Monday, November 16, 2020


The human body is incredibly complex. I have one myself; but I don’t overly focus on that complexity. I am not a Doctor of medicine. Instead, I focus on some fairly simple things: am I getting the exercise I need? Is my diet healthy? Am I getting enough sleep? Is my mind over- or under-occupied? And the way that I lead—or, take responsibility for—my body is, firstly, to listen to it; and then, to discipline it (which is not to punish it, nor even necessarily to treat it harshly for its own good, but to attend to its wellbeing). From time to time, in the shower, I might be wise to check for any lumps where there were no lumps before, but not compulsively. On the whole, however, it is a matter of being familiar with my body, with what is generally good and bad for it, and how to continuously make small adjustments that have positive impact.

An example: I have come to love running, for itself as well as for its health benefits, but at the moment I am not running due to a knee injury. I can still walk, and know that I ought to keep active; but, perversely, it is harder to go out for a walk than a run, I think because the effort required by a run—to get changed into running gear; to factor in the time for a shower on my return—makes it a more deliberate and empowered choice than pulling on my coat and walking out the door. By listening to my body, I have become aware of too many days in a row of having been too sedentary: my gut is telling me this, and not because it is visibly flabbier (yet) but because it is out-of-sorts; my mind also, not because I know in an abstract knowledge sense that exercise is good for me, but because my mind is lacking focus. So yesterday, and today, I have been for a walk. It has taken effort, and is not met with immediate reward. But today I walked for long enough to find myself standing in front of a lake, watching a family of swans, and having a conversation with my own body and the lake and God (who often speaks to us through our bodies, and through the world around us).

Sometimes I do this listening and leading well, and sometimes less so, and when I do these things less well it is either because I am choosing to focus on the complexity rather than the simple but hard disciplines, or because I am avoiding the hardness. Sometimes I say to my body, ‘Let’s go for a run!’ and my body says, ‘Yes!’ Other times, it responds, ‘Really? Wouldn’t you rather sit on the sofa watching a gameshow while drinking beer and eating donuts?’ and I must tell my inner Homer, ‘That’s not a bad idea! We’ll do that on Friday night, except we’ll swap prosecco for the beer because you know perfectly well that you are intolerant of hops [true story] but for now, we’re going for a run!’

The human body is incredibly complex, and the same is true of human communities, whether church congregations or villages or cities or nation states. And the same applies: the way we lead, or take responsibility, in the face of complexity is to listen attentively, and hold out the appropriate discipline.

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