Because of a ski injury last year, I ended up getting an MRI, which entails lying down inside a giant bullet while invisible rays are shot at your body. The technician, who assures me this is safe, is safely in another a room. No wonder we don’t trust words anymore.
Days later, while sitting with doctor, the most disturbing thing about the looking at the MRI wasn’t the diagnosis, learning how I had an injury that would never fully cure itself, but could get passable with physical therapy and maybe much better with a new kind of surgery. No, the disturbing part was looking at a white part around the joint where my hip meets my pelvis and hearing the doc say: “See that – that’s a sign your getting old. That’s just plain wearing out.” The words are hard to take because I relax by wearing skis and rock climbing shoes, and here I am sitting with an expert whose assessment is that my joints are ‘wearing out’. Do they really need to wear out? Isn’t there a pill for that? Some physical therapy for that? An app for that?
This is where two different bad streams of theology can inform how to react such news. I’d like to look at one of them in this post. The “gnostic dualism” stream says, “The body? Who cares about the body? It’s nothing more than a container for the soul and the spirit, and haven’t you read? The container’s recyclable, compost-able, combustible, and fading away. Don’t give it two cents of thought.” This response is rooted in the belief that, because the spirit trumps the body, prayer beats exercise every time, and it doesn’t matter what you eat since you’re on a downward slope to the grave anyway. Strength, flexibility, beauty, nutrition, and stress reduction are things for the world to chase after – not you.
This, I believe, is rubbish. When Jesus said we could eat whatever we want, Twinkies and hydrogenated oils that wreak havoc on your insulin and immune systems hadn’t been invented yet. Neither had industrial agriculture with it’s cheap, hormone and anit-biotic induced fattened meats, which are created in inhumane conditions that are far from God’s heart for His creation. Jesus didn’t need to talk about exercise because the percentage of people with desk jobs could be counted on less than one finger, and even they walked a lot and lifted things. We’ve become, as one exercise guru notes, like zoo animals – domesticated, and weakened.
Yes, we’ll return to dust, and there’s a danger to idolizing the body (that’s part 2 of this post, later this week). But the notion that we can live the life of abundance Jesus came to give us while we abuse our bodies though bad eating, lack of sleep, and lack of movement is absurd. It’s predicated on the notion that we’re separate parts, and that one part is more important. This comes from Plato, not the Bible. There’s an ecology to our personhood. Guilt, which is spiritual, affects sleep, insulin levels (as the stress response pours cortisol into my blood), even posture. Lack of sleep, which is physical, means I’m more likely to say something uncharitable to a colleague, which is a spiritual problem. God told Elijah to take a nap and get some rest. His depression and loss of objectivity wasn’t spiritual. He was just tired.
God’s designed our bodies with marvelous capacities so that each of us can be a blessing in our world, and we can do that best to the extent that we treat our body kindly. What does that mean?
1. Move – Walk a bit, lift some heavy stuff, play a game, ride a bike, sit less, go barefoot more often. There are a thousand ways to exercise, but it’s important to realize that you don’t need to sign for a gym membership to make this work – you just need to get moving.
2. Eat Real Food – This doesn’t need to be complex. One author wrote a book about this, but said in the preface that he was going to only tell us three things: Eat real food; mostly green; not too much.
3. Recognize the holistic nature of health – You’re not a spirit housed on a container, like the peanut butter is in a jar. You are the body and the spirit – and will be for eternity, by the way. Seeing each piece as related liberates us to care for our bodies, and yes, even enjoy them. I sometimes wonder if a good run down a powdered slope on a Friday doesn’t make for a better sermon on Sunday, but now I’m just speculating.
4. Get enough rest – There’s a rhythm to this, given to us as a gift by God, both in order to sustain and restore our bodies, and to remind us that we’re not the Messiah, that we don’t have to do all the work. If you’re not healthy in this area, you’re not as healthy as you should be, in any area – body, soul, or spirit!
People who live this way enjoy the sensuousness of life – they don’t view food solely as fuel, they enjoy it. They enjoy moving, cherishing the gift of the daily miracle that is a body in motion. They enjoy rest too, seeing all these things as gifts from God, rather than just utilitarian necessities we endure until we die and go to heaven.
I’ll see you on the slopes, or at the lake, or at the Farmer’s Market – in Jesus’ name.