By Nate Mason
Part of me absolutely loves Fall. This year it sure took its sweet time getting here! Now it has arrived in all of it’s Fall-ish glory. My mind goes to the first song I ever learned on the guitar, a White Stripes song “I can tell that We are gonna be Friends”
Fall is here, hear the yell
Back to school, ring the bell
Brand new shoes, walking blues
Climb the fence, books and pens
I can tell that we are going to be friends
Yes I can tell that we are going to be friends
Doesn’t that verse perfectly capture the joy and potential of a good Fall? Cooler weather, the comfort of routine, and more opportunity to do things with friends and family. In the summer, everybody travels so there is no time. In the winter, the weather is awful so no one wants to do anything, but Fall is that magic sweet spot where the weather and the rhythm of life come together.
However, part of me dreads fall. Beginning with the time change, I start to feel like I’m some sort of nocturnal, cave dwelling creature. I drop my kids off at daycare under the cover of darkness; I pick them up after the sun goes down, and I spend most of the time in between shuttered away in my home office which has very little natural light. (My wife works from home too, since she supports my preaching habit, she gets the top floor office while I abide in the dungeonous basement office).
Beyond that, the changing weather affects my physical and emotional health in ways I don’t appreciate. I turn 40 next month, but I’m an old 40. I’m sure some of you are thinking, “40? I have shoes older than you,” but trust me, I have the body and spirit of the grumpy old man from the movie Up. I call it “Big GOM Energy.” Last year I was diagnosed with arthritic knees. In my 20’s I broke my arm in a bike accident (I should clarify that it was a mountain bike that I crashed, but part of me wants to sound cool and let people think it might have been a Harley or something) and the seasonal weather change causes that old injury to act up to the point where I am currently trying to type with a wrist brace on. Let’s not forget that while my body decides to ache and creek, I have two young children I need to try and keep up with.
Do you have any idea how hard it is to play Paw Patrol with a 2-year-old when your knees don’t work? See, I have the complaining powers of a much more experienced curmudgeon!
Seasonal depression, or Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD), is a very common health struggle affecting over three million Americans. Like many mental health challenges, the symptoms and severity can vary greatly from person to person. I do not have SAD, but to some degree every person is affected by the changing of the seasons. Our body needs natural sunlight to synthesize vitamin D.
The artificial lighting in our home, especially from electronic devices, makes our circadian rhythms go haywire. There are countless more reasons, some understood but most not so much, why our bodies struggle to adjust to seasonal change, but there are a few things we can do to make the transition a bit easier.
Get light when you can.
Jesus said “I am the light of the world, whoever follows me will not walk in the darkness but have the light of life.” (John 8:12) Obviously Jesus was speaking on a deeper level there, but there is a surface level truth to that statement. We all need Jesus; we all need sunlight. As mentioned before, the human body needs sunlight to get filled up on vitamin D. Roughly 4 in 10 Americans are vitamin D deficient. This can lead to wonderful symptoms such as joint and muscle pain, fatigue, anxiety, moodiness, and a loss of bone density. Six years ago I was diagnosed with an extreme vitamin D deficiency, so let me tell you it is not pleasant! I was given a megadose (40,000 iu) of vitamin D to get me back to top shape, but for a regular person 20 minutes of sunlight between 10 am and 2 pm should be enough to keep you going.
In the real dark or stormy days you can supplement natural sunlight with artificial daylight. A “daylight” wattage light bulb on an office desk lamp while you worked would do the trick. This artificial light won’t help you make vitamin D, but if you soak it in early in the morning it will help your internal clock stay in step. I have a small Aero Garden grow kit on my desk that keeps my dungeon office nice and bright while providing me with a several bunches of fresh herbs ever four weeks.
On the flip side, getting too much artificial light after the sun goes down can mess with your circadian rhythms. The research on it is varied and occasionally conflicting. Some studies suggest that artificial blue light, like the light from tablets, TVs, and smart phones, can be very harmful to your circadian rhythms. Other studies suggest that the light dissipates to less harmful levels if you are at least 3 ft from the source, but either way it might be a good idea to put the screens away a couple hours before bedtime.
Be like the Disciples
Tradition tells us that Jesus was with the Disciples for three years, and do you know what they did the vast majority of that time? They walked. The place where Jesus was baptized was about 100 miles from his home base of Capernaum. Capernaum is 120 miles from Jerusalem. Jerusalem to Caesarea Philippi is a 150-mile trip one way. Those guys did a lot of walking!
Daily walks have a plethora of health benefits: generates a sense of wellbeing, improves oxidation levels and sleep to name just a few. Of particular interest to me is that walking helps joint pain and promotes healing. I used to be a runner, so part of me resents slowing down my already unimpressive pace to a walk. The constant low grade impact trauma from running can aggravate arthritic knees, but the low to non-impact of walking gets the blood flowing to the problem areas. Plus, going for walks is a great way to get a little extra natural sunlight in your life.
The Disciples never went anywhere alone, neither should you. Find a friend to hold you accountable to a walking habit. It’s easy to skip a walk by yourself, but if someone is expecting you to show up, then you are much more likely to stay true. There’s also a relatively new concept you should try out, it’s called “Gamification.” Find a way to make walking a game for you and whoever you con into walking with you. Think of objectives, milestones, big goals, and rules of engagement. Competitions have been shown to help people remain committed to an arduous task. Finally, actual games are a great way to get out on the path. Pokémon Go (or the older less snazzy version Ingress) are fun location-based video games for your smart phone that will get you hooked and keep you walking.
Believe in the Resurrection of the Body
Creeds are not common in the Methodist tradition. Like all things Methodist, it varies pretty wildly between congregations, but in my 10 years of ministry and nigh 40 years of being a Methodist, I have not experienced a Methodist church that would recite creeds every Sunday. The closest most of us get to the Apostles Creed is when we sneak it into our communion liturgy, however believing in the resurrection of the body is a fundamental Christian belief right up there with believing in the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. So then, what does that mean to “believe in the resurrection of the body?” How does that connect with our traditional concepts of Heaven and Hell? I have no idea. Those questions are way above my pay grade.
Well, I have lots of ideas and have read lots of books on the subject, but I must confess that resurrection will remain one of those mysteries of faith until we experience it for ourselves. Yet there are some pragmatic implications that apply in this life.
At the time of Christ, there was no real distinction between body and soul. Your spirit (Nooma in Greek and Ruah in Hebrew) meant our breath. It’s what gives you life (Then the Lord God formed a man from the dust of the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living being – Genesis 2:7), but its not the totality of who you are like we understand the soul to be. In this early understanding, a person is the sum of all of their parts. The body, mind, and heart all work together to make a person, we aren’t some spiritual puppet master pulling the strings on a meat puppet. We now recognize that our bodies often control how we think, behave, and feel, or in other words our physical wellbeing affects our mental and spiritual wellbeing. If the body isn’t cared for, the mind and heart will go down with it.
Believing in the resurrection of the body means that we need to recognize the sacred worth of the bodies we possess.
I say all that to encourage making your physical health a priority this fall. I am sure you already knew that playing outside and going for walks is good for you. That’s not a breaking news event, but like every good habit, it only works if we make the time for it to work. We are all busy. Fall is here, that means football games, school activities, noodle dinners, and all that other wonderful stuff we fill our time doing. None of that can replace or compensate for your physical and mental wellbeing. Take time to be healthy and that will make the world around you brighter as the days get shorter.