Wholeness of Body: What it Means, Why it Matters, Next Steps
What Wholeness of Body Means:
Christ followers have a long held tortured relationship with the body. In the church's earliest centuries, the spirit was elevated and the body denigrated as a result of a false teaching called 'gnostic dualism'. It's effects remain to this day, presenting in unhealthy attitudes toward sexuality and a bizarre belief that its holier to be a pastor than a mechanic, or that praying and fasting is more important than opening your home for a feast, going for a hike, or cleaning the kitchen. The reality of Christ alive shows up most profoundly, visibly, and significantly in our daily realities 'in the body'. Body, soul, and spirit are an ecosystem - you can't neglect any one part without hurting the whole.
The other wrong thinking that has sometimes prevailed and exists to this day, is the notion that if you have enough faith, you'll be granted immunity from any suffering in the body at all. In contrast, "We have this treasure (Christ's life) in earthen vessels", is one way Paul puts it, along with the undeniable reality that "our bodies are wasting away", which is a euphemism for aging, and torn tendons from running, or contracting rhinovirus (that thing called "a cold"), cell mutation gone wrong, called cancer, and now, Covid-19. Can God overrule and bring miraculous healing? Yes - and does at times! Will our bodies be resurrected in complete wholeness? Yes, which is why Paul also says that "we groan, as our mortality longs to put on immortality", longing for the day when cancer, Covid, and everything else associated with the frailty of humanness is overtaken by glory and perfection, and we are fully healed - body, soul, and spirit.
Stewarding and enjoying our bodies, and dedicating them to walking in the stream of God's activity is a vital part of discipleship. It's part of why Paul prays that we'll be whole in our bodies; so that we might make the risen Jesus visible, to the end that hope, mercy, joy, justice, service, and compassion might spill out into a world hungry for these realities. That hunger is perhaps greater than it's ever been, in the sense that the whole planet is hungry and afraid and lonely at the same time. A little light, in these dark days, will go a long way in making God undeniably visible, and that light becomes visible through your body - so care for it well!!
There's much more to say about the body, more than this single post. But because we're focusing on the "body" in the Global Monastery ministry this week (you're welcome to join us in this ministry of daily prayer and Bible reading in which I'm involved), here's a quick of overview of what the Bible has to say about stewarding your body's health. When Paul articulates his desire to live the most meaningful life possible, he also offers the means whereby he'll move in that direction: "...I bring and keep my body under subjection". (I Corinthians 9:27) The care and feeding of his body was foundational to the fulfillment of his calling. Nothing's changed. You're not called to obsession with the body, nor neglect, nor shame for whatever condition it's in right now in this fallen world. You are called to next steps, and here are three of them:
Move - Paul reminds Timothy that "bodily training is of some value", and a quick view of history shows that you're made to move more than you're made to sit. If you're like me, though, you sit more than you move, because the gifts of modernity include cars displacing feet, chairs displacing the floor, and machines displacing the kind of labor that keeps the body happy and humming. There's a zone for your heart where you're still able to breath through your nose and carry on a bit of conversation, but just barely. That's your aerobic zone, and when you're there, whether vacuuming, or jogging, dancing, or riding your bike to the store, you're doing good things for your body. But not just the body. The book Spark, reveals how regular movement addresses anxiety, depression, ADHD, and more. Nobody's suggesting you toss your meds and just go for a walk. Rather, begin incorporating exercise into your daily life as a way of aligning your body with what it's created to do. You'll be happier for it.
Eat - There are thousands of books, classes, and nutri-shakes out there from which to choose, and this isn't a food or diet blog, so let's keep this short and simple:
Real food is better than processed food every time, which means wild fish is better than farmed, homemade bread is better (usually) than mass manufactured, grass fed beef is better than feedlot raised beef, real cheese is better than "cheese flavoring", potatoes are better than chips, etc. etc.
We eat more salt and sugar than we need, and the excess is very hard on our bodies. Sugar actually harms your immune system, which is extra bad news in these days of a pandemic. Sugary drinks are especially hard because they make huge insulin demands on your body.
Alcohol in excess lowers your immunity (and it doesn't take much to become excess) In addition, it's not, over the long haul, a stress reliever so if that's why you're drinking... hmmm, be careful.
Rest - This is the hardest one for me, and actually the one about which the Bible speaks the most. God's gives us, and even the work animals we own (or did, before gas engines), the gift of Sabbath because we're made for a rhythm of work and rest, action and ceasing from action, in order to restore. This weekly pattern is also replicated daily in 'evening and morning', and the necessity of sleep. Sleep problems, and lack of enough sleep, are enormous challenges in the developed world.
Here’s just one example of the price we pay when we fail to sleep: Sleep deprivation seems to wreak havoc with the immune system, and this is not especially difficult to prove. Again, volunteers are sleep-deprived for just a few days, and then researchers give them and a control group a hepatitis C vaccination. The sleep-deprived people produce fully 50 percent fewer antibodies in response to the vaccine, a measure that says their immune systems are about half as effective. (taken from this book, a favorite of mine on the subject of physical health).
The same book says that lack of sleep increases our appetite and the presence of stress hormones in our body. I’ll close by pointing out how sleep reveals the ecosystem nature of spirit, soul, body, perhaps more than any other health pursuit. When I meditate on scripture regularly (an activity which feeds my spirit), I sleep better. When I forgive more quickly, and honestly face my pain and brokenness through confession and reflection, (that’s soul work), I sleep better. Then, having slept better, on the waking side of a good night’s sleep, I am more present in conversations; make better food choices; am better able to overcome destructive self-medicating behaviors. In short, I’m better able to re-present Christ in the world.
Welcome to the eco-system that is you! Spirit, soul, and body all matter! This week, as we consider body together, what next step will take?