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Last Saturday, a group gathered to “Embody Advent” at Dominican Center Marywood. Rev. Debbie Eisenbise led participants through prayer practices that use our bodies as a way to prepare the way for the Lord to dwell within us this season. We prayed with arms out and up, heads rising and lowering, standing and kneeling. We learned how neurobiologically these positions affect us and how ancient practices tap into this wisdom.

Then working with clay, we explored our spiritual terrain with our fine motor skills. Coloring as prayer gave us another opportunity to integrate body and spirit. Everyone, in at least one of these modes of prayer, felt and answered God’s invitation to unite with him. As one participant remarked, “This is just what I needed to enter Advent,” another said, “This program gave me…a centering experience.”

As we all continue into this Advent season, we have an invitation from God to prepare for peace. In the text below, notice how the prophet calls for physical action.

“A voice cries out:
In the desert prepare the way of the LORD!
Make straight in the wasteland a highway for our God!
Every valley shall be filled in,
every mountain and hill shall be made low;
the rugged land shall be made a plain,
the rough country, a broad valley.
Then the glory of the LORD shall be revealed,
and all people shall see it together;
for the mouth of the LORD has spoken.”
Isaiah 40:3-5

We tend to take this passage and immediately move to the metaphorical. But let’s consider what it would feel like to literally fill in valleys and bring down mountains to make a highway! Sweaty, exhausting, aching, and overwhelming are words that come to my mind.

It is good to consider our bodies in our spiritual lives because all that we experience is mediated in these bodies God has given us. When we are keyed up physically, we may not be open to receiving (let alone offering!) peace. In anxiety and stress, our reactive parts of our brain are in high gear, which is lifesaving in some situations, but in others creates conflict where there was none.

Especially during busy seasons, like Advent, we do well to practice peace, literally. As the retreatants experienced last weekend, engaging in activities that bring a physical sense of peace, like contemplative prayer, walking, even hot baths, ready our physical systems to be receptive to peace, to be willing to lay down our defensive pride or to not take offense. Then we can move into the metaphor of this passage.

It is the wilderness of our hearts that God is trying to pierce, for from them flow our actions. But our hearts reside in our bodies, we cannot separate the two, thus we pay attention to the clues our bodies give regarding the state of our hearts. As we do so, our hearts can become peaceful, less upset by the wilderness around us. We can have a wilderness of circumstances yet keep our hearts in peace as God increasingly resides within us.

The imagery of Isaiah 40:3-5 is one of equity and right-relatedness, of shalom. Shalom is a Hebrew word often translated as peace but is a robust concept of deep right-relatedness among God, people, and creation. It is physical and spiritual. As we participate in peace, shalom, God’s glory is manifest, and it is this to which the highway is made!