By: Nanette Sawyer

Having a Naked Spirit

Recently as I was sitting with my Spiritual Director, I raised my hands in the air and spoke exuberantly to God. I said, “Look at me, God!” I meant it in the sense of “look at all the great things about me!”

Does that sound arrogant?

When I think back on my childhood, I remember the sense of freedom I had when I did something that I truly loved and I was excited to share it with someone else. My child self would exclaim, “Look what I did!” There was a purity and an innocence in that freedom and that joy. My creativity brought me joy. And that joy was something I wanted to share, something I wanted seen.

Inside each of us that pure and joyful spirit is still alive. But it’s a spirit that we, as adults, have learned to tuck safely away where no one can criticize us or make fun of us for it. Part of us longs to return to that joyful spirit, and part of us fears that its innocence is unreasonable. After all, the world is a difficult place, we tell ourselves. No one has time to celebrate our little victories. Or we begin to compare ourselves to others— to measure our creativity and our worth against what we perceive in them. And we begin to doubt our own worth because we imagine that others are more creative or talented than we are.

It’s as though we cover up the free and joyful spirit of our childhood with the clothing of so-called maturity. Or perhaps we cover that joy with doubt; or shame begins to drop over us like a veil that dampens our spirits.

We need to find ways to invite that freedom and joy back into the center of our lives!

Recently I’ve been enjoying a book called Naked Spirituality: Life with God in 12 Simple Words.  In it the author, Brian McLaren, tells the story of being on the playground with his children and feeling pure delight as his children ran free and played with their playmates. McLaren wrote, “And when they would climb the slide or the jungle gym and shout, ‘Dad, watch this!’ I remember thinking that I would like very much to live this way with God: showing off, not in an egotistical way, but rather, humbly, generously, and with childlike abandon. . .  ” (p. 100).

Wouldn’t it be wonderful to feel that free before God? In our minds we might believe that, of course, God accepts us exactly as we are. But it can be difficult to get our hearts to catch up. We may tell ourselves that God loves us, but our hearts still feel pinched; we still feel afraid or ashamed.

That’s just one reason why spiritual practice is so important—to make the space in our hearts for what we believe in our minds. For example, we might practice standing with our eyes closed and our hands open before us, palms up, as an indication that we are ready for God to see us, exactly as we are right now.

That’s part of the reason why I raised my hands in the air and exclaimed, “Look at me, God!” Because I too need to practice accepting and loving who I am. I too need to practice the innocent, joyful exuberance that God gave me when God created me. I too need to celebrate that I love what I love and that I am gifted with the gifts that God has given me—not out of arrogance but with gratitude and joy, embracing my gifts and celebrating them.

Inspired by Naked Spirituality, the Spirituality Center at the 2016 APCE Annual Event in Chicago will provide an opportunity to experience a series of body-prayer stations with visually inspiring large-scale human silhouettes that reflect the seasons of our spiritual lives. The prayer stations will invite us to look, listen, touch, pray, and be changed as we engage and contemplate standing open, spiritually naked, authentic, and true before God.

God just might do a new thing in our hearts!

Rev. Nanette Sawyer Rev. Nanette Sawyer, curator of this year’s APCE Spirituality Center, was one of the first women to found an emergent-style church in a vibrant hipster neighborhood in Chicago. Now called “Grace Commons” (originally Wicker Park Grace), the community is centered in practices of art and hospitality and meets in various locations throughout the city. She also pastors St. James Presbyterian Church and is ordained in the Presbyterian Church (USA). She is the author of Hospitality, the Sacred Art, a book filled with spiritual practices to open our hearts and lives. You can find out more about her art and writing at