The role of the body in how we relate to God is a fascinating subject. Too long neglected by modern Christians, most have little understanding of the body’s significance in successfully living the Christian life. Included in exploring this reality is how we manage our bodies in general.
At one end of the spectrum are those who abuse their bodies. How many overweight and obese Christians do you see at church every Sunday, or worse yet, in the mirror on Monday morning?
At the other end of the spectrum are those who seem to worship their bodies. These are the guys and women who spend hours at the gym, obsess over every morsel of food, and are consumed with looking good to others. They love their bodies too much.
Most of us fall somewhere in between.
I just took an online BMI (Body Mass Index) test and found out that I’m obese. Another test indicates I’m slightly overweight. A third calculation shows that, because I exercise regularly and eat decently, I’m doing OK with my calorie management. These tests are not that helpful except to make me aware that I need to keep pressing forward in my fitness efforts since I’m not as physically healthy as I need to be.
Your physical matter matters as far as God is concerned. He’s given you one holy and physical temple to steward. You need to do it well. It needs to matter to you, too.
Now that I’ve turned 64 and writing more about the body, I’m more concerned than ever about what’s happening with the body. There’s so much to learn.
I know a guy who would pull you towards himself when greeting you with a hand shake. This “technique” was his way of taking control, forcing you to move according to his will. If he could move your body, he could control you. He had a strong personality and this was his way to dominate the relationship from the start.
How are you with body “stuff?” Does it bother you when you feel lazy and watch too much TV? Are you concerned about the amount of food and the kind of food you consume? In moments of anxiety do you bite your fingernails, get stomach cramps, or start crying? Do you throw or hit things when you’re angry? When was the last time you did any kind of exercise?
Your view of your body, whether you’re conscious of it or not, influences how you live. For example, what goes through your mind during the ceremony of dressing yourself? Decisions are made based on your weight, appearance to others, the fit for your size, comfort for your body, and appropriateness for your body’s activities of the day. When you dress, your body matters.
It’s obvious that your body plays a central role in all you are and do. It also plays a central role in how you relate to God and people. For these reasons, it is good to reflect on how you engage with it.
Since you’ve got the only body you’ll ever have, how well are you managing it?
When we talk about the body, what are we really talking about? It’s probably a combination of physical elements – body systems (respiratory, endocrine, nervous, digestive, urinary) including organs and tissues, physique, natural passions (appetites, pleasure), the five senses, and emotions. Little of this is of our own making. However, we have the critical responsibility to take care of these body “parts” in some manner.
Great harm can result from lack of care and control – from broken bones to broken relationships. Think of the damage caused by lost temper, verbal abuse or gluttony.
Road rage. Malicious gossip. Domestic abuse. Drunkenness. High blood pressure. Sexual assault. Eating disorders. Manipulative flattery. Diabetes. Substance abuse. PTSD. Heart disease. The list is much too long.
A great portion of the Christian life is about controlling our body. Think about the truth of that statement for a second. Take, for example, appetites. When desires are not controlled any number of negative results occur. The natural desire for food, if uncontrolled, may turn to gluttony, poor food choices, weight issues, organ or joint damage, or an obsession with food. The natural desire for pleasure, when uncontrolled, may result in laziness, sexual deviancy, opulence, narcissism, a domineering disposition, or other self-indulgences.
How can we better manage our bodies?
In today’s post, I’d like to focus on our ability to control our body. How can we discipline our body so we control it rather than it controlling us? How can we use it to enhance all our relationships? Most importantly, how can we love God with our body (Luke 10.27)?
Here are some thoughts…
Body control begins with the presentation of your body in baptism as a sacrifice – Romans 6.1-14; 12.1-2. Baptism is not often viewed as an activity of dying and living. Yet, that is what is portrayed in the submersion/burial and emersion/rising. As a result, we seek to live into that baptismal death and life everyday with our bodies, dying to sin and living for God. Or, maybe not.
Yet, that’s only the beginning.
