Most expressions of American Christianity have roots in Pietism, which means that we’re good at expressing the importance of being made right with God, good at explaining the need to born again. This is our strength, and I’m glad because it’s step one, foundational for all eternity, and for all transformation. “We must be born again,” is how Jesus put it, which means that we must be born of the spirit. The problem with Pietism, though, is that it often stopped right there, failing to address God’s desire for total wholeness, both of our personhood, and of our world.
I write a lot about the “wholeness” of our world that is coming with the full reign of Christ, and how we’re called to embody that wholeness as Christ followers. But after exercising yesterday, eating a healthy meal last night, and then sleeping nine hours, I’m reminded that my body is the means by which I’ll make God visible (or misrepresent God through my own selfishness) in this world. The body matters. That’s why Paul prayed that we’d prosper, body, soul, and spirit. We’re whole people. I hope I can unpack this a little bit more in coming weeks by addressing stewardship of the body and its relationship to the spirit and soul.
Here, for starters, is something to ponder:
All exercise is holistic I’m not advocating a list of “spirit exercises” and “body exercises,” making certain that we have one from each list, as if you’re working your abs, then your biceps, then your spirit. This is folly. Rather, I’m suggesting that we see that spiritual exercises ARE body exercises, and vice versa, because we’re whole people. When I practice confession and forgiveness, and pray about my problems, and breath deeply while meditating on scripture or the character of Christ, several things happen:
1. I sleep better. I’ve woken in the middle of the night before with some sort of care, and addressed the problem by praying and breathing deeply, thanking God on each exhale for his “peace,” or “wisdom,” or “provision,” or whatever it is that I need in the situation. Not always, but most of the time, I drift back to sleep very quickly.
2. I digest my food better. Stress affects my appetite and digestion, so those spiritual habits that can help us bust stress will have the affect of strengthening the gut.
3. I have greater clarity in my thinking.
Similarly, when I’m stewarding my body through exercise and eating real food rather than fluff, certain things happen:
1. It’s easier to be present with people at 3PM meetings, fully there and paying attention
2. I enjoy getting up early enough to read my Bible and write in my prayer journal.
3. I whine less.
Increasingly, I’m able to see the integration of what for so many people are two different arenas of personhood. Increasingly, I see that exercise is a spiritual matter, and prayer is a physical matter. The separate bins are an illusion.
Yes, our bodies will grow old. Yes, sometimes the crazy diseases of our fallen world can intrude in spite of our self-care. But also – Yes, there are things we can do on both sides of this equation to function as whole people, and it starts by recognizing that there isn’t “body care” and “spirit care” – there’s just care, and stewardship, and it falls us to us invest in habits that will enable us to live out our days to fullest.
I welcome your thoughts…