Spiritual Formation through Ritual Embodiment

Free-church Protestants are uncomfortable with the word “ritual.” Many were raised to reject rituals and religion in favor of relationship and Holy-Spirit empowered extemporaneous worship. Their practice of the latter, however, is still ritualized, including regular patterns, repetition, hand and body movements, baptism, and communion. This ritualizing seems to be unconscious. Enacting rituals is an inescapable human activity, witnessed in all ages and cultures. The question is not whether Christians ritualize. Rather, the question is how can Christians intentionally facilitate spiritual formation through ritual action.

This paper will focus on the body in ritual action and how physical acts are acts of spiritual formation. It will first make an argument for a monistic understanding of humanity: even that which we think is immaterial (like emotions or thoughts) are in fact physical (Strawn and Brown 2012 and 2020). It will then explore bodies in Hebrew Bible and New Testament rituals (Johnson 2016). The Hebrew Bible commands individuals to be bodily present in Jerusalem for specific rituals, bodies were washed in baptism, and broken bread and wine fed bodies. Finally, it will explore the formative nature of bodies in life-pervading worship, or how the placement and movement of our bodies by themselves and with relation to other bodies has the potential to transform us for the glory of God and the life of the world.

Brown, Warren S. and Brad D. Strawn. The Physical Nature of Christian Life: Neuroscience Psychology and the Church. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2012.
Johnson, Dru. Knowledge by Ritual: A Biblical Prolegomenon to Sacramental Theology. Winona Lake, IN: Eisenbrauns, 2016.
Strawn, Brad D. and Warren S. Brown. Enhancing Christian Life: How Extended Cognition Augments Religious Community. Downers Grove Illinois: IVP Academic, 2020.

3 thoughts on “Spiritual Formation through Ritual Embodiment”

  1. I think this is an
    I think this is an interesting topic, one that Dallas Willard championed. I am surprised she didn’t mention him in her references. Overall there aren’t strong sources on ritual which cause me to wonder about the depth of understanding of this important proposal.


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