what does integration mean in practice?

I recently wrote some of my own story of Christian formation (you can read it here). I wrote it by way of explanation as to how I came to be on this journey towards an integration of the physical parts of me and my journey with God with the non-physical parts. After reading that post, someone asked me a great question: ‘What if I agree with everything you wrote?’ he asked. ‘What then?’ What you read here, then, is in response to that question. If it is true that every dimension of my being is inextricably interwoven with every other part, and if it is true that my being saved has implications for how I live in my body, then what?

whole-person harmony

I believe that the life we are invited into in God, is a life of goodness. It is a life of making choices that lead to flourishing - our own, and the flourishing of those around us. In this context, I use a lot of words interchangeably. I might say wholeness, health, goodness, vitality, abundance. And when I use these words, I am referring to every dimension of who we are. So yes, I want to be spiritually healthy; I also want to be physically healthy. I want to be moving towards greater emotional wholeness; I also want to experience increasing relational wholeness. 

C.S. Lewis, in his book Mere Christianity, says it this way:

  • Every time you make a choice you are turning the central part of you, the part of you that chooses, into something a little different from what it was before. And taking your life as a whole, with all your innumerable choices, all your life long you are slowly turning this central thing either into a heavenly creature or into a hellish creature: either into a creature that is in harmony with God, and with other creatures, and with itself, or else into one that is in a state of war and hatred with God, and with its fellow-creatures, and with itself. To be the one kind of creature is heaven: that is, it is joy and peace and knowledge and power. To be the other means madness, horror, idiocy, rage, impotence, and eternal loneliness. Each of us at each moment is progressing to the one state or the other. 

That state of war or state of harmony with oneself is something we experience at every level of our being. In my thinking, in my emotions, in my body, in my motivations, in my desires, in the way I am living out my values, in my vocation, in my consuming of entertainment, food, and stuff … in all this, I am moving either towards a state of harmony that sets me up for flourishing, or away from it.

I hope you can hear in these descriptions the level of integration with which we are designed to function. One way or another, every part of who I am impacts on every other part. You’ll have noticed this, perhaps, when your body feels sluggish and you struggle to think clearly. Or when you are in a relational conflict, and you have a knot in your stomach. Or when you are sick, and you find it hard to connect with God. Or when you look in the mirror and don’t like what you see, and then find it hard to enjoy intimate closeness with your nearest and dearest.

Every part of us that has been bent away from goodness and fullness of life is invited to get straightened out by the work of Jesus, and directed instead towards what leads to flourishing, vitality and abundance. Not just for ourselves, but for those around us. When was the last time you thought about your body in this regard? What might it look like for the way you live in your body to be in a process of rescue and re-orientation towards all that leads to life and vitality?

for reflection

Here are a few other questions to prompt reflection. Remember, as you respond to the questions, to bring to mind every dimension of your humanity - not just your physical life, or your spiritual life, or your emotional life. Practice thinking about your living in as many dimensions as possible.

  • What am I doing when I feel most alive and energised? What am I doing when I feel sluggish, lifeless or apathetic?
  • How do I overindulge (information, entertainment, food, drink, purchasing, socialising, etc) in ways that do not lead to wholeness or health? What might be the underlying need I am seeking to meet? How might God want to encounter me in that place of need?
  • To what extent do I consider my stewardship of my body as important a part of my life in God as my 'quiet time?' In what way does my care for my health reflect what I believe about myself, God and creation?
  • What are the places in me that I am failing to nourish? What are the underfed parts of me? Or what are the ways that I feed myself on things that fail to bring me life?
  • In what ways am I strong? How does that strength enhance my relationships and the way I am in the world? In what ways am I weak? How do I disguise or disregard my weakness, rather than allowing it to be a place of compassionate engagement with my own life?
  • What are the parts of my life - physical and non-physical - that I would rather not see, that I would prefer to keep in the shadows? How might God be inviting me to take an honest and loving look at those parts of myself?

Continue to engage

Honestly, I believe that our whole lives long we will be invited into deeper experiences of integration: in our multi-dimensional selves, in our relationships, and as communities of diverse generations, races, genders, and faith perspectives. This is a journey of becoming, not a destination called perfection at which we arrive. 

In your own journey of becoming more integrated, more whole, you may find it helpful to talk to someone. It can be that another person's questions or reflective comments help us to discover things we hadn't yet known to articulate. If you wonder what it could be like to talk to a spiritual director, then get in touch and we can have an initial chat to explore that together. 

If you especially want to give thought to the ways God might be present to you in your life in your body, then consider 6 weeks of spiritual direction with this particular focus. Find out more here, or get in touch with your questions.