“I am a FAT Christian”, quipped a dear friend of mine. Well…I have heard this phrase far too often. I have nothing against being a FAT Christian, if by FAT you mean being faithful, available and teachable. But, we are also called to be fit Christians. We must be spiritually fit and shed the flab we pick up along the way. But, more importantly we must be physically fit too.

Being physically fit is (and must be) an important part of our spiritual discipline. Those of us who spend a lot of energies on the exercise of godliness forget the importance of being physically fit and the need to take daily decisions that would help us keep fit and faithful. Traditionally, Indian spirituality includes an emphasis on the physical, mental and the devotional. Unfortunately, Christian spirituality tends to be preoccupied with the devotional, almost to the exclusion of the mental and the physical. Christian spirituality, therefore, is not attractive to many urbanites who are looking for spirituality that is relevant for everyday life and personal productivity.

It is important that we include fitness as part of our spirituality, particularly at time when people in urban conglomerations are haunted by workplace (dis)stress and daily (con) strain.  But such teaching is missing in our churches and fellowship groups. I don’t remember listening to a sermon on the Christian understanding of the body and the importance of being fit and healthy at Church. In fact, in popular Christianity it is even abnormal to consider a walk, morning jogs and regular workout as part of spiritual discipline.

The bible places significant importance to our embodied existence. In fact, our bodies are temples wherein God dwells. An emphasis on fitness does not mean we succumb to the ridiculous body images presented and promoted by the media. Rather, it means that we take adequate care of our bodies.

South Asian churches must include the emphasis on health and fitness into our spiritual lives. Did you know that south Asians are a high risk group for cardiovascular disease and type 2 diabetes?  Studies in UK, USA and Canada have shown that South Asians are particularly vulnerable to heart disease and worse, have a high chance of getting heart disease at a younger age. According to WHO estimates, 60% of the world’s heart patients will be south Asians. Among the many reasons are the tendencies to have more fat around our abdomen or waist, abnormal levels of cholesterol, high insulin, and high blood pressure. South Asians are a high risk group because of high fat diet and less physical activity.

We must call people to be fit and faithful. Churches and faith-based groups must include physical activity and excercise as part of building fellowship, providing pastoral care and spiritual nurtureSpirituality is not just for the soul but for the body as well. There must be teaching on self-control and moderation in eating habits. The bible encourages us to control our appetitites (See Deuteronomy 21:20, Proverbs 23:2, 2 Peter 1:5-7, 2 Timothy 3:1-9, and 2 Corinthians 10:5.). Besides, the ability to say “no” to anything in excess—self-control—is one of the fruits of the Spirit common to all believers (Galatians 5:22). Spirit-filled Christians must also be fit Christians and in being fit we honour God. We could also invite others in our neighbourhood to join us in our practice of health and fitness consciousness. In fact, the call to be fit can be an aspect of our engagement in public space.

There are important decisions we need to take as individuals and churches in the New year. Staying fit and faithful can be one among 2010 resolutions….

Samuel Thambusamy