Surprisingly, there is one part of your body that when controlled gives you greater potential to control your whole body. It’s not your sex organs, your brain, your hands or feet. It’s your tongue.
If anyone does not stumble in what he says, he is a perfect man, able also to bridle his whole body…[like the] horse bit…ship rudder…So also the tongue is a small member, yet it boasts of great things. How great a forest is set ablaze by such a small fire!…The tongue is set among our members, staining the whole body, setting on fire the entire course of life, and set on fire by hell…but no human being can tame the tongue…From the same mouth come blessing and cursing. My brothers, these things ought not to be so…
Controlling your tongue is key to controlling your whole body according to St. James. You know he’s right. How many times have our tongues gotten us into deep trouble? Too many to number.
Wise Solomon weighs in: Whoever restrains his words has knowledge, and he who has a cool spirit is a man of understanding. Even a fool who keeps silent is considered wise; when he closes his lips, he is deemed intelligent. (Proverbs 17.27-28)
Offering prayer to the Lord as an incense with hands uplifted, David knows the wisdom of restraining his words especially among wicked men and in response to the righteous: Set a guard, O Lord, over my mouth; keep watch over the door of my lips! Do not let my heart incline to any evil, to busy myself with wicked deeds in company with men who work iniquity, and let me not eat of their delicacies! Let a righteous man strike me – it is a kindness; let him rebuke me – it is oil for my head; let my head not refuse it. (Psalm 141.3-5)
Then, there’s the proper use of the tongue: My mouth is filled with your praise, and with your glory all the day…But I will hope continually and will praise you yet more and more. My mouth will tell of your righteous acts, of your deeds of salvation all the day, for their number is past my knowledge…My lips will shout for joy, when I sing praises to you; my soul also, which you have redeemed. And my tongue will talk of your righteous help all the day long, for they have been put to shame and disappointed who sought to do me hurt. (Psalm 71.8, 14-15, 23-24)
How can we live out these truths in real life? How can we learn to control our tongue (and thus our body) while we learn to honor God all day long?
Putting these truths together and reflecting on personal experience, the best way to train oneself to restrain the tongue when it might get us into trouble is to silence it when trouble is far away. A good time to learn silence is first thing in the morning. Before the sun rises, trouble hides itself in the darkness. You can sneak into a quiet space away from troubling sounds and be still with God, just you and the Trinity.
Dallas Willard describes silence as the place where “we close off our souls from ‘sounds,’ whether those sounds be noise, music, or words.” But he warns us as well…
But silence is frightening because it strips us as nothing else does, throwing us upon the stark realities of our life. It reminds us of death, which will cut us off from this world and leave only us and God. And in that quiet, what if there turns out to be very little to “just us and God?” Think what it says about the inward emptiness of our lives if we must always turn on the tape player or radio [CD player or Pandora] to make sure something is happening around us. (The Spirit of the Disciplines, p. 163)
But wouldn’t silence then qualify as a method to learn to deny ourself, take up our cross and follow Jesus? It seems the perfect practice in answering Jesus’ invitation.
Fr. Melitios Webber introduces us to a kind of silence that few of us experience but stokes our longing for God in the depths of our being:
In the world at large, there is silence which is simply the lack of all noise. This is a negative silence, a silence waiting to be filled. However, in the spiritual life we discover another, much more valuable sort of silence, and that is the silence which is the voice of God. The two sorts of silence sound familiar but they are not the same…Within this [kind of] silence we are bathed in the goodness and love of God. Silence is the language of God. Everything else is a mistranslation. (Bread & Water, Wine & Oil, p. 56)
Silence is the language of God, and it is in silence, the deep silence of the heart, that we both listen and speak. (p. 146)
Learning silence when we are able trains us to be silent when it’s more difficult. Learning silence has all kinds of implications related to other bodily functions. It teaches us self-control which can be applied to our interactions with others. It teaches us to be quiet and live in the present with God…no matter where we are, who we’re with, or what’s happening to us or around us.
Let me quickly mention two other bodily functions that we need to control so that we can steward our bodies well.
