The Body — Where Sex and Spirit Live

“I am more interested in the soul than in the body.  But talking about the soul implies talking about its container, the body.  While trying to understand the body, you may learn more about the soul.” 

Jaume Plensa, Spanish sculptor, on his exhibit “Together,” 9 May - 22 November 2015, Curated by Clare Lilley, in the Abbazia di San Giorgio Maggiore, Venice


Almost all sessions include light touch within the general framework of respect for individual boundaries. Men encourage each other to let their preferences, limits, and boundaries be known, and it is expected that men not be pressured to experience or participate in anything that transgresses their personal boundaries. On the other hand, men in Jonathan’s Circle challenge each other to examine and stretch their limits, to experiment and practice new behavior. And, as the guidelines show, a major part of Jonathan’s Circle is welcoming challenge and being challenging for the sake of one’s own and others' growth.  

In addition to body-focused exercises, in our circle meetings we explore various ways of centering and focusing our minds, including meditation techniques; silent, verbal, and sung prayers from many traditions; listening to music; engaging in drumming and other forms of music-making. Members of circles frequently contribute practices from their individual repertoires or from their ethnic, religious, or spiritual traditions.

It has always deeply disappointed me that the Christian religion was the only one that believed God became a human body, and yet we have had such deficient and frankly negative attitudes toward embodiment, the physical world, sexuality, emotions, animals, wonderful physical practices like yoga, and nature itself. We want to do spirituality all in the head. It often seems to me that Western Christianity has been much more formed by Plato (body and soul are at war) than by Jesus (body and soul are already one). For many of us, the body is more repressed and denied than even the mind or the heart. It makes both presence and healing quite difficult, because the body, not just our mind, holds our memories.

Richard Rohr, adapted from Breathing Under Water: Spirituality and the Twelve Steps

Since body shame is a huge issue for a number of men (regardless of age, body type, or sexuality), Jonathan’s circles are free to experiment with clothing-optional sessions. Experience shows that the idea of Jonathan’s divesting himself of his armor is an important image for laying aside clothing and other facets of persona (work identity, for example) in order for men to interact as authentic individuals willing to trust each other, not fearing rejection, shame, humiliation, or negative comparisons. Men in Jonathan’s Circles encourage each other to affirm and to celebrate their bodies.

HE WAS NAKED. In broad daylight. In church. He had taken off all his clothing—in front of the local bishop, in front of his neighbors and peers, and in front of his angry father. He now stood before them all. “I shall go naked to meet my naked Lord,” he said. We know him as St. Francis, but at that moment he was just Giovanni Francesco di Bernardone, a young man on trial in the portico of the church of Santa Maria Maggiore in Assisi, Italy. Standing there self-exposed, he must have seemed more like a candidate for involuntary hospitalization than elevation to sainthood. His father was a prosperous merchant of fine fabrics, an appreciating commodity at the beginning of the thirteenth century, when dressing up was becoming more and more essential for those wishing to ascend the socioeconomic ladder. He had accused Francis of selling some of his merchandise to raise money for a church renovation project. Since that fabric had indeed been sold and the proceeds invested in Francis’s mission, Francis had nothing to offer in restitution. So he gave his father everything he had, his money, the shirt off his back, and the rest of his garments, saying, “I give you not only my money, but also my clothes.” In so doing, Francis stripped off this earthly identity and clothed himself in a more primal and primary identity as God’s unclothed creature, God’s naked and vulnerable child.

Brian D. McLaren, Naked Spirituality: A Life with God in 12 Simple Words (HarperCollins e-books, Kindle edition, 2011, location 76ff.)

Could it be that the reason the world knows so few St. Francises is that so few of us know how take off our masks, our personas, and dare to be who we truly are? “And they were naked,” says the Genesis tale of the first people, “and were not ashamed.” In Jonathan’s circle, we practice being present to each other without pretense, fear, or worry.

  informat  © Frank Dunn 2014