Movement as a Spiritual Practice

By Deidra Riggs

August 19, 2017

“The God who made the world and everything in it is the Lord of heaven and earth and does not live in temples built by human hands. And he is not served by human hands, as if he needed anything. Rather, he himself gives everyone life and breath and everything else. From one man he made all the nations, that they should inhabit the whole earth; and he marked out their appointed times in history and the boundaries of their lands. God did this so that they would seek him and perhaps reach out for him and find him, though he is not far from any one of us. ‘For in him we live and move and have our being.’

Acts 17:24-28b


A person in motion, dancing before a backdrop that looks as if it is amplifying the movements. Earlier this year, I was in my husband’s office and I noticed a picture on his wall, just above his desk. It’s a picture of a tree. I had never seen this picture before. It’s something my husband found online, printed off, and affixed to his wall as a reminder. It’s called the Tree of Contemplative Practices.

Imprinted on the limbs of the tree are different types of contemplative practices. As I scanned the tree I saw general headings, including Relational Practices, Ritual/Cyclical Practice, Stillness Practices, and Generative Practices.

But then, my eye caught a glimpse of something exciting: Movement Practices. I leaned closer to get a better look. This particular branch included activities such as yoga, dance, and walking meditation. Reading these practices put a smile on my face.

I enjoy moving my body, especially outdoors. From time to time I run or walk or ride my bike outside and, while exercise is important to me, and I often experience God while I’m exercising, this is different. In fact, the more I can distance this outdoor movement of my body from the idea of exercising (that is to say, toward some specific goal of distance traveled, calories burned, or time elapsed) the more contemplative, or prayerful, the movement becomes.

This type of prayerful movement opens a door to my heart and my soul. Sometimes it is running that opens the door. In fact, I have been running and found myself crying uncontrollably as emotions rise to the surface, along with the sweat that drenches my skin. And, like that sweat and the tears, the anguish at the root of the emotion falls away onto the sidewalk as my body presses on. Other times, however, my soul opens wide as I pull weeds from the garden, or spread mulch beneath the hydrangea, or hang suspended in the ocean’s undulating waves.

I believe our bodies were made to move — whatever we can move, for as long as we can move it. I feel the sun beat down on my shoulders as I tug at the roots of an obstinate dandelion and I cannot help but thank God for shoulders that move, knees that bend, lungs that expand, and thumbs for grabbing and tugging. All of it comes from God: the sunshine, the dandelions, and the bodies we’ve been given as packaging for our soul. We live, move, and have our being in him alone. When my limbs ache after a weekend of shoveling or digging or reaching or bending, I thank God for the ache and its reminder to me of this gift of movement and presence of God in the midst of it all.


(A friend asked me this question the other day, and now I pass it on to you): What is one spiritual practice that is helping you or healing you in your spiritual day-to-day?


God, thank you for giving me a body that moves, even if doesn’t move quite the way it used to, or the way I wish it would. Thank you for the parts of my body that are healthy and strong. Help me to care properly for the parts of my body that are weaker, or more fragile. Don’t let me take movement for granted, Lord, and thank you for all the times you meet me there. Amen.


Explore more at the Theology of Work Project online commentaryEngaging the Culture with Respect (Acts 17:16-34)

Deidra Riggs

Writer & Author

Deidra Riggs is a national speaker, an editor, and the founder and host of Jumping Tandem: The Retreat, a bi-annual event for writers, authors, and entrepreneurs. She is a storyteller who creates safe space for navigating...

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