Massage therapy is priestly in its ministrations. As I prepare for a massage, I methodically set the table, turn on its heater, warm the stones, heat the towels, choose appropriate essential oils, and light candles with prayer for our work together. I’m often struck by how similar my massage preparations are to readying a space for worship.
I bear witness to your desire for healing and bring that to God. I also hold space open for your burdens to be released, as you will, so you no longer have to carry them forward. I listen to the new life that is longing to be born in you, body and soul, and I pray as I work that Holy Spirit will minister unto you and that Christ bear your pain away. It can seem like we’re just chatting away or quietly working to free your body from pain, but what is happening is as sacred as what occurs in a confessional, as together we contend with the forces that bind you and seek to allow God to release them so that you might be free to be all you were created to be.
I usually end massage with a brief blessing. After the massage, I clean up, tracking what happened in a medical chart as a kind of spiritual discipline of watching and waiting for the Spirit of God to appear on the horizon of the future. As I wipe down the room with disinfectant, I pray that Christ will transform all the garbage that’s come out during our time together, composting it for the flourishing of your new life. I put essential oils in the diffuser that serve to clear the space and let it arise like incensed prayer arising with the evening’s sacrifice (Psalm 141:2).
Some might say that massage serves the god of narcissistic hedonism, and that can be true. But for those who live in chronic pain, those with trauma and abuse in their lives, and those dealing with the ravages of stress, massage is a divinely healing touch that enables the extension of God’s compassion to the world through their continued and better service to others. Massage ministrations are ultimately not just for the person on the table, then, but for the flourishing of the world to the glory of God.
And you thought you were just getting a massage!
Teresa Eisenlohr is a Christian theologian, Presbyterian pastor, and licensed massage therapist. And, no, that's not the start of a joke.