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Keeping a healthy balance of spirit and body, as Jesus says

Mężczyzna leżący na trawie i odpoczywający

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Aleksander Bańka - published on 03/16/24

Jesus told his disciples to "come away and rest a while" when they were tired from ministry. Extremes are harmful, but balance between body and spirit is hard.

If we measure the mistakes that we make in our spiritual lives by the extremes we fall into, there are two we should be attentive to: hedonism or excessive spiritualism.

Hedonism

Hedonism means focusing on pleasure and putting it at the center of life.It doesn’t necessarily mean explicitly focusing on the body, although in fact it is bodily pleasures that ultimately constitute its purpose and meaning.

It is not uncommon for us to build our well-being in life by centering ourselves on the bodily desires and passions that control us, which are not necessarily related to the sexual sphere. Sometimes they are simply desires for a variety of goods, sensual comforts, or pleasant emotional experiences.

Such desires in themselves are nothing bad. The problem begins when they begin to rule our spiritual life, dominate it and subordinate it. In such a situation, spirituality is reduced to a kind of cover — a form of justification for tendencies that reduce happiness to physical well-being and measure the quality of our relationship with God according to the measure of our well-being. St. Paul calls this living “in the flesh.”

Spiritualism

On the opposite side is the error of excessive spiritualism. Here, in turn, the needs and desires of the body are heavily marginalized and even suppressed in favor of the realm of the spirit. We perceive the human body as an obstacle to our relationship with God. At the very least, we consider that it doesn’t participate in it in any significant way.

As a result, instead of building a harmonious unity between the spirit and the body, we fall into a strong dualism that separates the two orders. We identify the body with evil and sin, and the spirit with what is good, pure, and blessed.

This is, of course, an error that resembles the heresy of Gnosticism more than healthy Christian spirituality. So how do we find the right balance between these two extremes, and properly shape our spiritual life?

Taking care of ourselves

In a way, the answer was given to us by Jesus himself. Seeing the weariness of his disciples returning from an intense ministry, “He said to them, ‘Come away to a deserted place all by yourselves and rest a while.’ For many were coming and going, and they had no leisure even to eat.” (Mark 6:31).

The Greek word ἀναπαύσασθε (anapausasthe), which St. Mark the Evangelist uses in the text, means not only “rest,” but also—and perhaps most importantly—”recline,” “refresh yourselves.” Thus, what is meant is the kind of rest that will bring us nourishment and spiritual “freshness.”  Jesus is referring to taking proper care of the needs and desires of the body in a way that will not turn it against the spiritual realm, but will bring it under its guidance anew, with greater energy. 

For there is a wise principle at work here. Each human being is a unity of body and spirit, and these two aspects condition each other. Therefore, we cannot exclude our body for the sake of our spirit, or give such priority to its needs that they dominate.

Resting and caring for our body serves as “refreshment” and “nourishment,” so that as a whole person we can carry out our mission and vocation to happiness in wise harmony between spirit and body. For ultimately, it’s precisely such harmony that the Christian concept of asceticism is all about. And thus, an integral part of it should also be the ability to rest.

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Catholic LifestyleSpirituality
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