By Rev. Laura Baumgartner
We are in a time of constant change, of uncertainty over the future, of dread about environmental degradation and climate change, and of great divisiveness in our congregations, our region, and our political system. In this context, sometimes it is easy to put wellness on a back burner because there are so many things around us that seem unwell. However, we know all too well the unintended consequences, the predictable results, of putting off things that foster wellness. It is now when wellness is even more important; our physical and spiritual wellbeing is most vital as we seek to lead others toward wellness. We cannot lead if we are not modeling holistic health practices.
There are as many ways to approach clergy wellness as there are clergy, and I wouldn’t presume to tell anyone else how to seek to be well. However, for me, the link between body and spirit is essential. When I stop paying attention to the messages my body has absorbed and expressed, I fail to hear the messages that the Holy Spirit is speaking through my body.
One strategy for returning to the connection between spiritual wellness and physical wellness is to use a practice that has components of each. For me, that is yoga. In addition to more frequent individual practice, I work with a private yoga instructor about once every six weeks for about 90 minutes per session. It’s enough to feel like I’ve taken time away from business and busy-ness, but it’s not so long that I have to take a day off from work or plan overnight accommodations.
During my last private yoga session, I was in the process of moving to a new church. I was exploring both my experience of being a part of the long and trusted Methodist tradition of itinerancy and my own upheaval as I went through the sometimes tumultuous transition inherent in that tradition. Through the practice of feeling my feet on the ground and the Earth supporting me, as well as the practice of feeling my feet move and carry me from one pose to another, I could explore the experience of both stability and change.
My instructor asked me to identify two hymns that I associated with my transition. Guide Me O, Thou Great Jehovah (UMH 127) and Hymn of Promise (UMH 707) were on my mind that day. We then worked with those two hymns in the yoga practice. Guide Me O, Thou Great Jehovah is a hymn for me about intentional movement and change for the sake of going where God is leading. This hymn demands muscle movement using big muscles in legs and shoulders. Hymn of Promise, on the other hand, is a hymn about complete surrender to God for what is about to become and which I can’t control. Moving with this awareness was about knowing that in each breath, God was there. In the core of my body, God provides strength and flexibility. Both were important aspects of my transition. I would not have seen the differences between the hymns, or the ways they informed my experience of leaving one church and meeting another, if not for my yoga practice.
By physically moving using both my legs and my core, I was able to come to the awareness that God is both leading me actively in this transition as well as providing strength for the transition beyond anything that I have to do. The Holy Spirit was able to speak wellness to my spirit because of the physical activity of my body working toward wellness through motion. They are connected.
While private yoga instruction is not available everywhere, and won’t be comfortable for all, it illustrates the power of a connection between wellness of both body and spirit. If private yoga isn’t your thing, a similar experience can be achieved by walking your neighborhood in an attitude open to prompting by the Holy Spirit, by playing on the floor with children (and then getting back up off the floor—a truly physical experience!), or by adding a breath prayer to existing devotion time.
I am now a few weeks into the new appointment and still asking God for both guidance and support. My moving meditation helps me check in with my body to make sure that I’m attending to what God is speaking through me. It is in this way that body and spirit work together to move me forward with groundedness and flexibility.
Rev. Laura Baumgartner serves as the associate pastor of Greater Renton United Methodist Church in Renton, Washington.