1 O LORD, you have searched me
and you know me.
2 You know when I sit and when I rise;
you perceive my thoughts from afar.
3 You discern my going out and my lying down;
you are familiar with all my ways.
4 Before a word is on my tongue
you know it completely, O LORD.
5 You hem me in—behind and before;
you have laid your hand upon me.
6 Such knowledge is too wonderful for me,
too lofty for me to attain.
7 Where can I go from your Spirit?
Where can I flee from your presence?
8 If I go up to the heavens, you are there;
if I make my bed in the depths, [a] you are there.
9 If I rise on the wings of the dawn,
if I settle on the far side of the sea,
10 even there your hand will guide me,
your right hand will hold me fast.
11 If I say, "Surely the darkness will hide me
and the light become night around me,"
12 even the darkness will not be dark to you;
the night will shine like the day,
for darkness is as light to you.
13 For you created my inmost being;
you knit me together in my mother's womb.
14 I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made;
your works are wonderful,
I know that full well.
15 My frame was not hidden from you
when I was made in the secret place.
When I was woven together in the depths of the earth,
16 your eyes saw my unformed body.
All the days ordained for me
were written in your book
before one of them came to be.
17 How precious to [b] me are your thoughts, O God!
How vast is the sum of them!
18 Were I to count them,
they would outnumber the grains of sand.
When I awake,
I am still with you.
19 If only you would slay the wicked, O God!
Away from me, you bloodthirsty men!
20 They speak of you with evil intent;
your adversaries misuse your name.
21 Do I not hate those who hate you, O LORD,
and abhor those who rise up against you?
22 I have nothing but hatred for them;
I count them my enemies.
23 Search me, O God, and know my heart;
test me and know my anxious thoughts.
24 See if there is any offensive way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting.
“I Am Fearfully and Wonderfully Made”
Advent is a penitential season. A “little Lent” was the description once used for this period. Unlike Lent, penitence is not the prevailing mood of Advent. In Lent we look forward to The Passion before we can look forward to the Resurrection. Easter does not happen without Good Friday. Advent, by contrast, is a season of joyful anticipation. We do not bury the Alleluia but we look expectantly to the feast of the incarnation, Christmas. The penitence of Advent is preparation. We are preparing a home in our hearts and in our lives to welcome the newborn King.
When I was conceiving a quiet day for Advent I was struck by how disembodied is the expression of our faith, particularly in the Episcopal Church. Not for nothing are we described as God’s “Frozen Chosen”. Our BCP liturgies have been letting go of the more embodied experiences of prayer in favor of some older forms borrowed from our Jewish heritage. So we stand throughout much of the Eucharistic liturgy as was customary in Jewish prayer.
The calisthenics of the rite one liturgies and the 1928 prayer book were imbued with a certain physical logic. Our bodies expressed our prayer. We stood to offer our praise and thanksgiving (as one might stand to dance for joy). We knelt with heads bowed in penitence or supplication. The bowed head is a posture of vulnerability. The penitent or supplicant exposes their neck to the sword of the one who stands above. In liturgies rich with the language and imagery of kingship we figuratively knelt before our God and king and exposed our necks for beheading should God see fit to deal with us in that way.
Teresa A. Blythe in her book 50 Ways to Pray: Practices from Many Traditions and Times observes that “It is easy in our busy lives to begin to think that we ‘have’ bodies rather than that we ‘are’ bodies”. As we look forward to the feast of the incarnation I invite us to spend this day fully inhabiting our bodies. I invite us to recognize that we both have and are bodies.
For this Quiet Day we offer some fully embodied prayer.
We live in a culture that conditions us to act as those who ‘have’ bodies. We learn early to override the wisdom that our bodies offer. We “whip our bodies into shape” with diet and exercise. We ignore aches and twinges to power through to the end of our ‘to do’ lists. We no longer know what it is to feel hungry or what it feels like to be satisfied. We work when we’re tired. We sleep when we’re depressed. We hold back our tears, swallow our laughter, cover our smiles and stuff our rage.
Advent is a countercultural season. In a culture that prizes instant gratification Advent prizes waiting. In a culture that treats your body as an object with needs, drives, and desires that have nothing to do with us this season invites us to heightened awareness of ourselves as bodies. We are bodies that hold their own logic and wisdom. We encounter other people as bodies with particular form and features. Before infants know themselves as discrete beings distinct from their mothers, they experience their bodies with all their drives, demands and comforts.
I invite you to use this simple practice of physical self-awareness. For this meditative prayer we will engage in a body scan. The prayer consists of noticing. You are not required to make any adjustments in posture or any judgments about how you are holding yourself. All that I will ask of you is that you notice yourself.
Close your eyes. Offer this time and all you experience in this time to God.
Begin with a few breaths. Breathe in through the nose and out through the mouth.
Begin the scan at the tips of your toes and travel up your body.
Notice how you hold each limb.
Notice where there is pain or discomfort.
Notice where there is ease, relaxation or comfort
Continue this scan until you reach the top of your head or the tip of your hair
Just noticing, not judging yourself. When you have completed this scan offer thanks to God for you are indeed awesomely and wonderfully made.
PRAYING IN MY BODY
This practice builds on the body scan. It is adapted from Teresa Blythe’s book.
You may want to write during this practice. If not you can journal once you have completed your prayer
Invite God to be present to you through your bodily experience.
Begin with some centering breaths. Breath in through your nose, out through your mouth.
Allow your awareness to follow your breath
Notice the place where your breath rests. Allow your awareness to rest in that place. Notice any sensation or emotion that resides in that resting place.
What place in your body wants your attention now? What is the feeling that needs listening to?
Communicate with this felt sense. Tell it “I am here, I am listening.”
Sit with this felt sense. If you can, describe it. Is there a sound or an image associated with this felt sense? Does it have a name? Does it have an emotional quality?
Sit with this felt sense without judgment.
Ask this felt sense “What do you need?”
Ask your body to show you how healing would feel.
Ask God, Jesus, and the Holy Spirit to help you care for this part of yourself.
When you and this felt sense are ready you may offer a prayer of thanksgiving.
How was it to pray in this way?
Did you learn anything that needs to be applied in your life?