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Russia, Bodies, and Desiring the Kingdom

March 19, 2017

Part 2 of the Rev. DePoe in Russia Blog Series

 

When I travelled to Russia, I learned that Orthodox Christians focus on three things during Lent: body, soul, and spirit. When I was in Russia I learned a lot about these three things. Today I'm going to talk about what I learned about bodies. About my body in general, but also about the Church as the body of Christ.

 

So bodies. We Presbyterians like to pretend that we don't have bodies. That our bodies consist of our brains only. I invite you to join us for worship on Sunday if you don't believe me. We sit for most of the service. Other Christians like to joke that the only time Presbyterians raise their hands in worship is during a Congregational Meeting. On a typical Sunday, I only log about 4,000 steps on my Fitbit.

 

In contrast, while in Russia I learned that the Orthodox faith is an embodied faith. There are no chairs in an Orthodox church. You stand, kneel, or do prostrations the entire service. Also, women must keep their heads covered when they enter an Orthodox parish. By the end of our time in Russia, I was a head scarf tying pro. You have to tie it in the back if you don't want it to slip off during prostrations.

 

 

While in Russia, I also learned that Russians are less sedentary than Americans are. When in Russia I averaged 12,000 steps (5.5 miles) a day. Mainly because we used public transportation everywhere we went. The Moscow Metro is just awe-inspiring. It appeals to my love of beauty and order. It is efficient, and filled with cool art inspired by Russia's history. Many Russians sleep on the metro. Even when their stop is only one stop away. This must be how Russians are able to log as many steps as they do a day. Metro naps.

 

Since returning from Russia, I'm been reflecting on bodies. Partially because I am reading Desiring the Kingdom: Worship, Worldview, and Cultural Formation, by James K. A. Smith in preparation for my West Branch clergy lunch next week. In his book, Smith argues that we are liturgical animals- embodied, practicing creatures whose love/desire is aimed at something ultimate (Smith, 40)*. We are not, Smith argues, primarily thinking beings. Or persons defined by thinking and disembodiment- that a person is only contingently related to a body (Smith 42). Basically, we are what we love. Not, I think, therefore I am.

 

What would it look like if we Protestants were to take embodiment as seriously as the Orthodox do? Perhaps we might encourage our congregations to stand for the gospel reading? Perhaps be attentive to multiple learning styles as we prepare our sermons? Perhaps we might shift the focus in our Sunday School classes from imparting knowledge to helping people feel like they belong? Whatever we do, my trip to Russia taught me that I have to start taking bodies- my body, and the body of Christ- more seriously in my ministry.

 

Maybe it's time to ask Session for a standing desk?

 

* Citations taken from:

 

Smith, James K. A. Desiring the Kingdom: Worship, Worldview, and Cultural Formation.

Grand Rapids: Baker Academic Press, 2009.

 

 

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