Friday, February 21, 2014

Working out - The Instructor on exercises suited to a good life

This is a continuation of my series on Clement of Alexandria and his book, "The Instructor." If you are new to this series or are unfamiliar with Clement and his book, you may want to first read the introduction to this series.
"The gymnasium is sufficient for boys, even if a bath is within reach. And even for men to prefer gymnastic exercises by far to the baths, is perchance not bad, since they are in some respects conducive to the health of young men, and produce exertion—emulation to aim at not only a healthy habit of body, but courageousness of soul. When this is done without dragging a man away from better employments, it is pleasant, and not unprofitable." (Clement of Alexandria, The Instructor, Book 3, Chapter 10)
Paul reminds us that, "your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit who is in you, whom you have from God, and that you are not your own?" (1 Corinthians 6:19) But what good is is the body to the Holy Spirit if it is tired, worn out, and unhealthy? Our goal should be, as much as it depends upon us, that our bodies would not give out before we have completed the purpose of God for our lives; that we might remain strong in body, even to the end, that we might full fill God's purpose for our lives equally to the end. Clement understood the importance of health and the role exercise could play in strengthening our earthly bodies. Clement believed that exercise, when done in moderation, and in balance with our other responsibilities in life, could be both pleasant and profitable. He also believed that the best exercise for men was strenuous exercise as it not only benefited the body but also encouraged "courageousness of soul."
"Nor are women to be deprived of bodily exercise. But they are not to be encouraged to engage in wrestling or running, but are to exercise themselves in spinning, and weaving, and superintending the cooking if necessary. And they are, with their own hand, to fetch from the store what we require. And it is no disgrace for them to apply themselves to the mill. Nor is it a reproach to a wife—housekeeper and helpmeet—to occupy herself in cooking, so that it may be palatable to her husband... the Instructor will approve of a woman like this, who 'stretches forth her arms to useful tasks, rests her hands on the distaff, opens her hand to the pour, and extends her wrist to the beggar.'" (Clement of Alexandria, The Instructor, Book 3, Chapter 10)
Some may find Clement's views towards women offensive but it must be remembered that Clement wrote in the context of his own culture with its own social norms. Such social norms do not change overnight and often, even as Christians, we must learn to live within our society's norms even as they are ever slowly changing. What is important to understand is that Clement refuses to treat women as if they are men. He sees them as being created uniquely by God and substantially different in make up, both in body and soul. What women even today must understand is that there is no disgrace in being a woman and women do not need to become like men to have value. Hilary Clinton, while her husband was President of the United States, once said, "I suppose I could have stayed home and baked cookies and had teas, but what I decided to do was fulfill my profession" as if such endeavors were of little value and worthy of being despised. However Clement does not see it this way. Women who fulfill what some may see as traditional female roles are often so busy with life that their activities provide them all the necessary exercise need for a strong and healthy life.
"She who emulates Sarah is not ashamed of that highest of ministries, helping wayfarers... And innumerable such examples of frugality and self-help, and also of exercises, are furnished by the Scriptures. In the case of men, let some strip and engage in wrestling; let some play at the small ball, especially the game they call Pheninda, in the sun. To others who walk into the country, or go down into the town, the walk is sufficient exercise. And were they to handle the hoe, this stroke of economy in agricultural labour would not be ungentleman like." (Clement of Alexandria, The Instructor, Book 3, Chapter 10)
Clement acknowledges that often, a simple and active lifestyle, can provide the exercise necessary for a health life. Additionally, simply abstaining from some of the conveniences of life can provide us with the extra exercise we need, such as choosing to walk instead of taking the car.
"For such a struggle with graceful strength is more becoming and manly, being undertaken for the sake of serviceable and profitable health... We must always aim at moderation. For as it is best that labour should precede food, so to labour above measure is both very bad, very exhausting, and apt to make us ill. Neither, then, should we be idle altogether, nor completely fatigued. For similarly to what we have laid down with respect to food, are we to do everywhere and with everything. Our mode of life is not to accustom us to voluptuousness and licentiousness, nor to the opposite extreme, but to the medium between these, that which is harmonious and temperate, and free of either evil, luxury and parsimony."  (Clement of Alexandria, The Instructor, Book 3, Chapter 10)
Our lives should be well regulated, held in balance, and with a goal towards temperance, frugality, and moderation. It is not good to be a workaholic nor is it good to be slothful. It is not good to strain the body to the point of exhaustion or ill health nor is it good to be idle to the point of weakness. Balance and moderation should be our goal in both body and soul.

David Robison

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