For kinesthetic and visual learners, the Protestant church hasn’t always offered much to engage the senses beyond stained glass windows. Most worship services are designed to enrich the mind through the study of God’s word and connect to the heart through listening and singing songs. These are all well and good, but for those who learn by doing or experiencing, the worship experience can be missing ways for individuals to connect with God the way God designed them to connect.
There are many ways that individuals who learn by doing can connect with God that aren’t always presented in our faith traditions. Author, yoga instructor, spiritual director, and worship leader Jody Thomae has sought incarnational spaces where she can experience the fullness of Christ throughout her life and strives to help others discover fresh connections with the Lord as well.
Rooted and Reaching: Whole Body Worship
Thomae is one of those unique individuals who is able to engage both her left and right brain. With a love for studying God’s Word, plumbing the depths of translation, and reading historical Christian teachings, Thomae combines the knowledge and wisdom we can acquire through study with the knowledge and wisdom we gain through bodily experiences. This forms the foundation of everything she does, what she calls “Rooted and Reaching.”
The image of rootedness surfaces throughout Scripture, in passages like Isaiah 11:1, “A shoot will come up from the stump of Jesse; from his roots a Branch will bear fruit,” and Jeremiah 17:8, “They will be like a tree planted by the water that sends out its roots by the stream. It does not fear when heat comes; its leaves are always green. It has no worries in a year of drought and never fails to bear fruit.”
“My life is rooted in the love of Christ,” Thomae shared. “And I reach out with that same love. If I am rooted in love then I will reach out in love, loving God and loving others.”
Thomae points to the frequent appearance of the Greek word “kardia” in the Bible. Kardia means our “whole being;” it’s what Jesus uses in the “Love God” commandment in Matthew 22:37.
“When we sit in our pews and we’re singing about the greatness of God, but we’re not in a posture of praise/worship, there’s a disconnect between our mind and body,” Thomae shared. “We sing, ‘God is great and greatly to be praised,’ but then we stand with our hands at our sides looking straight forward.” The mind says one thing, but our actions don’t follow.
“My relationship with God really began to blossom and grow when I could engage the visual and the body in my spiritual journey,” Thomae said. “It wasn’t that [the way church was being done] was bad, it just wasn’t engaging how I learned. If I’m a kinesthetic learner, I need to learn by moving and doing. I learned more about God moving and dancing. If all we’re doing is auditory learning, we aren’t giving people the opportunity to experience God to the fullest.”
To disrupt just going through the motions of faith, Thomae offers right-brained creatives and kinesthetic learners different pathways to engage the Holy Spirit.
One way “kardia” worship or “whole being” worship manifests itself in the life of believers is through embodied prayer.
“For some people it looks like gestures, postures, and movement to express their prayer; for others it looks like service, feeding the homeless and clothing the naked,” said Thomae. “It’s how we flesh out Jesus in this world. If we’re to be incarnational it’s how we ‘enflesh’ Jesus in the world.”
The Bible is filled with postures of worship. “A lot of people haven’t lifted up holy hands or haven’t been the hands and feet of Jesus,” Thomae said. “You have to move in order to do those things.”
One such posture in the Old Testament is translated as falling “prostrate before God.” People are always falling to their knees with their faces to the ground in the Old Testament. “In yoga, we call it Child’s Pose,” Thomae said. “When I’m in Child’s Pose face down, I’m in prayer.”
Faith and Yoga
Thomae grew up dancing and doing flexibility training, which eventually led to practicing yoga. Despite her positive experience with yoga, there was some pushback from individuals in her faith community at first. Thomae began to question whether she was allowed to do yoga.
“I went to God and asked God, ‘What do you say about this? I feel like I meet you on the mat, but there’s this other contingent that says it’s wrong,” Thomae shared. Thomae turned to Scripture for answers. “The whole book of Colossians is wrestling with something that has to do with the body and spiritual practices,” said Thomae. The message resonated with her.
“Ultimately, all things are created in and through Christ Jesus and he’s over all things,” Thomae said. “God was saying, ‘Go, I created this thing.’” God also pointed her to Paul’s letter to the Ephesians, where he writes, “And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the Lord’s holy people, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ” (Ephesians 3:17 NIV). There was that word again, rooted. With God’s blessing on her yoga practice, Thomae decided to keep going until she heard from God to stop.
“I have always felt like yoga is a prayer and now I know that it is a prayer,” said Thomae.
Thomae now has a yoga studio at her home on a lake in rural Ohio, where individuals can come for spiritual retreats that integrate the mind and the body. Here, the way the sunlight strikes the water makes it look like there are diamonds dancing on the lake. Yoga practices are occasionally interrupted by an eagle soaring overhead. Practitioners can walk the grounds barefoot and literally become rooted with the Earth again.
“There’s something so soul refreshing and soul filling there,” Thomae shared. “I know God ordained this space and also that Creation heals. All the things that revive the soul are there.”
Rooted and Reaching into Bible Study
Jody Thomae is also the author of three books, each of which encourage creative individuals and kinesthetic learners to find their natural connection points with God. Her first book, God’s Creative Gift: Unleashing the Artist in You invites creatives to explore the Word of God and draw inspiration from the Maker. The Creator’s Healing Power: Restoring the Broken to Beautiful: Bible Studies to Nurture the Creative Spirit Within, Thomae’s second book, explores how God can take the broken pieces of our lives and restore them in a powerful kind of “Kintsugi of the Soul.”
And in her most recent book, Jesus In My Practice: Bringing the Questions of Jesus to My Movement, My Meditation, and My Mat, Thomae invites individuals to engage through meditation and movement with the questions Jesus asked. It is written for those who call Jesus “Lord” and also for those who might be curious about Jesus’s teachings.
Learn more about Jody Thomae’s work on her website, jodythomae.com or follow her on Instagram or Facebook.