Books on Culture: The Life of the Body
“Being made one with Christ, we are made one with all who belong to Christ, united with the church in every time and place. One people…one body…”
The pastor stands in front of the communion table and says these words, and I feel the power of truth course through me—enlarging all of who I am.
This is who we say we are. We use the terminology of the physical to describe the spiritual. But what does it really mean? How does mystery meet physicality, and what does this look like?
These are some of the questions Valerie E. Hess and Lane M. Arnold explore in The Life of the Body: Physical Well-being and Spiritual Formation, our May book club selection. Today we are discussing the introduction through chapter two.
Hess and Arnold, both with extensive training and experience in spiritual formation, say “…‘wholeness’ includes being fully integrated as a human being, body, mind and spirit; therefore, physical health and spiritual formation are closely related.”
Both of the authors have experienced the power of this integration first hand.
In her practicum class on the spiritual disciplines at Spring Arbor University, Hess requires students to choose a way to discipline their bodies as they learn new ways to discipline their minds, emotions, and spirits.
“…my students and I noticed the relationship between what was happening in our bodies and what was happening in our souls,” she says.
After going through a divorce and raising her children on her own while working full time, Arnold notes the toll was not only emotional but also physical. In her loneliness, she says, Jesus opened her eyes to a way of feeding her spirit through bodily actions.
“… I wondered if I’d ever again have any reason to create a romantic meal for anyone, one full of love and beauty. Jesus gently persuaded me to shift my thinking. Why not create every meal as an act of love and beauty…? From there forward, my heart shifted...It no longer mattered that I didn’t have a physical sweetheart; I delighted in being the Beloved of Christ and, in turn, offered that love to others. Meals became life-giving delights, times of joy savored with my own teenagers and their friends alongside other single and married friends of mine…”
What the authors have discovered and what they share in The Life of the Body is this: The ways of the body influence the ways of the heart.
The first two chapters confront the dualistic view of body and soul that still remains a part of our culture—left over from the teachings of Plato. Plato believed that the body held back the soul in its quest for truth. Therefore, the body—and the entire material world, for that matter—must be ignored as much as possible. When we distinguish between “secular” and “sacred” we are extending Platonic dualism into the world today.
“That, however, is not the message of the Bible, which integrates body and soul in a whole and holy way,” Hess and Arnold say. “The Bible says that the body is the temple of the Holy Spirit and promises that it will be raised at Jesus’ second coming…”
Not only does scripture tell us this, but when Jesus came to earth as a human being—when God became one of us—humanity was lifted into a special kind of dignity. If God is one of us, and Jesus Christ is fully God and fully human—then the human race becomes united with God.
We are part of something bigger than ourselves. And paying attention to how our physical choices affect our spiritual formation and that of others in the body of Christ, the authors say, impacts our very witness to the good news in Jesus Christ.
“One way to worship God without ceasing is to live the life God created you to live, as Jesus did. Each of us can be a witness to God’s love and goodness by living joyfully and creatively. We seek to be healthy and full of life because our Savior was. Being as healthy and joyful as possible, as individuals as well as the members of the larger body of Christ, we are powerful testimonies…Physical life supports our spiritual formation that in turn nurtures our physicality.”
How about you? Have you noticed a relationship between the choices you make that impact your body and the state of your heart?
On Mondays in May we'll be discussing The Life of the Body: Physical Well-being and Spiritual Formation by Valerie E. Hess and Lane M. Arnold. If you've posted on your blog about the book, leave your link in the comments. Or, just jump in the discussion! Join us next week as Marcus Goodyear leads us in discussing chapters 3-5. Our June book selection is Decisive: How to Make Better Choices in Life and Work by Chip and Dan Heath. Get your book and join us in June.