Mens Sana in Corpore Sano

6 Aug

Still on an Olympian theme. You have probably at some point in life heard the phrase Mens sana in corpore sano, or its English equivalent “a sound mind in a healthy body”. Much is said at Olympic times about the benefit of exercise for overall health and well-being. This is true enough. Our mind and heart, thoughts and emotions, are not hermetically sealed separate compartments, unaffected by the physical container they live in. What we do with our bodies has implications for the rest of us.

This was certainly the case with Jed, a guy at the church I went to in my home town. He had started to get depressed and nothing seemed to make much difference to him. Then someone had the bright idea of asking him what he ate. “Mashed potatoes with ketchup.” That was it, it seemed. Every day, every meal. Bangers and mash, without the bangers. A quickly drawn up plan to get him eating a good meal each day with a different family from church seemed to do the trick and within a week or so the depression had lifted. Amazing what diet can do, though there again, maybe the TLC and social contact helped him too…

The apostle Paul says something along the same lines. In attempting to promote godliness, he mentions the relative worth of physical exercise:

For physical training is of some value, but godliness has value for all things, holding promise for both the present life and the life to come.

So we don’t want to overdo it and spend so much time on the rowing machine that we forget to cultivate spiritual disciplines. But the opposite extreme is to suggest that our bodies don’t really matter – after all, we will get new ones soon enough – so we can mistreat them all we want now and not worry too much about it. But no; mens sana in corpore sano. Neglect your body, abusing it with a sedentary life and unhealthy diet, and live the consequences.

Elsewhere, Paul asks us to “present our bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God”. Bodies, not spirits, minds, souls, hearts, or however else you would like to classify our inner beings. Bodies. It makes sense, really. We don’t do very much without our bodies being involved – even when we speak God’s words, it’s our mouth that does the talking. Or take any other event or programme where people are invited to participate. “Sorry, I can’t make it next Saturday, but I’ll be with you in spirit” is not the kind of response that gets anything done. Besides, I for one am frankly not too keen with the idea of having a bunch of disembodied spirits floating around while the rest of us get on with the work. If your body isn’t coming, then please don’t send your spirit, we’ll manage OK without you.

Gluttony was one of the “favourite” deadly sins of the Middle Ages but rarely gets a mention today. (When was the last time you heard anyone preach on gluttony? Ever?) But whilst we don’t hear that many sermons on the subject of keeping oneself healthy, smoking has got bad press in most Christian circles. And rightly so – burning money to become addicted to something that slowly but surely destroys your body can hardly be a good thing in anyone’s books. But what makes it “a sin”? The most commonly quoted verses, 1 Corinthians 6:19-20, speak of our bodies being temples of the Holy Spirit, and that we should thus honour God with our bodies. Nothing there that limits this to smoking. Obesity, sedentarism, “fast foods”, the consumption of huge amounts of fat and sugar that pumps up our cholesterol and makes heart disease the number one cause of death in “developed” countries, all fit the bill just as well.

So as you watch the Olympics, be inspired by these people who have focused their lives on physical disciplines to do something about your own body. Obviously, you are not going to pursue the same objectives as them, but don’t dodge the issue either – this is important. And don’t wait till January 1st to make resolutions that will be forgotten before the week is out. Be honest. Don’t laugh it off, using humour to avoid facing reality. Think through what you need to do. Set some SMART objectives. (Feel free to contact me if you need some help with that.) Make yourself accountable to someone for these. And get on with it. You might not beat Usain Bolt in Rio 2016, but your mens sana in corpore sano will nevertheless be glad that you did.

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