We become what we behold

Anvil journal of theology and mission

We become what we behold: finding an embodied spirituality in the midst of pioneering | ANVIL volume 40 issue 1

by David Harrigan

Over the last few years, I have been thinking about a rule of life. The idea was birthed in the first year of my degree with CMS while studying the Mission Spirituality module. I became aware during that module of how praxis and theology go together and found that what you believe in determines what you do. “We always become what we behold; the presence that we practice matters.”1 I was, at the time, an ordinand, and I wanted to look at how rhythm of life lived out can impact and can affect those around us and the way we care for creation.

As my Christian faith has matured, I have become aware that I have not questioned my praxis theologically. Instead, I spent time trying to “keep the show on the road” and simply go through the motions. I realised my faith needed to be embodied, it needed to be considerate of everything around me, “others”, the “natural world”. So rather than an embedded “traditional” spirituality that feels like it has stopped asking the pertinent questions, I wanted a spirituality that is deeply embedded in a practice that thinks about mission, justice, others and caring for creation.

I have also, through studying the Justice and Environment module with CMS, realised how our urban lifestyle, and the modern problem of individual autonomy, has allowed us to become disconnected from creation and the land. Lifelong creation care campaigner, and author, Wendell Berry states:

The soil is the great connector of lives, the source and destination of all. It is the healer and restorer and resurrector, by which disease passes into health, age into youth, death into life. Without proper care for it we can have no community, because without proper care for it we can have no life.2

We learned about eco-theology and an eco-spirituality, and discovered this theology is foundational for how we view the whole of creation, the whole of life, and how it informs how we should “be” and “live”. It is a much more rounded and holistic vision than I have ever encountered before. It is about seeing how we are connected to what is around us and how we play a part in the world’s ecosystem – acknowledging what we do and how we live matters. During one of the lectures for this module we were encouraged to look at simple rules of life to think how the way we live could affect our connection with creation. It got me thinking about my own household, and I started reflecting on our own family rituals and rhythms. We already have what we call “habits of the house” and so I set upon reflecting on how they relate to an eco-theology.

Over the years my role within the church has changed, and as I have taken on more responsibility it has become evident that my spirituality was not being sustained through church services. In response, as a family, we created a household spiritual rhythm, something we could all embody. We wanted it to be something we experienced, not simply head knowledge but a lived faith; not simply Christian faith but the lived experience of Christian faith. We called them “habits” to avoid any Christian jargon our children wouldn’t understand and so they could be accessible for people outside the Christian faith to engage with. We wanted to create something that was unique to us as a family and contextually appropriate for where we live.

  • Monday – Eating together and encouragement
    A time of eating together, informed by the importance of “the table”, and the importance of food, biblically, spiritually, physically and ecologically. At the shared table we used the time to encourage each other and laugh together. The table was an “event”.
  • Wednesday – Non-tech evening
    This is a time of Sabbath from information overload. It was a space to find a new way of living and to do so you have to remove some of the old ways first.
  • Friday – “Creative” Friday
    Creativity is important to me for my own wellbeing, but also important for us to allow our children to be expressive outside of their formal education. We use this mainly around prayer so our children can understand that praxis more than just words offering our list of requests to God.
  • Sunday – Family walk
    Each Sunday we take a walk together and go wherever we feel led. This could be walking to church or around the block, but we often walk around our local park.

In the light of this module, I have come to see that our habits are interlinked with an intentionality informed by living a life of co-creation, although I did not previously have the language for it. I realised through this module that eco-theology is not just about the environment but is something that is integrated holistically into our theology and praxis.

Creating the dancer

All our habits feel as though they are an experience of environmental praxis “an environmental practice is… a behaviour or experience that inculcates attitudes and perspectives that enhance one’s awareness and appreciation of non-human nature”. 3 Through our habits we have connected with the environment in some way: eating together and thinking about where food comes from and what is enough when we eat; non-tech evenings and turning off all electrical appliances giving ourselves a Sabbath from technology; creatively praying for the needs of the world; and Sunday being connected with creation as we walk, seeing the forest, animals and how the seasons change.

