The Life of the Body: Physical Well-Being and Spiritual Formation

reviewed by Susan Martins Miller

“The body speaks to the heart. The heart speaks to the body.” Two experienced Christian teachers of spiritual formation unpack this two-directional truth from multiple angles. Lane M. Arnold is a spiritual director and Valerie E. Hess is a retreat speaker. Both have been listening to lessons of body and spirit in their own lives for years and now bring them to readers in the co-authored volume, The Life of the Body: Physical Well-Being and Spiritual Formation.

Their thoughtful book from InterVarsity Press lays a biblical foundation for the integration of body and spirit, then examines the impact of realities of modern life that make it challenging to live out of this union. “Since God created us to be whole, integrated beings, spiritual formation happens in all seasons of life, for good or for ill. The training or disciplines in one part of our life is directly affected by the training, or lack thereof, going on in another part of our life” (p. 15). Being more aware of what our bodies are telling us and paying attention is a spiritual discipline that benefits us as whole human beings.

The authors offer a theology of food, delve into cultural messages that impact health, and recognize that bodily extremes reflect struggling souls. They take particular care to examine the perplexities of pain and how even bodies gone awry contribute to our spiritual formation. Seasons of life, during which we sometimes come to understand our aging bodies better, can become seasons of spiritual thriving as well.

Our bodily experience is also a witness to our faith. “When we live with the false belief that a healthy level of caring for ourselves is selfish or narcissistic, we risk not being able to be fully present to one another. Our exhaustion due to lack of care for our body and soul is not a good witness to the abundant life in Christ” (pp. 40–41).

Generously transparent personal stories lace each chapter, along with practical observations from the authors’ professional experiences. Each chapter concludes with a set of spiritual reflection exercises that stimulate the reader into a deeper personalized understanding of the chapter’s themes.

Recommended by Susan Martins Miller, a Church Health Center staff writer.

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