Last month I joined a Beachbody challenge group with some women from college. I have some weight to lose and have some other fitness goals—not to mention that regular exercise and healthy eating are great ways to combat anxiety and depression—and I thought, what better way to do this than with women I already know and love to hold me accountable? As a woman, I do struggle with my body image. My body always seems to be in flux—between pregnancies, sleep deprivation, stress, and so many other factors, not only has my weight been on a roller coaster, but so has the look and feel of my body, and I want to rein that in.
Controlling the body is a discipline and can lead to or aid in spiritual and emotional discipline. It’s no coincidence that when I became less physically active, I also became less spiritually and emotionally disciplined. This is because we are body-soul composites, each aspect feeding off of and aiding (or hindering) the other. Jesus tells us as much when He says to cut off your hand if it causes you to sin (cf. Matthew 18:8). To paraphrase St. Thomas Aquinas, the body is the physical representation of the soul—what we do with our bodies does not only affect our souls but also reveals the state of our souls.
What I am not saying is that being overweight means that your soul is fat, ugly, or unworthy. There are many reasons for being “overweight,” from body types to illness to stress and any number of other factors. Furthermore, there are more ways to discipline the body than only exercise or physical activity. However, if you can do something to help your body be in or stay in good condition, you should do it. Now, consider a pianist—she must train her hands and fingers to move in exact precision and synchronization to create beautiful melodies and harmonies (also, she must learn to move her feet simultaneously, as the peddles add to the musicality). A pianist’s fingers must move with precision and intention—and the soul must move and act in the same way.
Surely, the body could act one way and the soul another, or vice versa, but that would be reflected in a person’s life. How many celebrity athletes who are in top shape and have trained their bodies with intense precision have been in the news for committing crimes or scandals? Plenty. How many people pay attention to the state of their souls with so much intensity that it borders on scrupulosity but neglect their bodies and suffer from negative effects on their health and well-being? Plenty. Most of us probably fall somewhere in between. There must be a balance. We have been out of balance since the Fall, constantly at war with our bodies and/or souls. It was not meant to be this way.
It is wise to remember the importance of our bodies. Christ did not just rise in His soul but also in His body and then ascended into heaven body and soul. The Blessed Virgin Mary was likewise assumed into heaven body and soul. It means that our physical bodies have eternal significance. What we do with our bodies and how we treat them isn’t just important in this lifetime or for our overall health or anything pertaining to the here and now. How we care for our bodies helps to shape how we care for our souls, and vice versa. To care for one at the expense of the other is to fall into believing a falsehood—that our bodies are only something to be tolerated until we can be set free from them, or that the soul doesn’t matter because there is nothing but right here, right now. Rather, eternity and the here and now are concurrent realities, existing simultaneously. God Who is outside of time came into time—He now exists as both. So we, in our persons, also reflect the harmony of these realities by being body-soul composites.
On our refrigerator, we have a list of family rules and values, and first among them is: “Exercise our bodies, minds, and souls daily.” Everything else flows from this. When we take care to be in harmony with ourselves, we can also then better practice other values, such as gratitude and compassion, and do things like controlling our finances so they don’t control us (another on our list). Harmony and balance. When we fully possess ourselves, we are also, then, free to give ourselves away.
As I finish with this Beachbody challenge group, I find that the more intentional I am with my body, the more intentional I’ve become with my words and actions, and also in my prayer and spiritual life. Ad majorem Dei gloriam—all for the greater glory of God.