I once had a class in seminary where we were talking about how we are embodied souls, which is our topic on the blog this week, and the professor asked the class what we would consider to be the most important spiritual habit we should practice. Of course there are the common answers of prayer and Bible study or biblical meditation, and while the professor said those were all important, none were most important. You know what he said was the most important spiritual habit? Exercise. Getting physical exercise.
What? How can physical exercise be a spiritual habit? Isn’t that contradictory? Nope. I agree with the professor. If we have a correct understanding of ourselves as embodied souls, then physical exercise can be seen, and I would say, is properly seen, as a spiritual habit. I will admit to you that I don’t always view my exercise from a spiritual perspective, but it always helps me both physically and spiritually. I’m not saying you need to run like I do. But I do ask you what it will look like to care for your body. Because when you care for your body, you are caring for your soul.
Caring for your body releases stress, which helps you think more clearly, which is good for the body and the soul. It is part of why one of the things we ask candidates at our denomination’s pastoral assessment center is how they care for their physical body. The emotional parts of ministry are hard, and without a healthy outlet they will be harder. The same goes for everyone, especially in a year like this one, 2020, which has been extremely stressed out.
Another time I had a mentor tell me that sometimes the most spiritual thing you can do is….what? What do you think he might have said? It is very similar to the idea of exercise. That mentor said that sometimes, the most spiritual thing you can do is sleep. Our society tends to be sleep deprived, and that is bad for our bodies. That means being sleep-deprived is also bad for our spiritual side. Remember body and soul are linked, totally enmeshed, intertwined, inseparable. Think about it. Jesus slept. I love that the Bible tells us that Jesus slept. We could assume it. He was human, so he did everything we humans do. All the bodily functions and emotions. Including sleep. Obviously, we’re all different and that means we each need varying amounts of sleep. But it is something that we would do well to take seriously, as a spiritual practice, along with exercise, eating right, and mental health. All that we do in our body affects our soul.
What this means is that we need to consider how can we experience God in our bodies…not just our head. The primary way that people think of experiencing God in their body is by attending worship services. But I have to ask, is that all? Just by going to church worship services? Furthermore, if attending worship services is the primary way people experience God, we need to ask why American Christians have a steadily declining practice of church attendance. Only 44% of American Christians say they go to church weekly. Another 18% say they go once or twice per month. If we are thinking that we can experience God by going to church, only 4 out of 10 of us are doing so weekly. Apparently we have found other ways to experience God in our bodies. Or have we?
Do we need a new view of how to embody our faith? Certainly attending worship services is one way that we use our body to engage the spiritual, and perhaps in 2021 you need to examine your practice of worship attendance. What else should we do? There is more. Check back in to the next post!