The eye is the lamp of the body. So, if your eye is HEALTHY (sincere, whole, integral, clear, sound) your whole body will be full of light, but if your eye is bad, your whole body will be full of darkness. (Matthew 6.22-23)
The eye is a complex, delicate organ providing amazing visual capabilities. We can see details and color, see near and far objects clearly, and judge speed and distance. “The first stage in the visual process is image capture – a sharp image forms on the eye’s light receptors. The image then needs to be converted into nerve signals so that it can be processed by the brain.” (How the Body Works, p. 80.) The eye does all of this in nano-seconds, so quickly we never give it a thought.
90% of all information we receive comes by way of the eye. Therefore, our eyes must be healthy or our bodies will be debilitated and sickly.
How, then, do we develop a healthy eye? An eye becomes healthy by observing what is good and beautiful.
Can we adopt Philippians 4.8 to this practice?
Whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, [concentrate/focus] on these things.
Focus your eyes on God’s beautiful creation, on God’s glorious Son (with an icon or picture), on Life-giving articles and books, and on spiritually-healthy media. Your whole body will, over time, become more and more filled with Light.
Be honest. What did you look at yesterday that gave light to your body and soul?
Lastly, let’s borrow some thoughts from St. Paul, who testifies of battling his body as a means of self-control.
Do you not know that in a race all the runners compete, but only one receives the prize? So run that you may obtain it. Every athlete exercises self-control in all things. They do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable. So I do not run aimlessly; I do not box as one beating the air. But I discipline my body and keep it under control, lest after preaching to others I myself should be disqualified. (1 Corinthians 9.24-27)
- We are to run and compete to obtain the prize.
- We are to be an athlete who exercises self-control so that we receive the imperishable prize.
- We are to follow Paul’s example to live purposefully (to win the prize) disciplining our body to keep it under control. Literally, St. Paul says: “I pummel my body and make it a slave.”
When’s the last time you put a “beat down” on your body? It was lusting after another helping of your favorite warm banana pudding but you slapped it down with a resounding refusal. It wanted to comfort itself by binge-watching “Parks and Rec” after a tough day at work but you opted to take it for a walk around the neighborhood. It wanted to get into Andy’s grill for his idiotic comment but you wisely diverted the conversation to something positive.
Probably the most difficult place to exercise self-control relates to our appetite for food. Food dominates our modern life-styles. During an hour of TV watching you’ll see up to 10 food commercials, most of it junk food. Fast-food and sit-down restaurants abound around us. Highly-processed foods are the norm for most people. There’s now a real category of people called “foodies.” Food Network, Cooking Channel (380 shows!?!), PBS, (America Test Kitchen, Cook’s Country – my favs), Travel Channel, CBS, NBC, ABC, FOX, TLC, Lifetime, Bravo, Netflix all carry food shows. Food is being crammed down our throats and we’re eating it up. (Sorry!)
The best way to deal with our appetites is to learn how to fast. The more I learn about fasting and try to practice it, the more impressed I am with its significant value, spiritually and physically (of course, the two go hand-in-hand). This week I started reading Dr. Jason Fung’s book, The Complete Guide to Fasting, with the hopes of knocking off some pounds and forever killing off my persistent cravings for sweets and carbs. This is appropriate since we are now in a short Church fasting time as well. I continue to experiment with the relationship of the physical and spiritual.
Here’s what we’re after, after all:
May the God of peace himself sanctify you completely, and may your whole spirit and soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. He who calls you is faithful: he will surely do it (1 Thessalonians 5.23-24).
Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God? You are not your own, for you were bought with a price. So, glorify God in your body (1 Corinthians 6.20).
It is my eager expectation and hope that I will not be at all ashamed, but that with full courage now as always Christ will be exalted [honored] in my body, whether by life or death (Philippians 1.20).
Now the fun and challenging work begins.
Let’s treat our bodies as if it matters because it does – to God and to us.
Leave your comments below. What questions might you have? Thanks for reading.