Typical of many college students I had a hard time landing on a major during the first two years of my education. I had grown up both in the church and on the athletic field. While I started college declaring a political science major, I quickly shifted to a major in religion after falling in love with Dr. Bill Chalker (some of you remember him) at the College of Idaho.
But I had no intention of becoming a pastor and, given that, saw no way to craft a livelihood from religious studies. After some back and forth I eventually ended up with two majors—religion and sports and fitness center management. My thinking was that the sports major would provide a livelihood as I imagined working toward a YMCA executive director position and the religion major would provide a lifelong hobby, as I just couldn’t stay away from it.
My obsession with religious studies didn’t end with a college degree, however. After discovering that three of the executive directors I knew in the YMCA system had a seminary background, I found my reason to continue religious studies. I entered San Francisco Theological Seminary and was hired on by the YMCA of Marin County. I found myself still following two majors and one life.
Eventually I had to make choice between my seminary education and my YMCA employment as my then wife and I were raising a family and I couldn’t maintain both and still be a good father and husband.
Despite the rigors of following two seemingly separate interests, I was happiest when both of these passions were part of my everyday experience. Those of you who know me best know that while I love much about the rhythms and the traditions of the church, I feel just as close to God and to the Sacred when I am propelling myself over a mountain on my bike, snowshoeing in the solitude of a green forest blanketed by fresh, white, fluffy powder, and hiking along a glacier-fed stream cascading over polished rocks.
For a short period in my early adulthood, I had two majors and one life. Ever since my decision to abandon the path leading to the YMCA in favor of seminary education, I have felt that I have been trying to find my way back to that unique integration. I have been trying to discover and craft a spiritual life that honors the wisdom of the body as much as the curiosity of the mind. I have been trying to live into an “embodied spirituality” as one good friend and colleague expressed it years ago.
I write this the week following my blog titled, “Oh my, oh my, oh my…” where I was reflecting on the sensuality and erotic language of the Christian mystics. I had wondered aloud if it was time to make room in our churches for those whose relationship with God is more sensual and rooted in a physical yearning for union and communion. I wondered if it was time to make room for those who are more inclined to speak of their “love affair” with God rather than the more typical “Love God and love commandment.”
I had many people who responded to that blog with the sentiment, “Yes, it’s about time!” One commenter simply pointed out that if we are to love God with our whole selves then we ought to start honoring the ways our bodies also yearn to love and be with God. In the church this can sound dangerous. It means honoring such sensual pleasures as enjoying good food and wine, celebrating the gifts of sexuality, and worshiping the God who appears on the mountain or in the stream.
I am sensing that there is a great yearning both among us to heal this great divorce between our minds, our spirits and our bodies. Like me, many people are feeling the need to have two majors and one life. That is, the need to have an “embodied spirituality”—a theology that listens as much to the wisdom of our flesh and bodies as it does to the rationality of the mind.
It appears that there is a slow movement toward this integration. More pastors are now yoga instructors teaching in the community and the church. I know of some churches that now offer dance classes and dance events. Hiking and walking groups are popping up in churches. A few ambitious churches are leading Camino pilgrimages on the 500-mile route to the shrine of St. James in Spain. One Jewish community is completely based on enjoying God’s beauty in the mountains of Colorado. Groups like Earth Church are appearing in various locales.
Forty years ago I was in a rare place where I had two majors and one life. I was able to love to God with my mind and my body and call it part of the same Christian spirituality.
Worship can be in a pew. It can also be in a forest.
Worship can be with our mind. It can also be with our body.
Pretty sure God appreciates it all.
By Rev. Brian Heron, Presbyter for Vision and Mission, Presbytery of the Cascades