How should Christians approach tattoos and exercise, pornography and yoga, fasting and worship music? For Matt Lee Anderson, no topic is off-limits in his book, Earthen Vessels, because all them involve the human body.
Anderson is the prolific blogger behind MereOrthodoxy.com, but his first book reads more like an academic essay. That is, perhaps, its strength: it is a thoroughly-researched look at many aspects of society that involves the body and the Christian faith. Nearly twenty pages of footnotes suggest so.
My only frustration was Anderson’s constant carefulness in covering this range of topics. Again, I give him credit for being so well-prepared in citing his sources, but it was hard to tell in many areas how HE actually felt about the topic. He makes this clear in his preface, entitled “In Which I Clear My Throat.” He explains his purpose for the book: “My goal is to explore, to raise questions and provoke the reader, and to propose a path for living in the body in our late-modern world.” I suppose, then, it just my desire to find out what the author thinks that causes me this minor annoyance.
Anderson’s take on the practice of yoga made me pause. If I’m being honest, I really enjoy yoga, but I view it strictly as exercise for my body. I feel more relaxed, more “open” and I focus on clearing my head of distractions. If one yoga student directs her “oms” to Buddha, couldn’t I turn my “om” into a silent prayer to God? As Anderson points out, it’s about the motivation behind the pose:
“Two people can perform the same yoga pose, but to very different ends — and potentially with very different effects on their lives. One might empty himself and his mind and connect with the divine, while another might direct his consciousness toward stretching muscles he may not have felt in years…it is the understanding of it and the manner in which the form is practiced (190).”
And he also warns, “…awareness of the body is good, but it can easily lead to a sense of self-indulgence” such as when we take joy from the way our bodies feel, or the desire we have to sculpt them, such as in exercise (191). Again, Anderson’s analysis gave me another opportunity to think about the why behind my own actions.
Anderson references the cadence in which we carry our bodies, something I reflected on this spring during a personal retreat. How we hurry – or slow – for certain activities says something about what we find important. Take, for example, Anderson’s approach to shaving:
“When I shave in the morning, my goal is to hurry through it so I can move on to the important tasks of reading and writing…but shaving could also become a means of slowing down, of opening myself to restful thought rather than subordinating the time to a list of tasks I feel I must accomplish (100).”
Slowing my “pace” is one way I am focusing on my word for the year: “listen.” Slowing down gives me time to think, reflect on God and His wonder, but it’s a daily decision.
Finally, I enjoyed Anderson’s foray into the idea of virtual worship. Is it, in fact, possible to experience church from a computer screen? And if that is the case, do we run the danger of keeping pastors immortal as we cycle through their archives of sermons, Anderson asks? I believe there is something real that we encounter when we are physically present, worshipping God IN community — and I believe true “social networking” is the kind that happens when two people are in the same room experiencing and sharing something together.
Earthen Vessels is a solid read — there’s no fluff here. It’s chock-full of things that have made me realize that everything I do, how I fill and feed my body, who I interact with, and how my facial expressions are shaped, and how it all ties back to God, my creator. The question is, how will I use by body in all that I do to glorify Him?
About Meg Biallas
Thoughts From A DC Intern Turned DCist. A twenty-something goes beyond traditional tourism to achieve Washingtonian authenticity.