A few days back, a friend shared that she’d recently gotten caught up on this body series and had a question for me. It had to do with this idea that the formation of our bodies might mimic the formation of our spirits.
“Presumably, over the course of our lives, our spirits are meant to grow stronger and stronger — more vibrant. But our bodies, as we age, are getting less and less so. What do you do with that, in terms of the analogy?”
It’s a good question.
To clarify, here is where I see the overlap between the two:
- The good things we put into our bodies — food, exercise, supplements, rest — interact with our bodies’ interior processes at a level we can’t control. We are just one part of the equation, and there’s a point at which we do our part, trusting our bodies to do the rest. This is similar to what happens in our spiritual formation: We participate, and God and God’s grace do the rest.
- Our bodies are meant to move in the direction of health, just like our spirits. They can certainly move away from health, and our spirits can, too, but we are meant to live with health and vitality at whatever stage of life we’re in, to the extent we are able.
I keep thinking of the older folks I see at my gym — men and women in their 70s and 80s who are fit and trim and limber and alive because they’ve continued to tend to their bodies as their bodies have aged. Many of them are in much better shape than I am at 34 years old!
As they are moving toward the end of their lives, they serve as an image to me of what vitality and health can look like at an advanced age. In the midst of our decay, we can still be moving toward life.
Ultimately, though, I think my friend has a good point.
Our bodies, in this life, will die. Our spirits won’t. But on the other side, in some mysterious way I don’t understand, our bodies join our spirits in different form. Even as our bodies progress toward decay in this life, then, that decay is not the end of the road for our bodies.
Maybe the breakdown of the analogy has something to do with putting things in their proper order. Jesus spoke often of the inward person of the heart being of core importance, more than what our outward bodies do. (I’m thinking of the passage where he tells the Pharisees that they’re more concerned with cleaning the outside of their cups without realizing what’s on the inside of them.) Not to say that what we do with our bodies isn’t important, and not to say that the body isn’t important, either, but our inward reality is where it all begins. Everything else flows from it.
And perhaps what I’m trying to say is that the process — what happens when growth is happening, whether in body or spirit — looks similar in both.
What are your thoughts on all this?