By Deanne Miller, Co-Founder, SoulCore
I’d like to begin by inviting you to close your eyes and think of a few words that come to mind when you think of your body. And then open your eyes.
I’m curious if any of these words came to mind: Miracle. Gift. Temple. Sacrament. Sacred.
St. John Paul II Says, “The body, and it alone, is capable of making visible what is invisible: the spiritual and the divine. The body is the “sacrament” of the person. – St. John Paul II (TOB)
Our bodies truly are a gift from God, an absolute miracle, and how we care for our bodies is our gift back to God.
This was not always my thought process.
I’m going to back up a little to my youth, specifically my teenage years when I certainly did not recognize or honor this truth. I did not take care of myself in any way that would reflect gratitude to God for this gift. Yet, in His infinite goodness, I know now it was during those times when God’s love and mercy to reveal this truth was in high gear.
I grew up in a very lively, large Greek Orthodox family. Faith, unity, trust, gratitude and acceptance were cornerstones of our upbringing. Growing up we moved around a lot due to promotions within my dad’s profession. Moving was never easy but through the example of my parents, we were able to build upon those cornerstones. One of the first things my parents would do was sign us up for whatever sport was in season. It was a great way to integrate us into community, meet new friends and engage our bodies in healthy, physical activity. I have 4 brothers, all of them very athletic and sports were always a natural part of our existence. But during my high school years my attitude toward health and physical activity became very skewed.
When I was in high school, our family moved to Indiana. Since we’d experienced moving many times before, I didn’t think much of it. Turns out moving as a teenager was a touch more challenging. So many changes are happening in our bodies, emotional rollercoasters, you name it. We had always bonded more tightly as a family with each move because we only had each other, for which I’m so grateful. Maybe because of our ages, or other factors, this move was different. We were all forging our own paths, going in our own directions. My mom started a business shortly after we moved to Indiana, which was understandably all consuming. My dad was spending countless hours in his new position, and my brothers were all finding their own way. I found myself wondering “Where did I belong?” and began to lose all sense of control, confidence and purpose. I felt like a shell of a person. Completely empty on the inside. I found myself in a perpetual rhythm of negative self talk. I started to believe the lies I was telling myself and was giving other people permission to define my worth.
This sense of not belonging and the feeling of having no control over the circumstances wreaked havoc on me. What started out small and imperceptible manifested into a full-blown disorder. I was not eating (or would purge what I did eat) and was exercising excessively. While everything else felt out of control in my life, it was the one thing I felt I could control. Of course it actually had nothing to do with the food or exercise, and everything to do with control. But I didn’t know that at the time. It’s clear to me now that the purging of food was a physical act of wanting to purge the terrible feelings and interior thoughts I had about myself. I fell into a very destructive pattern of abusing my body. This spiraled to a point where I was dangerously unhealthy physically, spiritually and emotionally.
Interesting to note, the initial feedback I was receiving when I first started to lose weight was all positive and complimentary. People would say, “Wow you look great” or “I wish I could be that thin.” This only fueled my disorder. Even though they were intended as compliments, it fostered more justification for me to continue self-destructing.
It is not lost on me in my intent to be in control, I was clearly out of control! I was pushing God and everyone else aside to do as I pleased. Reminds me of something Bishop Robert Barron said regarding the Mary/Martha story… “The certain sign that something is off in Martha’s soul is that she even tells God what to do” -(Luke 10:38-42)..
This disorder lasted into my college years and amazingly God never gave up on me. HE NEVER GIVES UP ON US! My mom has a saying “God JUST won’t leave us alone…. and then follows with, “and I LOVE that about him!” Scripture also affirms this in John 8:29: “And He who sent Me is with Me; He has not left Me alone…”
In God’s love and mercy, He kept nudging me toward health, revealing to me through scripture 1 Corinthians 6:19-20: “Do you not know that our bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit?”…. I don’t recall it being those exact words, but that was the clear message I received. This revelation started to change something in me.
In John 5:6 Jesus asks “Do you wish to be well?”
For the first time in a long time, I truly wanted to be well. I certainly didn’t know how to do it on my own. As God does for each of us so intimately and generously, He enlisted others to help nurture me back to health – my family, very dear friends, and my now husband, Mike. Worth noting, they didn’t necessarily feel equipped to help but they showed up, they were present to my needs, and they became the Simon’s in my life helping me carry my cross. It took a lot of courage for them to share their concerns, especially my friends. It’s not easy to speak painful truths as a teenager. A powerful turning point for me was also the concern and involvement from my dad. When he got involved in my health and well-being, it felt like God Our Father speaking to me through him. My mom of course was so loving and very concerned about me. She was trying to help me in many ways, but could only do so much. I admire her humility in knowing she needed to implore the help of others. So she went to my father. And when my parents sat me down together and my dad became fully vested in my well-being it was powerful and profound. I can remember the scene, the surroundings and the conversation like it was yesterday. I have difficulty remembering where I park my car, and this was over 30 years ago so clearly a powerful encounter. That event taught me the importance of being vulnerable, of letting others into our suffering, and knowing God doesn’t expect us to do anything on our own. And for the first time in a very long time, I felt a sense of belonging and purpose, and a willingness to surrender. When I think back to that conversation, I now lovingly see my mother taking me to my father, just as Our Blessed Mother lovingly takes us to Our Heavenly Father.
“Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day.” 2 Corinthians 4:16
I had been using food and exercise as a weapon, instead of nourishment and strength to our cells, muscles, and bones as intended. By surrendering control, God gave me the grace to re-establish a healthy respect and appreciation for the nourishment of food and a healthy, moderate approach to exercise.
During this time I made a silent vow to God to care for the gift of my body with praise and thanksgiving. Exercise became an experience of prayer for me. I believe there is staying power in everything we do when we are doing it for something much greater than ourselves; to glorify God (1 Cor 6:20), and to be a fit instrument to do His will. Through this experience I gained a deep appreciation for the connection of body and soul and why SJPII’s message of the “body making visible the invisible, the Divine” resonates so deeply. We pay most perfect homage to God when we nourish and honor both the physical and spiritual.
“Therefore I urge you brothers and sisters in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God. This is your true and proper worship.” Romans 12:1
The Catechism tells us:
The need to involve the senses in interior prayer corresponds to a requirement of our human nature. We are body and spirit, and we experience the need to translate our feelings externally. We must pray with our whole being to give all power possible to our supplication. (Catechism of the Catholic Church 2702)
Uniting BODY, mind & soul in prayer makes our prayer more powerful.
“God seeks worshippers in Spirit and in Truth, and consequently living prayer that rises from the depths of the soul. He also wants the external expression that associates the body with interior prayer, for it renders him that perfect homage which is His due.” (Catechism of the Catholic Church 2703)
By uniting BODY with internal prayer we offer God more PERFECT worship/praise.
“Behold I make all things new.” Rev. 21:5
I am grateful for the suffering I endured. Through my personal trials God was making me new. He permitted me to go through that time of trial and self-destruction not as a punishment, but rather in order that He could rebuild me. He gave me free will, but never deserted me. He allowed me to be broken so He could restore and re-purpose me. (Romans 8:28) He does this for every one of us, so intimately and in the way each of us uniquely needs. Our sufferings, when united to Christ’s sufferings, always bear fruit.
What an incredible gift knowing God guides our every step, and we can trust in His Divine Providence. He was certainly pouring out His guidance and providence when he brought my husband Mike, a cradle Catholic, into my life during college in the throes of those destructive years. Marrying Mike led to my conversion to Catholicism after our second daughter was born. I had a deep desire for unity in our family and a longing to know Jesus more intimately through the Catholic Faith. I saw it as an opportunity not to give up my beautiful and rich Orthodox upbringing, but rather an enhancement of my relationship with Christ and Our Blessed Mother through Catholicism.
Of course I had no idea the plans God had in store, but it’s clear to me now my conversion was preparing me for what God would eventually call me to: an apostolate focused on nurturing body and soul through prayer and exercise. And more specifically the prayers of the rosary, a healing and transforming prayer rooted in Scripture and virtue.
As our friend Caroline likes to remind us, “God turns our mess into our message.” For me that mess-to-message became the gift of God calling me to this SoulCore apostolate. The very desire God placed within me long ago of honoring body and soul could now be used as a platform to nourish and heal body and soul through the prayers of the rosary, cultivating a deeper devotion to the Blessed Mother, growing in virtue, and bringing honor and glory to Him. I am in constant awe of God’s goodness and generosity.
“My son, pay attention to what I say; turn your ear to my words. Do not let them out of your sight, keep them within your heart; for they are life to those who find them and health to one’s whole body.” Proverbs 4:20-22
God’s word is healing not only to our souls but health to our bodies. The seeds of SoulCore were planted during a time when the rosary became a lifeline in my dear friend and co-founder Colleen’s life. She experienced immense tragedy and loss in her family. Grief takes a toll on the body and the soul. Colleen began running while praying the rosary. She found the combination of praying while exercising extremely healing and strengthening, just as I had discovered all those years ago. Through Our Blessed Mother’s intercession, our lives were woven together through our individual sufferings, mine as a teenager and Colleen’s in adulthood, for the very purpose of together saying YES to this apostolate of SoulCore.
Ephesians 2:10 “For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.”
God is calling every one of us to something greater than ourselves. He desires us to cultivate the passions and gifts He’s placed within us to pay him perfect homage. To allow Him to turn our brokenness into beauty. To have gratitude for the gift of our bodies as Sacrament. To make visible the invisible, the Divine. And to let nothing be wasted. As St. Therese says “Everything is grace.”
This quote by St. Teresa of Avila is a beautiful reminder of cooperating with that grace: She says, “Christ has no body now but yours. No hands, no feet on earth but yours. Yours are the eyes through which he looks compassion on this world. Yours are the feet with which he walks to do good. Yours are the hands through which he blesses all the world. Yours are the hands, yours are the feet, yours are the eyes, you are his body. Christ has no body now on earth but yours.”
I’d like to invite you once again to close your eyes and think about your body.
And now please join me in this simple prayer: Dear God, we pray you will give us the grace to see our bodies as they truly are, a miraculous gift and temple of the Holy Spirit. Help us to honor and glorify you with our bodies and souls. As we learn to cooperate with your grace, remind us to to thank you each day for your infinite love and mercy at work in body, mind and spirit. We ask this Jesus in your name, and always through the intercession of our most beautiful Blessed Mother. Amen.
Remember you are a gift, a temple of the Holy Spirit.
May God heal you and bless you abundantly,