My Flesh Faints for God

O God, you are my God, I seek you, my soul thirsts for you; my flesh faints for you, as in a dry and weary land where there is no water.” – Psalm 63:1

What does it mean to want God so much that we feel it in our bodies, to the point where we would cry out, “My flesh faints for you!”?

What comes to mind first are the ecstatic experiences of the Christian mystics. Consider St. Teresa of Avila’s account of a seraph piercing her heart with a blade of love, causing sublime body-spirit pain:

The Ecstasy of Saint Teresa by Bernini, Basilica of Santa Maria della Vittoria, Rome.

The Ecstasy of Saint Teresa by Bernini, Basilica of Santa Maria della Vittoria, Rome.

I saw in his hand a long spear of gold, and at the point there seemed to be a little fire. He appeared to me to be thrusting it at times into my heart, and to pierce my very entrails; when he drew it out, he seemed to draw them out also, and to leave me all on fire with a great love of God. The pain was so great, that it made me moan; and yet so surpassing was the sweetness of this excessive pain, that I could not wish to be rid of it…[1]

God’s love was so real for Teresa that she felt as if her entrails were afire. Wow. Can’t say I’ve ever experienced that in my life.

I have experienced my flesh fainting for God in the form of a deep yearning in my bones to pray through movement and dance. Sometimes, especially when I am going through painful or complicated emotions, words just don’t cut it. Sinking into a deep silence and allowing my soul to be still is sometimes what I need, but at other times I need to tell God with my body how I feel.

In these times, I let my mind take backstage and give my body permission to move freely. Sometimes I wrap my arms around my core and crouch in fetal position. Sometimes I reach brokenly with my arms, clench my fists, or throw up my hands. Sometimes I twirl around and feel my body opening up to some movement of life and spirit just beyond my mental grasp. Often, my body prays in a way that my mind could never express, and leads me closer to my heart.

I can think of one other way that our flesh might “faint for God.” It is when we become painfully aware of the gap between what our bodies are, and what our bodies ought to be. Paul writes to the Corinthians (2 Cor. 5:4):

For while we are still in this tent, we groan under our burden, because we wish not to be unclothed but to be further clothed, so that what is mortal may be swallowed up by life.

We feel in our flesh and in our spirits that there is more to this life than we know. Even our bodies are destined for greater glory than we can imagine, when one day what is now decaying and dying will be “swallowed up by life.” In the meantime, we wait with joy, hope, and longing, and our flesh, too, faints for God.