Paying Attention

With attention, we can care for the holy bodies we are, and the good creation all around us.

It is sunburn weather today. A bare-feet, more-popsicles, sit-beside-the-fan kind of day. On summer days like this, we move more slowly and drink more water, paying attention to the demands of the body. Take care, self-care and air conditioning.

When Angela Reitsma Bick mentioned that the theme for this August issue was The Body, the words of C. S. Lewis came to my mind, loud and clear. “You do not have a soul. You are a soul. You have a body.” It is a neat turn of phrase that tries to focus our gaze heavenward and away from trivial matters. It also seems to be distinctly un-Lewisian, if Narnian Christmas tea parties are anything to go by. Throughout his writing, fiction and theology alike, Lewis emphasizes the goodness of creation and the dangers of diminishing it. I looked for the specific source on the quotation and came up blank. Many writers seem to quote it, but the words are hard to pin down. Maybe the quotation is more akin to anachronistic Einstein memes than anything Lewis actually set to paper.

Embodied Faith

In our scriptures, bodies are healed and hurt, fed and comforted, embraced, damaged and resurrected. Ours is an embodied faith. Our bodies are not merely shells or temporary clothing – they are the location of all our love and all our understanding, the site of each encounter we have with God.

“Taste and see that the Lord is good; blessed is the one who takes refuge in him.”

Psalm 34:8

In her book, I Am My Body: a Theology of Embodiment, the German feminist theologian Elisabeth Moltmann-Wendel calls the church to wake from its long history of distorting the experiences of our bodies and stop focusing so much on suffering and fear. Western theology has too frequently begun with the fall instead of creation. Moltmann-Wendel reminds us that we are made in God’s good image and called to celebrate God incarnate.

Stronger senses

I find Moltmann-Wendel’s writing about our senses particularly compelling: “There is no barrier between sense and thought, any more than there is between faith and life.” She writes that wholeness comes when we start thinking in a believing way with the senses. Senses bring us home to the world. The warmth of summer days and the coolness of fresh water remind us of the living care God has in our lives. We might call what Moltmann-Wendel is describing attention or mindfulness, and it feels specifically necessary in our abstracted, screen-timed, anxious pandemic lives.

Early in the pandemic, a friend of mine had covid and, like many, lost her senses of smell and taste. As part of her long recovery, she was instructed to undergo “smell training” to help retrain her brain to recognize different smells. Routine, deliberate sniffing of four things, each with a distinct and familiar smell, was meant to expand her range of post-illness senses. Mint, garlic, coffee, lemon – each of these woke her to the wider world of diverse fragrances around her. She visited the doctor expecting a prescription of steroids and went home again with a grocery bag filled with good things.

Our senses ground us and teach us. We feel – and taste and see and smell – where goodness lies and what we need to thrive. With attention, we can care for the holy bodies we are, and the good creation all around us.


  • Katie Munnik

    Katie is an Ottawa writer living in Cardiff with her spouse and three growing children. You can also find Katie on Twitter @messy_table.

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