LAST year, I was part of an evening of reflection on spirituality for mission at a local convention centre. Around the edges of the room were placed 10 experiential prayer stations.
At the back I spotted a shopping trolley.
Inspired, I strolled over, held the handle and prayed for all who hold, push and collect trolleys.
Over time, I noticed that while people were clustering at other stations, no-one was joining me at mine.
The facilitator strolled over.
Gently she pointed out that she had only used the trolley to bring her things inside.
But if it helped me to connect with God, I was welcome to continue to use it.
For others, it is different.
David loves organ music.
Every Sunday as he slips into his favourite pew, the music enhances a quiet centring that connects him with the spiritual.
Vanessa finds the outdoors a breeze.
In a secluded place, communion is set, a picnic is shared and a scripture is read.
For her neighbours, many of whom are struggling, it is an experience of healing.
They have designated trees in the park as places to give thanks, to name their pain, to ask for help.
Religion has always had a complicated relationship with things.
Can holding a trolley, or walking outdoors, help or hinder the spiritual journey?
For the people of Israel, faith began in the desert with the journeys of Abraham and Moses.
Over time, their worship found concrete expression in an ark and then a temple, both of which were destroyed in the Exile.
Worship was possible, faith was nurtured, in both the presence and absence of things.
Turning to the Christian tradition, it is helpful to consider how the footsteps of Jesus became, over time, physical places of pilgrimage.
Then after the Crusades, the places where Jesus walked found symbolic expressions as Stations of the Cross, located in church buildings throughout Europe.
In time, however, such art was torn apart by Protestant reformers.
Recently Stations of the Cross have returned, with churches like Wesley Uniting Church in central Perth or Small Boat Big Sea in Sydney finding in their revival a life-giving expression of mission.
A connection with things is proving essential for our mission and ministry.
Christian theology, from Creation to Incarnation, Resurrection to Ascension, affirms the body.
Our God-given senses matter – to read this sentence, touch this paper, smell the printer's ink, hear the chink of the teapot, savour the tea – and connect us with the Divine.
This presents a significant missionary challenge.
What will it mean for us, as individuals and churches, to love God not only with soul, but also in mind and body?
For some the connection will be through organ music.
For others it will need to be in walking churches and tactile prayer stations.
Because our bodies matter.
Visit Rev Dr Steve Taylor's website at www.emergentkiwi.org.nz