Body, mind and spirit connect to create abundant life
Jesus said, "The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly." John 10:10 (NRSV)
Just as God is three in one – Creator, Christ, Holy Spirit – humans were created as three parts: body, mind and spirit.
"May the God of peace himself sanctify you entirely; and may your spirit and soul and body be kept sound and blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ." (1 Thessalonians 5:23 NRSV).
For optimal life — abundant life — the three parts that make humans human will all be in harmony.
Dr. Ted Hill is a physician and a United Methodist deacon. He is medical director of Salvus Center, a faith-based health center serving working insured people and pastor of healing and wholeness at First United Methodist Church in Gallatin, Tennessee.
"We think of our lives as silos," Hill said. "But the body, mind and spirit are interconnected, not separate."
Hill said as a physician, he looks at people holistically.
"The orthodox point of view looks at the whole person, the way God intends for us to be," he said. "Unfortunately, that goes against how we live. These three parts are not compartmentalized. God means for us to be whole. In terms of physical wellbeing, for me, that means taking care of yourself."
When Hill was ordained 11 years ago, clergy health was one of his emphases.
"When you look at the general population, two-thirds are considered overweight or obese," he said. "But for clergy, the percentage is even higher – about 80 percent!"
It wasn't always that way, he said.
"It used to be that clergy were some of the healthiest people because they lived a clean and healthy lifestyle," he said. "But now, it's too much fried chicken and not enough exercise."
He said again, it's the attitude of silos. "When we separate our lives into three separate categories, we forget there is a religious connection to taking care of our bodies."
He calls health a spiritual issue.
Good health "is about temple cleaning," he said. "How much housework do we do to keep ourselves healthy? We are made to be active. We need to move! When we aren't moving, we get diseased."
"Disciplining our bodies is crucial," he continued. "Paul talks about this. The physical part of who we are requires us to take care of the body to be all God needs us to be."
Hill said self-discipline puts him in the position to be more able to receive or be open to God.
"Tools — the spiritual disciplines — help us to be open to God," he said. "We'd never tell someone, ‘You don't need to pray. You don't need to read scripture.' These are disciplines that all keep us open to encounter God. We do these to prepare ourselves to respond to God."
The Rev. David McAllister-Wilson, president of Wesley Theological Seminary in Washington, D.C., believes the mind is capable of wondrous things.
"We are wired for curiosity and creativity," he said. "I believe God made us this way so we can enjoy the fullness of his creation. I believe he gave us the capacity to enjoy life and have it abundantly, like Jesus said."
McAllister-Wilson's joy comes from many areas, and he sees God's hand in decisions that led to them: his wife, children and grandchildren who constantly amaze him; the feeling of awe he gets when he sees the Egyptian pyramids and grasps the dramatic sweep of history. All these things are possible because of the mind's ability to love and appreciate those things bigger than ourselves.
"These are good gifts to be sure," he said, "and all good gifts come from God. Nevertheless, it is important to remember that just because God gives such good gifts, not all that is ‘bad' comes from someone else. Some seemingly bad things happen because we're human, and the bad is just part of it."
McAllister-Wilson acknowledged that sometimes the mind can go to uncomfortable places, even if someone is mentally healthy. "We can't always just think ourselves back into happiness and positive thoughts.
"We all need to remember that the brain is a fragile human organ," he said. "Sometimes the best step is to find someone who can help us when we need guidance to get back to the healthy and positive place. Being in community with other people, doing your best to live the life God intended for you and recognizing we are all tied together as humans are all part of living abundantly.
"I think sometimes we think about the mind, body and spirit as three things, but they are really all one," he said. "It's how we live integrated lives. The mind and body can't be separated. And the spiritual aspect brings everything together to make a person whole."
For McAllister-Wilson, abundant living brings joy to everyday things.
"We have all these ‘aha' moments that make us realize why God gave us a mind wired for curiosity," he said, "and with that, the joy that comes from the ability to imagine and thus to create. When we use our minds this way, it begins and ends in wonder. We realize ‘the heavens are telling the glory of God.' That is the foundation of both humility and hope."
"There is no doubt that Jesus Christ came into the world to bring life — not just adequate life — abundant life!" according to the Rev. Tom Albin, dean of The Upper Room Chapel and ecumenical relations, a part of Discipleship Ministries. "In fact, we Christians believe that humankind, from the beginning, was created by God to be a beautiful and blessed union of body, mind and spirit. With a healthy spirit, we enjoy and express the fullness of God and the fullness of joy for which we were created."
He added that the opposite is also true. Without a healthy spirit, there is no fullness of joy, no abundance of life, no ability to fulfill our divine purpose in creation.
"We were created in the image and likeness of God," Albin said. "We know this through scripture, tradition, reason and experience. We know our beginning and our end is in God — it is good — and it is eternal. How do we know this? Because we know Jesus Christ."
Because God is love, and Jesus is the fullest expression of love, finite human beings are capable of understanding love.
"We know we are created to love," he said. "In a real sense, love is both a fruit from the Spirit and a fruit of the Spirit. Everyone who is born of the Spirit loves, and without the Holy Spirit our ability to love is constricted and distorted."
According to scripture, God created every woman and man good with the desire and ability to love. "So, God created humankind in his image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them. ... God saw everything that he had made and indeed, it was very good." (Genesis 1:26-31, NRSV)
God is spirit and so we human beings are spiritual beings. That is where modernism and pseudo-science fall short, Albin said.
"We tend to deny the things we cannot measure, taste, touch, feel, smell or identify though our five senses," he continued. "And as good as our five senses are, they are not enough to explain or sustain abundant life. That is why history is filled with accounts of people who had healthy bodies and good minds but could not be satisfied by money, sex and power. On the other hand, history is also full of stories of people who had infirm bodies and mental impairments who still enjoyed abundant, joyful, creative, fulfilling lives.
How can this be? "God is love. God is spirit. God is joy. God is creative. God is giving. God is eternal."
Polly House is a freelance writer and editor, who is also serving as editorial assistant for Interpreter and Interpreter OnLine. She lives in Nashville, Tennessee.