence. And we come to this knowledge of how vulnerable we are, say, a global pandemic hits, and we're suddenly aware of this invisible and highly contagious virus that threatens all of us. We realize that we share vulnerabilities with other human bodies. We share vulnerabilities with poor bodies, with women's bodies, with black bodies, and with indigenous bodies. A body that is not in tune with its own fragility will find it easier to abuse and exploit, and control other bodies. But a body that is honoured will be able to experience the joy of God, and the compassion of God, as something physical, something in the flesh. It's about being healthy, yes. But it's also about incarnation. It's about living out our spirituality in the bodies that God has given to each one of us. It's about living in this truth, that we are fearfully and wonderfully made. And so, my dear brothers and sisters, I invite you to think about one thing, one thing that you can do today, to honour your body. It doesn't have to be complicated, or intense, but listen to your body and try to hear what God is telling you, you need. Maybe it's to get outside and go for a walk. Maybe you need to drink a glass of water. Maybe you need to take a nap. I love naps.
Listen to your vulnerability. Be aware of what you can control and of what only God can control. I'm going to pray for you, and then, I'll give a benediction.
God we thank you for your love and your great compassion for us. Thank you God that we are fearfully and wonderfully made, and that you know our bodies intricately. God, I ask that you will help us listen. God, that you will help us see where we are vulnerable. Where we need to care for ourselves. God, that you would give us grace as we do so. God, may we see our bodies through your eyes. May we see the bodies of others through your eyes. And may we learn to love, and to care, the way Christ did, and continues to do so. Amen.
This benediction is taken from the Third book of John, verse two. "Beloved, I pray that all may go well with you, and that you may be in good health, just as it as well with your soul."
Go in peace.
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