A few days ago I ran across this story about a pastor who shared the Gospel of good health in his sermons. He preached a series of sermons on good health, rooting them in the letters from Paul. You can read the story here. In the flurry of articles that are shared among clergy and active laity about the church, from why Millennials don't attend church to why spiritual but not religious may not be as cool as we think, I was surprised this one didn't even make a blip on the screen.
And then I wasn't surprised.
We love in the Church to talk and talk and talk about the spiritual. We are comfortably reserved with talking about the emotional, as long as it doesn't make us face too many truths about how people feel or as long as we can offer tidy statements to make those feelings okay. But the physical?
Another matter entirely.
Our spiritual and emotional health aren't readily visible to others. If we say the right phrases or quote certain spiritual gurus, we can seem quite spiritually and emotionally grounded to those around us...as long as they don't dig too deeply.
Our physical health, however, is quite evident, no matter how hard we try to conceal it. And for far too long, we have made them completely separate issues, as if our souls and bodies were not intrinsically connected.
More and more studies are showing us they are deeply wed to each other. We are rediscovering (because our ancestors seemed to know this wisdom) that our physical selves are often very accurate barometers to the health and well-being of our emotional and spiritual selves.
So, what does your physical self tell you about your very self?
I'm not asking anyone to judge their weight by the impossible standards put forth by the media. Don't do that. Healthy bodies come in many shapes and sizes. And while we very easily point at people who are medically overweight as unhealthy, being underweight is as damaging. However, I am wondering how many people of faith consider physical activity as an important part of our prayer life. Most clergy I know would never consider skipping the Sunday celebration of the Eucharist "just because." And yet, so many clergy (who are a notoriously unhealthy lot physically and emotionally, according to the latest studies) don't make time each day for a brief 30 minute walk around the block.
Do we spend the time to get a yearly physical, allowing a medical professional to give us an assessment of our physical selves? Do we consider what our sleep patterns (or lack of them) may be saying to us?
Do our congregations see the physical health of their priest, pastor, or minister as part of their job requirement, and not just a "side issue"? This is not permission to criticize your pastor's weight, but do we support our clergy when they strive to achieve and maintain good physical health?
Do we take as much care with what we put into our bodies food-wise as we do with the spiritual books we read. I've watched many priests I know look smugly at the Left Behind books (which I think contain distasteful and harmful theology about Revelation and God) while eating a bag of Doritos and washing them down with soda. Let's face it - processed food and soft drinks are the Left Behind members of the food family. And are we willing to take a hard look at our relationship with food? I'm all about an occasional cupcake in celebration or even as a treat after a long day, but I'm also aware that constantly using food or drink to salve a wounded or tired soul is not a holy or healthy behavior.
Do we ask hard questions about what the condition of our physical bodies may be telling us about the condition of our emotional selves? Our elevated stress levels and our emotional distress and our sheer exhaustion all manifest themselves in our physical selves. Do we listen to what our bodies say? And when we hear, do we work to restore and repair our physical selves?
In the Episcopal Church in the canon of the mass for Rite I, there is this phrase in the prayer: "And here we offer and present unto thee, O Lord, our selves, our souls and bodies, to be a reasonable, holy, and living sacrifice unto thee...."
This prayer is rooted in the earliest of the Eucharistic prayers in the Anglican tradition. Even in the 16th century, our ancestors in the faith understood that our selves are not split between the spiritual, the emotional, and the physical. They are the holy trinity of our very selves.
These three in one and one in three all weave together to form our holy selves. May we we willing and courageous to honor, care for, and strengthen the spiritual, emotional, and physical selves and souls.