A few years ago our annual clergy conference was devoted to the theme of clergy wellness. For several days we heard from experts and talked in our small groups about clergy wellness. Almost all of it centered on spiritual and psychological practices intended to prevent burnout while strengthening our spiritual competencies as priests and pastors. I offered up a comment on the last day during the wrap up session that got me into a lot of hot water then, and is still remembered by those whom I offended.
I certainly don’t remember exactly what I said, but in general it had to do with the observation that we, as “embodied souls,” had only to look around the room to see that we had ignored an important element of clergy wellness, and that was physical well being. As important as spiritual and emotional well being is, so is physical well being, and maybe we ought to spend a little time on that as well.
I might as well have shouted out “the seven words you can’t say on television” while tossing hand grenades into the group.
One offended colleague shouted that she already had enough to feel guilty about so what right did I have to add that to her burdens, and I think she spoke for many others.
I’m not exactly the paragon of physical fitness. I hate exercising at the gym and more or less force myself to go a couple of times a week because if I don’t the pain in muscles damaged by accidents and surgery would be excruciating. It’s my loving spouse who keeps us both on a diet high in vegetables, low in fatty meats and almost no high calorie low nutrition things like sweet rolls. I have, however, been known to sneak over to the 7-11 for a Hostess Cupcake on occasion.
The point is, we cannot achieve wellness in any sense if we don’t take on the task as a comprehensive whole. A life of prayer, spiritual direction and psychological therapy does not add up to clergy wellness if it is practiced in the context of daily habits that destroy the body through muscular atrophy and caloric poisoning.
What brought all this to mind was a meeting held yesterday where I was reminded of that day. Apparently the spear struck deep and stayed there. Sometimes I feel like Jeremiah, but without his virtues.