Knowing in Our Bones

Since being called to serve as a “Pastor of Christian Formation,” I often find myself thinking about the notion of formation.  How are we formed?  Who are we being formed to be?  In what ways is our formation either conscious or unconscious, explicit or implicit?  What does Christian formation look like? 

In the academic world, formation is often talked about in conjunction with something called habitus.  Habitus is a concept that goes all the way back as early as Aristotle but is often associated with the French Sociologist Pierre Bourdieu.  Different writers describe habitus with lots of nuance, but the general idea is that habitus represents the knowledge we acquire through our many diverse practices even though we might not be able to give an account of where that knowledge comes from.   More than just our “habits,” it is the knowledge we have in the depth of our bones.  It is knowledge that is not just in our minds but also our hearts and our bodies and the recognition that none of these sites of knowing can be completely separated from one another.

I was reminded of this recently when I decided to memorize the poem I was asked to read for the Ash Wednesday service.  At first, I wanted to memorize it mostly because the poem was so beautiful.  During the few days I spent memorizing it, however, I realized that I was not just taking the words into my memory; in a way, I was inscribing those words on the depths of my being.  The message of the poem was shaping the way I talked about the meaning of Lent.  Its words were becoming part of my everyday speech.  The image in the poem about feeling like we are dust was forming my interactions in ways that made me want to keep anyone from ever feeling like they were going to be “swept away by the smallest breath.” 

During Lent we often talk about taking on spiritual practices as a way of forming ourselves into a Christian identity.  My hope is that whether you are memorizing meaningful texts, intentionally setting aside time for prayer, journaling, exercising regularly, fasting, or any other practice, that you would continually be formed by a knowledge of God’s grace that permeates your entire being. 

May God’s Word become flesh in all of us.