Getting Cold Feet: A Brief Meditation on Growth of Body and Soul

I hate exercising. I realized a few years ago that exercising actually causes my body to feel quite similarly to what I feel when I’m anxious. So why would I intentionally make myself feel like I’m anxious? That just seems like madness.

Yet lately, I’ve been getting cold feet. I mean that quite literally. When I get into bed at night, my feet and legs are icy. Now granted, it’s winter, and it’s cold, but it finally occurred to me the other day that there’s more going on here. I spend the majority of my time either studying or avoiding studying using my computer. In either case, I’m sitting down for hours at a time. This is a beautiful recipe for poor circulation. The solution: exercise.

To me, that sounds like about as much fun as smacking my fingers with a hammer for a while. Of course, the long-term alternative might be even less fun than banging my fingers with a hammer, so I suppose the ends probably justify the means.

It got me thinking again a bit about the fact that we carry around these body things we all have and how they’re connected to our souls. One personality sorter says that my type is the most prone towards separating the two to the point of utterly ignoring the body, and I believe that. I wondered, could development of the body be part of development of the soul?

I’ve been reading Gregory Palamas lately, who defended his hesychastic monastic practices against a theologian, Barlaam, who argued that  real spiritual development is completely distinct from the body. Palamas countered by saying that the body, specifically the heart, is the resting place of the soul, so how could spiritual growth be separate from the body? If you’re affecting the soul, the heart must be affected, and what you do to the body will therefore have an affect on the soul.

This surely makes sense. If the body had nothing to do with the soul, then why did Jesus come in a body? Paul told the church that he trained his body so that it would be capable of service. He also assured us that the body specifically is the temple of the Holy Spirit. God dwells in us not merely in our spirits but in our very physical bodies. The earliest monks and hermits knew this and created regimens to train themselves to be able to resist temptation and pray well.

So what we do to our bodies matters. God prescribed food laws to Israel, and while we are not bound by them, and while what we eat cannot defile us, it does affect us. You are what you eat. It’s been shown that our very posture affects our moods and emotional states, so the way you carry yourself affects your capacity to love God, others, and self. It’s even been shown that the healthier a state your body is in, the more clear your thinking can be. Dallas Willard in The Spirit of the Disciplines points out the fact that the only way that we attain almost anything for our souls is through our bodies, specifically pointing to our senses.  The ability to be “spiritual”, whatever you want to mean by that, is affected by our physical capacities.

So is physical development part of spiritual growth? I don’t know if I’ve quite proved that here, but I hope I’ve at least suggested that insufficient physical development will limit spiritual development. So exercise can enhance our ability to pray, love, think, serve, and apparently keep my body at its proper temperature.

Does anybody have a Sweatin’ to the Oldies DVD or something I can borrow?


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