Likewise the Spirit also helps in our weaknesses. For we do not know what we should pray for as we ought, but the Spirit Himself makes intercession for us with groanings which cannot be uttered. Now He who searches the hearts knows what the mind of the Spirit is, because He makes intercession for the saints according to the will of God.
‘Body’ and ‘soul’ are the constituents of human existence; the Orthodox emphasis on the Resurrection confirms its view that human life and human fulfillment are inextricably bound to both the physical and the spiritual dimensions of human existence. In more contemporary terms, body and personhood are essential for the fulfillment of human potential.
A person is body and spirit, and what is done in the body effects the spirit. Likewise, focusing the spirit on God with prayer energizes the body to reach out to others. A person who pays attention to her own body and spirit tends to it in prayer and is focused on improving. One who is busy with saving her own soul is less apt to judge others. This is so because it takes a lot of energy to deal with one’s self—to fight one’s own demons. In my own attempt to do this “demon fighting” (which may mean working out of a bad mood, wrong thought pattern, or trying to forgive someone), I find I need two hours in the quiet of morning. This is not always possible in my family of six. I have seen people who do not work out their own issues but share them with a loved one. It is good to communicate, but silence can help us sort out the needs in our own bodies and spirits. If we avoid silent reflection, there is a buzz of energy that needs to be directed at someone, and this usually takes the form of complaints and attempts to control others. I marvel at those who have self-control and are peaceful in their interactions with others. This is the sort of goodness that shines through one who strives in the body and spirit for life to become prayer.
The goal in Christianity is salvation of the whole person. Therefore, diet and lifestyle are important to one’s physical and spiritual health. The Orthodox Church teaches Christians to fast, not because it requires one to be fit, but because fasting is praying with the body. Fasting is self-control of the passions. When one fasts, one submits the body to God’s will above personal thoughts and desires. Sometimes it is impossible to keep this deeper reason in mind. I think the demons would love for every Christian to completely forget the reason for the fast and focus instead on “not being allowed” to eat a steak or chocolate. Then, we would be angry, feel deprived, give in to our “need” for some good protein and antioxidant-rich chocolate. The thing that is so missed, by myself, and perhaps others, is that the fast is for one to be aware of the spirit in the body. To tend to it. The benefit is relationship with God, whom one willed to realize by observing the fast.
Taking care of the body is as important as taking care of the spirit because the body and spirit together comprise a human being. Man is responsible to be a good steward of what has been entrusted to him, including one’s own body and the bodies of those he cares for. Importantly, Christ wills for us to be well, as is obvious from the common reference to the Lord as the “physician of souls”. However, the Faith does not have a specific position on many medical and political situations. Many throughout history have used religion to justify their opinions on social issues, even to the point of war. (Consider Adolf Hitler’s Nazi racial ideology and his desire for the Aryan race to dominate the world at the cost of all others.) Religious zeal that harms and kills life does the opposite of what God wills. Life is sacred, and preservation of each human creature is God’s will. Being a Christian begins and ends with living love, which is the way to being well within one’s self and the way of helping others to be well. Holistic wellness as I understand it is a matter of seeking to be well in body and spirit. When one is well enough, then reaching out to others in need is more likely—and the world is full of many with great needs.
When individuals seek Truth in the specifics of their lives, God certainly helps us understand His will. God’s will for each is unique and personal, though it is also His universal will for all to love Him and love each other. In Orthodoxy, individuals’ opinions absorb into the Orthodox Church where councils of bishops determine “theological Truth”. New doctrines are not created based on personal opinions, and the Holy Spirit protects and guides us through the hierarchical structure of the Church. Faith in God is revealed in the details of a person’s life. I aim to understand with my life Who God is and what He wills for me. Perhaps this is a result of having been raised Protestant where opinions and personal relationship with Jesus Christ were always important. The fullness of faith in God is the ancient Christian Church, but experiencing her rich holiness depends on the degree of one’s efforts. One experiences God’s presence as answers to one’s questions through readings, people, and doors that open and close. Life attached to God is miraculous. As Fr. Arseny said, miracles happen in a person’s life for the effects that they will have in that one’s life. Life situations are the means that God has allowed for each to build a relationship with Him. Sharing our stories encourages faith in others and declares the Orthodox Faith strong and alive. Mine is a story of wellness.
Since a person is spirit and body and the spirit and body are in symbiosis, what’s done in the body effects the state of the spirit, and what is done in the spirit effects the state of the body. In practical terms, this means that eating and drinking, exercising, and how many activities one engages impact the spirit. Praying affords the body concentration and focus, if one’s prayer comes from finding a way to be still and listen to the Holy Spirit, even while one may also express her own feelings and thoughts. When there is balance between the spirit and body, then there is equilibrium that energizes the whole person. In such holistic health, one tends to be evangelistic—to reach out to others, to express love with her life. This state of being occurs by one’s effort and by the grace of God.
Usually, I find myself stuck in the middle of trying to deal with my whimsical body, which includes my mind and the thoughts that can enslave me. Thoughts lead me to the freezer for a desperate grab of chocolate. Frustration with a child steals the inner prayer I thought possible early that morning while the world slept. And yet, there are times when a discipline of quiet work enables my body to slow and steady, my heart to calm, and my mind to focus. In such moments, there is a total sense of holistic wellness—a feeling-thought that even if I were diagnosed with cancer, I could deal with it. This confidence is not a proud sense of “beating the illness,” but a subtle submission to God. Your will be done in my life, O Lord. This submission is possible with the understanding that Love is gentle and so merciful, no matter what the body has to go through.
1. Romans 8: 26-27
2. Antoniades, 1:204-208 qtd. in Stanley Harakas
3. Father Arseny, 1893-1973: Priest, Prisoner, Spiritual Father: Being the Narratives Compiled by the Servant of God Alexander Concerning His Spiritual Father, 1998, St. Vladimir’s Seminary Press.
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