The Integrated Life
Connecting our physical lives to our spiritual lives—exploring what it means to live an integrated life.
"Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind." — Luke 10:27
Jesus is telling us clearly: We can love the Lord with our bodies. We can love Him with our minds—our thoughts, will, and emotions. Jesus is telling us the importance of integration—all the parts of our being coming together to love the One who made us.
We live in a culture that aids in our dis-integration: in the busy-ness of life, our minds check out, we move on auto-pilot, our bodies serve as a vehicle to get us to the next destination. The world slips away. Things in everyday life lose their color and vitality, life becomes trivial rather than miraculous. Meanwhile, our spirits are starving, and we don’t even notice.
We must be a people in our creative life and habits that integrate ourselves more completely and love Him with every capacity of our being. To continually draw from the well for living water (John 4), while embodying our human experience, allowing the Spirit to be our guide, tending to our critical inner need.
Integration means submitting to God and giving Him access to everything. It means being mindful of what aids in our disintegration, and being vigilant about the nourishment of our spirit above all. We must learn to pause and ask ourselves: How did we get to this point where we aren’t noticing the beauty of God? How can we allow God to bring wholeness to the parts we’ve neglected?
We have universal physical needs: healthy food, exercise, exposure to sunlight, time in nature, constructive rest. We need to slow down and deepen our breath more often. We need to be present within strong community. When we do these practical things, we experience joy. Scientifically, a mind that experiences joy is linked to cell repair and produces healing hormones like oxytocin. These are good things, but we cannot stop there.
There is also an invisible and visceral experience that is going on inside of us: things we are processing, feeling, assimilating—where the Spirit of God is working. All of these experiences—the physical and spiritual—matter, but are seldom integrated intentionally. We are one being that often becomes fragmented. This is often the result of focusing only on the external: Our actions, our jobs, what we wear, how we look, what we produce. We disconnect from our inner life, leaving our internal landscape dry and barren.
The example of our Savior is one of complete connection to his human experience. His body grew tired. He sweats blood in the Garden. He wept for Lazarus. He hungered in the desert. Jesus embraced the physical aspects of being human, and he used these as indicators to prioritize rest, reflection, and communion with God. Understanding our physical bodies can lead towards better spiritual well-being. Reciprocally, spiritual well-being leads to what we need for emotional and psychological nourishment. Everyone hungers for spiritual food, consciously and unconsciously. We must be the ones who seek out true nourishment, even when everyone around us is settling for the low-hanging fruit.
As creatives, being connected to our experience—whether painful or joyous—brings integrity to everything we do and create. This holy art of integration requires gentle self-direction, articulation, and practice. We remind ourselves of this miracle that we hold something precious within—the life-giving Spirit of God. As we work towards integration, discovery happens. A connection is activated. Spirit, soul, and body align. We begin to sense things that we previously didn’t notice, and, spiritually, something deeper is revived. What revives our spirits, revives our whole being.
When we are mindful of shifts in ourselves and connect them with what we create, our creative practice becomes integrated too. We see things how they are and as they should be simultaneously. Our disciplines as creatives overlap with our disciplines as Christ-followers. Our art follows our journey of sanctification.
The world needs us—and our creative calling requires us—to be fully integrated. It calls us to go deeper into that inner need for His divine presence. The more we are called to create for God’s kingdom, the more we need to deepen the knowledge of God within our entire being.
The farther the outward journey takes you, the deeper the inward journey must be. — Henri Nouwen
Words and Images: Evie Shaffer