The Table Video

James K.A. Smith, Betsy Barber& Todd Pickett

Embodied Prayer for the Body of Christ

Professor of Philosophy / Gary and Henrietta Byker Chair in Applied Reformed Theology and Worldview, Calvin College
Director, Center for Spiritual Renewal and Associate Professor of Spirituality and Psychology, Biola University
Dean of Spiritual Development, Biola University
March 28, 2014

The church is the Body of Christ. When we gather together collectively, we can do things we can’t do individually. There are times in the natural progression of sanctification when we need others to believe for us. “When I couldn’t pray, the church prayed for me.” James K.A. Smith, Betsy Barber, and Todd Pickett in a CCT Conversation on Embodied Spirituality: Exploring Christian Spiritual Formation.


What’s the difference between me, myself, in my prayer closet,

James: Yeah.

my prayer chair, or me and all my brothers and sisters who I love or don’t love, nor don’t know, and know stuff about. And now we’re here doing something with our bodies together.

Todd: Which interestingly we call the Body of Christ. So,

Betsy: Totally.

So yeah, talk about what just have to be, doing some of these practices with other bodies,

James: Yeah, oh

And alone, so,

So, talk about that one.

I mean, do you mean, I certainly think there’s something at stake when we gather communally in these worship practices. We can do something collectively, that we couldn’t do individually.

Betsy: Absolutely. That’s right.

So it’s not, the gathering of the Body of Christ, is not just a collection of individuals, who are now having their own private relationship with God. It is the forging of a people, who now are acting communally and collectively. I’ll give you one example. And again, I come from fairly liturgical traditions. So in worship every week, we would say the creed ” I believe in God, the Father Almighty, Creator of Heaven and Earth”

Todd: You’re talking about your reformed tradition, not your Pentecostal, right?

James: In the reformed tradition.


Betsy: They have a different creed. [laughing]

And so, one of the things I sometimes tell my kids to do, is, you know what, some weeks, just listen to everybody else saying the creed. I mean, I want them to say it, but some weeks actually, the oral experience of hearing all of these saints surrounding me, professing their faith, and I’m part of them.

There will be weeks, when I need them to believe for me. Right, that’s just being honest about the ups and downs of a progressive, sanctified life, is recognizing, “You know what? There are some weeks where “I’m kind of not there. “And yet, I’m there!” So, that’s a first conviction. And there’s something about hearing the Body, singing praises to Christ, that itself happens for me. And I think that communal aspect is important.

Betsy: We were hearing somebody talk about grieving. And they talked at the table earlier this semester. And they were talking about “When I couldn’t pray, the church prayed for me. “When I couldn’t sing, the church sang for me.”

James: The hardest spiritual experience I’ve ever had, or one of, our niece, Sophie, died very suddenly and tragically when she was 17 months old. And our extended family come from a very free church tradition. I’m not a pastor. I’m not ordained, but Deanna’s sister and her husband asked if I would help officiate the funeral. This was a nightmare.

Betsy: I’ll bet.

And we got to the final song, and we were going to sing “In Christ Alone,” which some folks might be familiar with. And I looked down at Jen and Luke, and said to them, “We’re not asking you to sing. “We can’t possibly expect you to sing. “We will sing for you” and that’s the Body acting out, sometimes, this is why I think sometimes our liturgies lead us to places that we couldn’t get to on our own.



Right? They are invitations into a spiritual place that we couldn’t muster on our own willpower. It’s one of the reasons why, even individually if you think of you in your prayer closet, so, again, this isn’t sort of maybe typical Evangelical piety, but for me, it’s things like The Divine Hours or

The Book of Common Prayer, that I receive as a gift for my personal spirituality because I’m not an extrovert. I’m not an expressive person. And I’m not, I’ve seen young people, who are sort of introverted, and youth group spirituality tends to be very extroverted, and expressive, and happy-clappy and, you know, chipper and I see introverted young people, who look at that, and say, “I can’t be that.”

“Not me.”

But, they think that’s what a Christian is.

Betsy: Right.

And so, they’re like, “Well, I can’t make this stuff up all the time. “I can’t be ‘ON’ all the time.” And so you give them something like the Book of Common Prayer, and you say “This is the gift of tongues. [laughs] “Here, God is giving you “the words of His scripture to pray.


That’s right.

“And a regiment.” And you see these lights go on, and it’s like, “You mean, I don’t have to, sort of, “be this chipper, perky, ‘ON’ person, “I can be in Christ and be immersed in these practices.” And in lots of ways, you know, disciplines like that, take you through the whole council of scripture, in ways that my own little personal supplications don’t and they become more formative.

Trains run better on tracks than they do on the ground.

That’s a great metaphor.

And the wheel has been invented. [laughs]

Yes, right.

Todd: Yeah, right.

And it’s round! [laughs]

About the Authors