“Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, which you have from God, and that you are not your own?” (1 Corinthians 6:19, NRSV)
Actually, no, I did not know that. For many years I did not give much thought to my body. After the amazing self-healing powers of my twentysomething body started to slow, I took it in stride that I could put on a few pounds, not eat as well as I should, and exercise when it suited me. I even felt proud that I was not overly preoccupied by appearances. (That could serve as a new chapter for Screwtape: how I turned becoming overweight and flabby into a sign of virtue.) With the advent of kids, my self-care worsened until, one day, my wife asked me, “Don’t you want to be around for our family? If you love us as much as you say you do, you should take better care of yourself.”
And that was the day that God taught me the truth of the above verse (using my spouse, which is the Spirit’s preferred vehicle): my body is not my own.
I came to realize that it was not virtuous to scorn aerobic classes and eat too much ice cream. My physical neglect was creating anxiety for my family. I was less fit and less able to do my work and enjoy my family. My body was not just a vehicle for carrying around my thinking brain or a host for my soul. It was not even mine. My wife, my family, my community, and even my God had a stake in my belly roll. I had to adjust to a new idea: my body was a “temple of the Holy Spirit” and my temple-maintenance program sucked.
I once heard Lauren Winner, the author of Wearing God, tell a group that her Lenten discipline was to sleep eight hours every night during Lent. Such a practice would make her more attuned to what God was doing in her life and give her more energy to do what God called her to do. That is, I imagine, what Paul means when he advises us, in the next verse in 1 Corinthians, “to glorify God in your body.” Taking care of my physical body is not unrelated to my spiritual efforts.
In his amazingly rich and insightful new book, Eat, Fast, Feast: Heal Your Body While Feeding Your Soul—A Christian Guide to Fasting, Jay Richards points out that Christians have not always ignored their bodies. For most of the Church’s history, fasting has been a central tool of our spiritual lives, since it seemed obvious to our ancestors that there is a close link between physical hunger and hunger for God. That is, right up until modern times.
Eat, Fast, Feast is a hybrid, combining all the latest wisdom and research on the Keto diet, on intermittent fasting, on what is wrong with our current diets, and integrating it with the best of the Church’s ancient wisdom regarding the spiritual fruit of fasting. Its 40-day plan combines long-term “nutritional ketosis” along with spiritual disciplines, which can be used any time of the year or be adapted to a penitential season on the Christian calendar, such as Advent or Lent.
It is January, which has been christened the “new year, new you” season, when diet, self-help, and health books leap to the bestseller lists. For most of these titles, the “why?” behind their regimes is more implied than argued for: to become healthier, to fight illness and death, to feel younger, stronger, more attractive. On that shelf, it seems strange to find a title that explains the “why?” as “to glorify God by treating your body as a temple of the Holy Spirit,” but that is, in fact, what Jay has written.
The fact that it sounds so odd for one book to discuss God, the Bible, and spirituality alongside the latest science behind what, when, and how often we eat points to the problem. We have to stop seeing our bodies as mere tools for life extension. Our bodies are not even “ours.” With the help of Jay Richards and his new book, we can learn a new perspective, one that overcomes the chasm between self-care and spiritual care. Because it turns out that avoiding carbs and trans fats, as well as sometimes avoiding food altogether, is all part of what it means “to glorify God in our bodies.”