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The Life of the Body: Physical Well-Being and Spiritual Formation Paperback – January 7, 2013
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"Rejecting the body-soul dualism to which Christians have often succumbed, authors Valerie Hess and Lane Arnold reflect on the many ways fitness, nutrition, and other aspects of bodily care can aid or impede a relationship with God." (4/5 stars) (Matt Reynolds, Christianity Today, January / February 2013)
"There are a handful of books that I couldn't stop thinking about after I put them down. The Life of the Body is one of them. It is thought-provoking, insightful and well-grounded. . . . If you want to push yourself toward who you are intended to be, let this book challenge your assumptions." (Keith Eigel, Ph.D., cofounder of The Leaders Lyceum)
"The risen Christ said, 'Touch me and see.' Valerie Hess and Lane Arnold illuminate the truth that resurrection life is lived in and through our bodies. As the authors reclaim the long-neglected relationships between spirit, mind and body, we discover grace-filled ways to discover life abundant in Christ. I heartily recommend this book." (Karen Wright Marsh, executive director, Theological Horizons)
"Do body wisdom and spiritual formation belong together? Two experienced Christian teachers of spiritual formation say yes. Valerie Hess and Lane Arnold give us an energizing workout for the weary soul, suggesting ways to discard the burden of bad ideas and false behavior in favor of energetic Christ-living that works on many levels. An encouraging book." (Emilie Griffin, author, Souls in Full Sail and Green Leaves for Later Years)
"In a gentle, humble, yet firm way, Valerie and Lane have ventured into a subject where few authors have dared to go. I appreciate the way they challenge us as persons with individual bodies and members of Christ's body to examine our issues and embrace the healing offered in Christ." (Richella Parham, ImpartingGrace.com)
"Through the wisdom of their words, through numerous probing questions and through embodied spiritual exercises, Valerie and Lane artfully show us how, in love and obedience, to present our bodies as living sacrifices to our Lord who sacrificed his body for us. In a day when the physical body is used as a tool for selfish pleasure or neglected as excess baggage on a more 'spiritual' journey, Life of the Body provides a sturdy corrective and a refreshing way forward. The hopeful result that the faithful reader can expect, along with the apostle Paul, is that 'Christ will be exalted in my body.'" (Howard Baker, instructor of Christian formation at Denver Seminary and author of The One True Thing)
"The Life of the Body is a timely gift to the body of Christ, which, even today, stands guilty of the tendency to split off the body from the whole notion of spirituality. The authors' work is richly informative and educational, highly practical and--to my own embarrassment--personally convicting! A much-needed corrective to our misguided understanding of what holistic formation is about." (Wil Hernandez, Ph.D., Andrews Chair in Spiritual Formation at Spring Arbor University and the author of Henri Nouwen and Spiritual Polarities)
"The Life of the Body skillfully illustrates how God mediates transforming grace through the God-created body and its senses. Carefully researched and winsomely written, the book offers constructive protocols for formation into Christlikeness and optimal health. Here is an engaging contribution to vital spirituality and physical wellness, or total-person shalom." (Bruce Demarest, senior professor of Christian formation, Denver Seminary, and author of Seasons of the Soul)
About the Author
Valerie E. Hess is a pastor's wife, mother, teacher, retreat speaker and musician. She received her master's in church music from Valparaiso University in Valparaiso, Indiana. She is currently the coordinator of music ministries for Trinity Lutheran Church in Boulder, Colorado. Valerie is an instructor in the Master of Arts in Spiritual Formation and Leadership program at Spring Arbor University. She is part of the Renovaré Partners in Renewal group and led a workshop at the 2005 Renovaré International Conference. She is the coauthor of Habits of a Child's Heart (NavPress, 2004).
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Part of my distaste for this book may come from my personal place in life right now. I am overweight. I don't always have the healthiest habits. And, I know this. In many ways, as a overweight minister approaching middle age I might even be this book's target audience. I agree with a lot of what was said in this book. It was convicting. The problem is, when a person is overweight, guilt and shame are probably the least effective motivators to induce life change. Yet it seems to be the books primary way of motivating me as I read it.
For example, in the first chapter, the authors ask, "How do you currently preach the gospel without using words?" (p.16) The answer is supposed to be, by having good eating and exercise habits, and looking physically fit. And while I do believe that how we look and care for ourselves has a role in how we are perceived, these ways of making the point are laying things on a little thick. This point is further reinforced later when the authors say, "poor lifestyle choices...impact our very witness to the good news of Jesus Christ." (p. 40).
If the above example were the only example of guilt motivation I could stomach it. But it just goes on and on. If I wanted or needed to be nagged by women old enough to be my mother, I will call my mom.
Having said that, I think the authors do make several good points. In my weight-loss journeys in the past, I have seen where living healthier does effect other areas of my life, including my spiritual life, my mood, and my emotional state. I agree with them that increased discipline in one area of my life has often helped me increase discipline in others. The authors make some strong points about "food justice" issues. And they briefly discuss "eating extremes" in relation to Christian discipleship.
I think more books like this are helpful for spiritual formation, just not one that read to me like hell-fire and brimstone food and exercise Nazis. I have the Biggest Loser on TV for that--thank you.
The authors (Valerie E. Hess and Lane M. Arnold) expand their theme of the healthy body as blessed by God in their explorations of food as a social justice issue and the distorted, unrealistic media images especially of the bodies of young women that are causing so much damage in our society today. This is a refreshing read, especially for those of us who have struggled to come to an appreciation of health and well-being as the will of God.
I'm deeply grateful to the authors for taking a risk and sharing their insights.