Recognizing the Body

Not long ago, I was visiting my daughter, her husband, and our granddaughter. These days of social distancing are hard for everyone, but I can’t help but highlight the difficulties for young children (and their parents). One of my goals during the visit was to get Aletheia out for some unique experiences in the outdoors.

My daughter and I found a nearby park with walking trails and we set out on a very hot afternoon. We found a shaded, grassy place for Aletheia to get out of the comfort of the stroller and expend some of her boundless energy.

The terrain was uneven, and Aletheia sometimes stumbled, and even fell, as she learned to navigate over sticks, bumps, and small divots. She had to experiment with how high to lift her feet, how fast she could go, or how much force she needed to use to climb over small hills. Toddlers need experiences like this to exercise their proprioceptive sense, that is, the communication between receptors in joints, ligaments, and muscles and the brain which help them understand their body’s position and movement. It helps them recognize their own body and gain control over it.

We don’t think very much about this sense, but it is central to our everyday experience. Those who lack proprioception may fall or trip more often (and thus have more broken bones) or use excessive force for delicate tasks. In the extreme, there have been cases of a complete inability to sense the parameters of one’s body, making it impossible to move, grasp, or feel (for example, see Losing Touch: A Man Without His Body by Jonathan Cole, 2016).

Some activities to nurture the proprioceptive sense in young children:

(Some ideas taken from Balanced and Barefoot, by Angela Hanscom, 2016)

  • Encourage “heavy” work:
    • Pull a full bag of toys across the room
    • Pull a wagon (loaded with treasures, perhaps?)
    • Push an ottoman to a favorite reading spot by a window
    • Push a log to make a bridge or a seat
    • Lift cans and boxes to help unload after a shopping trip
    • Pick up stones or rocks for building and playing outside
    • Provide heavy and light objects together for children to experience the difference
  • Practice working with delicate items (with discretion and safety!)
    • Allow children to briefly handle breakable objects (with supervision). Even very young children can learn what “gentle” means! Here is our grandson making “coffee” for his family:
    • Allow children to help care for plants
    • Give children a few stacked cupcake liners to separate
    • Help children learn to remove one sheet from a paper towel roll

I couldn’t help but make a different connection as I considered the concept of “recognizing the body”. Some translations of 1 Corinthians 11:29 use this terminology in terms of receiving Holy Communion. St. Paul explains the importance of recognizing (or discerning) that in Holy Communion, we consume Christ. The Catholic Church teaches that we receive the Real Presence of Christ: body, blood, soul, and divinity. This Eucharist is the center of the Christian life. Through it, the whole Church is united into Christ, as a body is united to its head.

So, in a way, we can consider right reception of the Eucharist an exercise in spiritual proprioception. As we enter into the mystery of Christ’s Passion, we gain an understanding of who we truly are, and who we are meant to be. We gain a sense of our own place in the Body by recognizing the Body of Christ. Without this proper disposition, we lose touch, we fall.

Some suggestions for strengthening your spiritual “proprioception”:

  • If you are able, regularly make visits to an Adoration Chapel or a Church to spend time in silence and prayer
  • Read what the Church teaches about the Eucharist in the Catechism
  • Read some books about the Eucharist (The Lamb’s Supper by Scott Hahn or The Jewish Roots of the Eucharist by Brant Pitre – just for starters)
  • Get in a habit of praying before and after receiving the Eucharist. Here are some examples.

Do you have other ideas for building physical or spiritual proprioception? Let me know in the comments below. Let us know you like this content by clicking like, then share with friends and family.

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