I am a fair weather runner. Runner might be too strong of a word, but between April and November three to four times a week I lace up my shoes and run three to four miles. Starting up again in April is always hard. I am slow and my lungs burn and my legs ache. But I know it will be worth it, so I begin again. There is something that happens when I am out there, something I can’t quite explain, but my soul is somehow free-er. In the quiet and in my solitude I have my deepest times of prayer, of praise, of communion with God. There is this connection between the movement of my body and my spirit, a vivid reminder of how I was created.
I am an embodied creature.
I have been thinking a lot lately about embodiment and what it means. I have no startling insights or theological breakthroughs, and some days I struggle to see this particular body that God has given me as a good gift. It’s a little squishier than I would like and as the years go by it aches more and more and it tires more easily. But I do know that the bodies that God gives us are good gifts born out of His love. How do I receive this gift well? How do I best steward this body that was given to me?
And how does it all work, this union between body and soul? When I am tired or hungry or sore from pushing my body too hard, I snap at my kids and my husband. My prayers are shorter, my Bible reading is perfunctory. Clearly, the condition of my body affects my spirit. When I am anxious, my body reacts with a frenzy of activity. I clean all the things and organize and accomplish all the things on my to-do list that have been sitting there for far too long. When I am sad, I feel physically tired, my eyes are primed for tears. Clearly, the condition of my spirit affects my body.
Whenever God chooses to call me to himself, this body that I inhabit now with it’s limitations, it’s sicknesses and pains will not go with me, at least as it is now. Scripture tells me that I will get a new body (Philippians 3:21, 2 Corinthians 5), so embodiment is not temporary, it is part of God’s good creation plan. Adam and Eve had bodies before the Fall. My new body will be “like his glorious body,” the body of the resurrected Lord Jesus Christ. That I cannot conceive of, it is too great and marvelous for me. So if embodiment is eternal, perhaps I should give it more consideration in this life.
As a follower of Jesus, I tend to think that I only need to nourish my soul (even at the expense of my body), but seeing the connection between the two more clearly over the past year has shown me that caring for my body can be just as important as caring for my soul.
Sometimes it’s the same thing. So I have become more gentle with my body, giving it more rest days and have found my soul renewed. I have, imperfectly, leaned into a weekly sabbath and found it to be life-giving.
I linger over hugs with my children and my husband. Hugs are not things to be rushed. The physical act of touching another human being that I love in that prolonged way fills our souls.
Whenever I can, I gather with friends. The eyes God has given me drinking in their expressions, feeling the God-given joy of togetherness, savoring the laughter, (the strange shaking of our bodies and ringing sounds in our ears), these physical expressions of delight. Finding wonder in the seamless connection between the physical and the spiritual.
Of course in a culture such as ours, the temptation is always near to think of this body more highly than I ought, to put my hope in health and wellness or in looking a certain way. Finding my value in staying at a certain weight or being able to do x number of pushups or letting each new wrinkle tempt me to despair. Putting pressure on this frame that it was never meant to bear, by seeing this gift as ultimate instead of viewing it as a good gift given by a loving Creator.
But I will continue on this life-long journey to steward this gift well, trying not to think of my body as something to be worshipped and molded into an ever-changing standard of beauty or something that has little worth, somehow inconsequential in the grand scheme of things. I will work to use my whole self, physical and spiritual in service to our great God, using what He has given me to glorify Him. I will get it wrong, I will stumble and fall, but through the grace of God I will keep going. And I hope to learn from those of you who are farther ahead on this path and those of you who want to consider with me what it means to honor God with our bodies.