The body and mind are interconnected. While learning to cultivate stillness may not be as simple as it sounds, there is nonetheless a perennial wisdom that through intentional efforts, the human person is able to mold their experience. Thus, it is within the grasp of the human person to help facilitate a harmony in the mind and in the body, and it is precisely this stillness which makes us available to the Holy Spirit. Such gentle modifications constitute the essence of a renewal in asceticism, one which exposes the riches of the Christian tradition through dialogue with contemporary trends in health, exercise, and well-being.
The danger of Christian spirituality is for it to be overly intellectual, overly focused on a kind of devotion which emphasizes concepts or perhaps even sentimentality. The tradition has always maintained that the education of body has an important role in making one available to God and neighbor. As civilization is becoming gradually more and more sedentary, a greater emphasis needs to be placed on educating both the mind and the body.
In the past, manual labor and regular travel often provided enough physical activity to engage the body and relieve stress. However, things have changed. In contemporary society, such common tasks are being supplanted by technologies which may make life more comfortable, but which ultimately come with a price. Thus, what was once a common part of religious and civil life must now be intentionally sought for both spiritual and physical health. We need to take extra steps to ensure that our sedentary lifestyle does not lead to imbalances in our bodies, imbalances which ultimately spill over into our emotional life.
A renewal in asceticism must take into account that strengthening, stretching, and the guidance of the body through exercise must now become a part of spiritual formation. That being said, such an asceticism must also avoid the extremes of contemporary exercise culture. The goal is not have the perfect body or to be incredibly strong, but rather to engage the body enough to relieve tension and to educate the passions. Like fasting and other forms of asceticism, it must be accompanied by a patient and gentle spirit which leads to greater faith, hope, and love.
Thus, we must see exercise as an integral aspect of a renewal in asceticism. Today, let us look our lives to make sure that we are integrating enough exercise so that we are able to make ourselves emotional and physically available to God and neighbor.