You Have a ‘Good’ Body. (by Charles Dean)
When the mercury is approaching 85 degrees, your legs are cramping, you’re cycling into a headwind and you’ve been on your bicycle now for more than five hours, you don’t think about faith esoterically. In fact, you probably don’t really think about faith at all, except perhaps to pray what Anne Lamott calls one of the simplest prayers, “help me, help me, help me.”
As you near the latter part of a hundred mile ride, your mind is on much more physical matters. Do I have enough water to make the next refill station? Does my body need fuel? My hamstring feels like it’s on the verge of a cramp – as does my upper quad. How much longer can my body hold out? I hope there aren’t any more significant climbs.
After recently finishing my second “century ride” (cycling lingo for a 100-mile ride) I told a friend, “I’ve never felt so connected to my body as I do on a long ride.” I’ve been told that pregnant women feel something similar – a hyper-awareness of one’s body, of one’s limitations and possibles, of every muscle, every bit of strength, every feeling of weakness. And through the increased consciousness comes a wonder echoing the Psalmist’s ecstatic outburst, “behold, I am fearfully and wonderfully made.”
And yet, in the western church we have a tenuous relationship with our bodies. Too often we’ve seen our bodies only as tools of sin, as a vehicle for hedonism. In our American context, the Puritans laid the groundwork for our discomfort with the body. They believed that the body was weak and that Satan used the body to attack the soul. Therefore, one must be wary of the body and it’s desires.
However, if we consider the creation narrative, it’s only after God gives us bodies that he declares us – male and female – to be created in his own image and pronounces the creation as “good.” And while we recognize the susceptibility of our bodies to sin, in traditional understandings of the seven deadly sins the truly heinous sins are ones of the mind – pride, envy, and lust, not the sins of the body. However if one listens to the American pulpit one often hears that the mind can be redeemed – that we think and believe differently – while little is said about what redemption means to our bodies.
But a spirituality divorced from the body – a spirituality only of the mind – isn’t a true spirituality at all. The New Testament consistently points us to a spirituality that links the body and soul, beliefs and actions. In just one example, Paul declares that although we may “fathom all mysteries and all knowledge,” and don’t love, we are only a “clanging cymbal” and actually “gain nothing.” And what is love, if not expressed in actions performed by the body?
And so maybe, straining at the pedals 80-some miles into my ride, consumed with thoughts of cramps, hydration and a cool shower, something deeply spiritual is happening as I become increasingly aware of my body. I’m becoming aware that I’m not just a jumble of thoughts and emotions, but a jumble of thoughts and emotions wrapped in skin, a whole being, just as God created me to be, and then pronounced it “good.”
Charles Dean is the lead pastor of Imago Dei Church in Peoria, IL. He writes about all his interests – reading, gardening, food, faith, cycling & culture on his blog, The Renaissance Christian.