The Physical and the Spiritual, Part 3
The Ministry Life Choices Initiative (MLCI) will assist those in years 1-5 of ministry with developing habits and practices for sustainable ministry. The relationship will span the first few years of theological education and the introductory years as a congregational minister. The MLCI is a ministry of the Pension Fund of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) in partnership with Lexington Theological Seminary.
The MLCI blog series, launched January 15, 2014, is designed to promote conversation surrounding issues related to clergy health and well-being. The blog seeks to include and incorporate writers from a wide variety of ministerial contexts, seminaries and demographics.
This second installment of the blog series, begun February 12th, asks bloggers to reflect on their own understanding of how physical and spiritual health connect, intersect and work together.
Clergy Health and Well-being: The Physical and the Spiritual, Part 3 (Bodily Called)
–by the Rev. Diana Hodges-Batzka, First Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), Lemoyne, PA, M.Div., 2009, Vanderbilt Divinity School
My journey of call has been entwined with my body. I have always been overweight. It has been part of my identity just like my name, my family, and all my quirks that make me who I am. Now, I have wrestled with it and it sometimes negatively affected me. Fortunately, my church told me differently. The message that I was a beloved child of God called to ministry won out.
As I was discerning my call following college, for the first time in my life, I began to watch what I ate and started to exercise regularly resulting in a loss of about 60 pounds. Part of my motivation was wanting to look better and part was wanting to take care of the gift of my body that God had given me so that I could serve God. I did well for a little while, motivated by self and God, but slowly the weight began to creep back on until I was once again abusing my body, gaining back most of the weight.
It was then that I experienced God’s Spirit move in me in a way that I have only felt a few other times in my life, one of which was my call to ministry. It was the first night of a spiritual retreat with other young clergy. As was our custom, we were sharing what we felt we needed from God during the retreat. I thought I knew what I needed, but as I sat there and opened myself to God’s Spirit the word that came to mind was healing – specifically healing from treating my body in damaging and harmful ways by not living a healthy lifestyle and taking care of my body.
During the following days and weeks, I wrestled with the idea but eventually it became my prayer – my prayer that God would help me have the strength to be faithful to my call with my whole self – including my body.
Once this became the prayer of my spirit, I began to take better care of my body – making better food choices, exercising more and losing 75 pounds. And as my body began to transform so did my spirit. I began to have a better confidence in who God was calling me to be. I began to feel that I was serving God with my whole being in a way I had not experienced before.
As beloved children, we are all called to love God with our hearts, minds, strength and soul. I love the Common English Bible translation of the Great Commandment where Jesus says, “and you must love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your being, with all your mind, and with all your strength.” (Mark 12:30)
We must love God with our whole being and part of our being is our body.
When we accept a call to ministry, we are accepting the holy challenge to live into this calling to the best of our ability with our whole selves. And one’s whole self includes the body that we have received as a gift from God. We are called to love God with our bodies – to treat them well and nurture them, just as we are called to nurture our spirits, hearts and minds.
And yet, too often, we don’t see the nurture of our bodies as an integral part of our calls to ministry. In fact, we might feel that our bodies sometimes get in the way. However, the very nature of the incarnation calls us to celebrate not only who we are, but how we experience the world through our bodies.
I don’t think it is coincidence that the times when my spirit is attuned to God’s call on my life, my body must also become attuned to God in ways that reflect God’s love for my very being.
And when body and spirit are entwined, my whole being is my holy call.