Sunday, February 10, 2013

Take Your Vitamins and Don't Forget to Pray

You want to live long and look good so you do everything the experts suggest: You eat salmon, wear sunscreen, lift weights and jog. You floss, eat five fruits a day; take your Vitamin D and you pray. Pray? Yes, God is now part of a healthy lifestyle.

It turns out that God can save your life as well as your soul. According to the newest research on aging and health we need to hit both the treadmill and our knees on a regular basis. This new push for God isn’t coming, as you might expect, from the church folks, but rather from doctors, specifically neurologists.

The timing is perfect because we are a pretty nervous bunch right now.  The world is tilting; economy struggling and our fears about it are multiplying. Dr. Andrew Newberg is the spokesperson for the new field of neurotheology and his focus; “How God Changes Your Brain” is also the title of his new book. In it he details extensive research showing the impact of prayer, faith, meditation and yes, exercise on longevity and health.  

In a key section of the book they rank the ways that we can improve our brain function—the overall key to long life--and while aerobic exercise is number three, it turns out that the very best thing you can do for your brain is to have faith.

Can’t you just hear this at the gym, “What’s your workout?” “Oh I do 20 minutes on the elliptical, 20 minutes of weights and a couple of rosaries.”

But there is something else. The selling of belief as self-improvement strikes me as another kind of materialism, albeit a spiritual one. We typically recognize consumerism in the race to bigger houses, cooler cars or the latest techno-gadget. But maybe in a recession we drop those in favor of other kinds of consumption, like using God for your own good.  In most faith systems the goal or end point is about turning away from self and toward others: Love your neighbor. Mend the world.

So there’s a paradox here: trying to be more spiritual for selfish ends knocks you right off the spiritual path. It’s like humility; just when you think you’ve got it, you don’t. But maybe God doesn’t care; maybe he’s OK with being the bait to catch himself.

So if you’re getting in shape for spring, think of “Him” as Vitamin G.

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