July 21, 2011

Diet and Exercise

My annual medical checkup had been almost two years ago so I thought with summer kind of slow it is a good time to schedule appointments with my various doctors.  This week I had two doctor appointments for physicals, a complete blood workup, an EKG, and a bone density evaluation. Two weeks ago I had a mammogram, and next week I have to go for a sonogram.  So far everything seems fine except for one thing, my cholesterol is 235.  The doctor wants it to be 185. The good thing is that my HDL and triglycerides are good, but I still have to lower that LDL.  She said I need to lose weight (yes, I know that), stop eating animal fats, and get plenty of exercise. Also, to keep my bones healthy she wants me to lift weights and walk.

I took the news in stride, but when I got home I realized that means no burgers on the grill, and the sausage and peppers I made the other night will have to be eaten by someone else.  I'm not a big red meat fan, but the fact that I am now called to avoid it makes me feel deprived. As for exercise, well, I have weights just sitting in the corner of my room, and the 4 mile boardwalk, which is delightful to walk, is only a 10 minute drive away.  I guess it's time to make some changes and pay attention to diet and exercise to keep healthy. The truth is, when I don't pay attention to these things that might not be good for me, my body lets me know its time to start paying attention or pay the price of getting sick. 

This evening while meditating, I was reflecting on what the doctor ordered and started to think about my spiritual health.  My spiritual side also needs an occasional checkup and "diet and exercise" to keep it healthy and to help  me advance toward the goal of union with God. What kind of diet and exercise do I need?  Well, just as what I eat will have an affect my physical health, I have to ask myself what I let enter my soul that I really should be avoiding, and what should I be doing to keep a healthy spiritual life? What is my spiritual diet? The word diet is derived from the Greek word diaita, which means "a way of life." A healthy spirituality means following a way of life that is centered on Christ and on the Sacraments, especially the Eucharist.  Diet also derives from a Latin word dieta, which means "a days work." Being a Christian is work, more often than not. But what is the "work" of a Christian?  The work of a Christian is to continue the mission of Christ in this world, and to follow the will of God in all things. This calls for a steady diet of prayer, scripture, sacraments and avoiding those temptations that lead me to sin and away from God.

So how to we sustain this way of life? Here is where the exercise comes in.  All the great saints have engaged in any number of spiritual exercises.  Prayer is first on the list, in fact for a healthy spiritual life prayer is essential.  How do I pray?  It is simply routine or do I really communicate with God? These are important questions. I  also include some sort of meditation and spiritual reading as part of my daily spiritual exercise.   I know as a Benedictine Oblate I really should be engaging in Lectio Divina daily, but just as I make excuses against going for that walk on the boardwalk, I often find all sorts of excuses not to engage in Lectio. Acts of popular piety are also on the excercise list. Today many people reject some of these acts as old fashioned or not for them, but many traditional acts of piety such as the Rosary, chaplets, time spent in adoration, novenas, and dedication to particular saints, are ways to deepen our spiritual life.  Regular celebration of the Sacrament of Penance and confiding in a spiritual director or a close spiritual friend (in Celtic spirituality this is called anam cara), are good ways of being assured that I am on the right track in my spiritual journey as long as, like with my medical doctors, I give heed to the advice I am given. Having a prayer partner or having a Christian community to pray with helps keep me focused and accountable.

What happens when I don't stick to a diet and exercise routine? I gain weight, feel sluggish and put my body at risk for illness. What happens when I don't stick to a spiritual diet and exercise routine? I don't know about you, but I usually can tell that my life is out of sorts. I don't have enough patience, it seems that things start to go wrong, and I get restless and anxious. It also pulls me away from what I need to do to grow in my relationship with God. In other words, it keeps me from being open to God's Grace. So here we are in mid summer and I have been pointed on a way to good health physically and spiritually.  The important thing is to now stick to it!

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