This Is My Body:
From Obesity to Ironman, My Journey into the True Meaning of Flesh, Spirit, and Deeper Faith
By Ragan Sutterfield
Hardback: Convergent Books, 2015.
One of the main themes of Slow Church is recognizing the fragmentation that we live within in the twenty-first century. One such type of fragmentation the the divide between the body and the spirit (or between the physical and the spiritual). Beyond recognizing divides such as these, we also need to structure our lives in ways that doesn’t not further propagate the fragmentation and even start to bring the divided spheres closer together in order that God might eventual heal these tears.
I was therefore very excited about Ragan Sutterfield’s new book This is My Body: From Obesity to Ironman, My Journey into the True Meaning of Flesh, Spirit, and Deeper Faith, a memoir of his own experience in moving toward a Christian faith in which our bodies matter. Having wrestled with being overweight since his childhood, Sutterfield eventually finds himself in adulthood, with a failing marriage and at his heaviest weight. He is faced with the incongruity that he is an environmentalist and farmer, doing grueling work to care for the land and creation, and yet taking poor care of his own body.
After the collapse of his first marriage, Sutterfield surrenders himself to the disciplines needed to care better for his body, specifically controlling his diet and becoming serious about exercise. From this conversion point onward, Sutterfield begins to learn and experience an incarnational faith in which our bodies cannot be taken for granted. He writes, in a particularly compelling passage:
What if God himself became flesh and remains enfleshed? What if God not only has a heart that longs for our love but also a heart that pounds with blood? What if God has skin that drips with sweat? What if the God who offered his body as a sign of love also wants us to experience our bodies as a gift of his love? Christians must worship a God who is all of these things because we worship a God who was made manifest to us in the human, embodied life of Jesus. The denial of the body, of the flesh, is not a denial of the dangerous locus of sin, as so many of us have been taught. It is a denial of the Word made flesh. Those of us who follow Jesus Christ — God in human skin and muscle and mind — cannot deny the goodness of the body. To do so is to reject the reality in which Christ now lives as the risen and ascended Lord.
The journey into an incarnational faith that lies at the heart of this book, eventually leads Sutterfield to begin training for the most grueling of all endurance events, the Ironman triathalon, a race consisting of over 140 miles of swimming, biking and running. This is my Body alternates chapters narrating Sutterfield’s larger conversion story with ones that focus on the particular story of preparing for the Ironman race. Although the book will definitely appeal to triathletes, runners and other endurance athletes, the well-crafted storytelling and keen theological reflections on the Christian significance of our bodies make this a book one that should be widely read among Christians. Sutterfield’s journey, as chronicled in This is My Body, is a poignant reminder that though the way will be grueling, there is a deep joy in the health we experience in thoughtfully and faithfully caring for our bodies.