We formed our habits before the module, and so I wanted to reflect on them and introduce practice that can be more intentionally integrated, more holistic with thinking about how we connect with creation. For our creative Fridays we wanted to think about God as the participator, using the idea of “perichoresis of trinity” – God the dancer, weaving through our world. So, the idea came to us to create a dancer thinking about how we connect with creation.

A large collage image of a ballet dancer made from mixed natural media including bark and leaves
God the dancer, as created by the Harrigan family

Perichoresis is a Greek word which is formed from two parts: peri, which means “around”, and chorein, which means “to give way”. These very ideas are what we wanted to look for and learn about as we went through the processes of creating a figure from elements of creation. We discussed as we walked through the local landscape about where we believe God would be and we wanted to get out of the way to let God speak through her creation.

This led us to create a picture of God as dancer using elements of “nature” that we discovered from our weekly walks. As we wandered, we allowed creation to speak to us. We realised that the energy we were feeling was not through creation and the plants but our relationship with them and the Creator who made them. “The energy in the universe is not in the planets, or in the protons or neutrons, but in the relationship between them.” 4 We didn’t want to harm creation by taking what we wanted but waited to find things we felt were needed. For example, we used bark from a fallen tree for the dancer’s tutu; we used shells from a walk along the beach and pine cones that had fallen from the tree, creating a blanket on the forest floor. As we drew all these elements together, we created what we think is a wonderful mural of “God the dancer”.

Moving forward

We continue to use our “habits” as a form of spirituality and continue to think how we can be more intentional about reintegrating with the story of creation. We still have a long way to go with our spiritual discipline and perhaps in the future it might move and change as we move and change. But it has helped us to let go and find a new way of being and caring ecologically, as well as enculturating ourselves where we are. This process for Stephen Bevans and Roger Schroeder is “persons who want to be agents of inculturation need to practice a spirituality based on the discipline of ‘letting go’ and ‘speaking out.’ This is a spirituality born of the practice of prophetic dialogue.” 5I am hoping our dancer will be to us this prophetic voice caring for creation and we will use our lives to speak this prophetic voice into the world through our praxis and embodied lives.

I see now how vital the creative action of our “habits” is in connecting with God. Even though any metaphor we use will take away something of who God is, it is a way of creating something that connects us back with God, the creator of all things. “For in Him all things in heaven and on earth were created, things visible and invisible.” 6

I hope the habits are touching points for not only the sustainability of my own spiritual growth, but my family too. I hope our house will be a place to connect with ideas from creation care so we can use our lives/voices to speak prophetically into the community around us to reveal God the dancer. I pray it brings with it justice and shalom for the cosmic temple.

About the author

David Harrigan is a CMS-trained pioneer vicar at St Elisabeth’s, Eastbourne, where he lives out his passion for mission and caring for community and creation with his wife and two children. At the time of writing this assignment he was an ordinand serving at The Good Shepherd Romford, his home church. While there he combined his passion of mission and reaching those on the margins with his love for boxing, and set up a boxing community. Many of its members have come to faith and even been baptised in the “ring”.

More from this issue


  1. Richard Rohr, The Divine Dance: The Trinity And Your Transformation (London: SPCK, 2016). ↩︎
  2. Wendell Berry, The Great Unsettling of America: Culture & Agriculture (Berkeley, CA: Counterpoint LLC: 2015). ↩︎
  3. Sarah Clarke, lecture on Sabbath theology, 19 March 2020. ↩︎
  4. Rohr, The Divine Dance. ↩︎
  5. Stephen B. Bevans and Roger P. Schroeder, Prophetic Dialogue: Reflections of Christian Mission Today (New York: Orbis Books, 2011). ↩︎
  6. Col. 1:16 (NRSV). ↩︎