Engaging Your Body without Losing Your Mind:
The Connective Value of Embodied Worship
Pastor Jackie Putnam's doctoral research project
Pastor Jackie is working on her final integrative project as a part of her Doctor of Ministry program at Union Presbyterian Seminary. The title of her project is Engaging Your Body without Losing Your Mind: The Connective Value of Embodied Worship. The purpose of this project is to explore the potential for deeper connection between God, self, and others made possible by embodied worship practices that engage the body, heart, and mind.
What is an embodied practice?
Embodied practices engage the senses: touch, taste, sound, see, and smell. Expressions of embodied practices may also involve interoceptive awareness, which is an innate sense of the space one occupies, kinesthetic motions such as prayer postures, and physical engagement with one’s own body, someone else, or a tangible object. Worshippers at Fourth are likely already familiar with embodied practices as Pastor Jackie occasionally incorporates them through children’s sermons and prayers. For any worshippers who feel uncomfortable with the practices, it is acceptable to sit in quiet prayer.
Background & Rationale
What inspired this project? Jackie writes,
“Before becoming a Presbyterian, my spiritual journey led me through a variety of traditions. I noticed in the evangelical Southern Baptist tradition a tendency toward emotion and feeling. The perceived success of an altar call depended on whether or not people felt deeply moved in their heart. In the Pentecostal Holiness tradition, there was a lot of physical expression. Jumping, clapping, running, falling (“being slain in the spirit"), and yelling were common. The evidence of the Spirit’s work was visible in the body. In the Presbyterian church, our worship tends to be more focused on thought. We value academically-informed sermons that leave us pondering. We are very careful to adhere to well-reasoned theology. The mark of a good worship service is the degree to which it inspires critical thinking. In the mind/body/heart triad, Presbyterian worship best fits the mind category. I suspect that when our worship leans too heavily in one direction of the mind, body, heart triad at the expense of the others, we fail to glorify God to the fullest and our own engagement in worship is limited, which limits our connection with self, God, and others. My personal interest in this project is inspired by the ways my own embodied experiences in spiritual practices have deepened my connection to God, myself, and others. Practices like prayer postures, visualizations, breathing exercises, walking labyrinths, artistic expression, dance, vocalization, and aesthetic experiences have expanded my understanding of worship and deepened my spiritual connection. These practices have helped to eliminate the binary thinking of “mind vs. body,” “head vs. heart,” “secular vs. sacred,” and see the interconnectedness between myself, God, and others. These embodied practices have been transformative in my spiritual journey and I wonder how they might transform my faith community.”
The research project will involve two congregational surveys, one collected between 9/22/23-10/6/23 and the other distributed between 11/3/23-11/17/23. The surveys ask for some demographic data, current level of church participation, and the Daily Spiritual Experience Scale, which is an instrument developed by Dr. Lynn G. Underwood to assess ordinary experiences of connection with God in daily life. The scale has been used in over seventy published studies and is designed for use in research, organizational, and clinical settings for people as young as eight years old through adulthood. While the surveys are not anonymous, surveys will be codified with a number and analyzed collectively according to the numbers, not the names provided. After taking the first survey, participants will then be asked to participate in at least four embodied worship practices, which will be introduced and practiced in each worship service in the month of October. Worshippers will also be encouraged to repeat the practices at home. Those who have participated in at least four practices during the month of October, either at home or in worship, will be asked to take the follow-up survey in early November. The surveys will be analyzed collectively to see if there were noticeable changes in levels of spiritual connection between the first set of surveys and the second set of surveys. All adults, youth, and children ages 8 and older are encouraged to participate. For children under the age of 18, parents will need to grant their permission for participation.
In addition to the surveys and embodied practices in worship, Jackie will also collect data from a small focus group of 10-15 people who will participate in a one-day embodied practices workshop on Saturday, October 28th from 1pm-4pm and provide feedback in the form of a group interview, which will be conducted during the final hour of the workshop. That interview will be recorded and it is possible that quotes from participants will be included in the final research paper, with no names attached. To register your interest in the one-day focus group, please email firstname.lastname@example.org.
When accessing the survey, be sure to read through the participant information before proceeding. Typing your name in the first box indicates your understanding and consent. Answer honestly and do not overthink the questions. Your first instinct is likely the most authentic. Children (age 8 and above) who participate should work with a parent to answer the questions. The first survey must be answered between 9/22/23-10/6/23. The second survey must be answered between 11/3/23-11/17/23, and only by those who engaged in at least four embodied practices during the month of October, either at home or in worship. If you have questions about the project, please contact Jackie at email@example.com or by calling the church office at 864-232-8123.