You Are What You Eat

The yellow-banded poison dart frog gets its poison from its diet

And now, dear brothers and sisters, let me say one more thing as I close this letter. Fix your thoughts on what is true and honorable and right. Think about things that are pure and lovely and admirable. Think about things that are excellent and worthy of praise – Philippians 4:7 (NLT)

Recently my oldest son, Ryan, and I made the 12 hour trek by car from Pittsburgh to Atlanta to visit the Georgia Aquarium.  Ryan is an aspiring marine biologist and what better way to spend some father and son bonding time than to visit the world’s largest aquarium?  While there, we went on a behind the scenes tour of the aquarium.  Our guide described some of the inner workings of the aquarium as well offering some interesting facts about the some of the animals there.  He talked about the animal pictured above, the yellow-banded poison dart frog.  The frog and its Central and South American cousins are called “dart frogs” because the indigenous Amerindians use their toxic secretions to poison the tips of blowdarts.

What was interesting to learn was the source of the frogs’ poison.  Unlike poisonous snakes that generate their toxins internally, the darts frogs poison is derived from their diets.  The frogs eat ants, centipedes and mites than contain toxins.  The frogs store these toxins and secrete them through their skin.  If the frogs’ diets are changed, they cease from being poisonous and are even sold as pets.  Learning this reminded me of what I already knew about the color of flamingos’ pink plumage.  Flamingos in the wild derive their color from proteins found in the plankton they eat.  Additives are placed in the food of zoo kept flamingos in order to maintain their pink color.

“You are what you eat” holds true for people as well as frogs and flamingos. Morgan Spurlock humorously and soberly chronicled in his documentary, Super Size Me what happens when he lived exclusively off a McDonald’s diet for a period of 30 consecutive days.  Spurlock’s physical and emotional health deteriorated by the end of his experiment.

Just as what we ingest in our bodies effects our physical health, so too what we allow to enter our minds effects our emotional and spiritual health.  To maintain our spiritual health we must partake of a diet rich in the spiritual disciplines of Bible study, prayer, mediation, worship and fellowship with other Christians.  Our physical health also impacts our spiritual and emotional help so it makes sense to eat reasonably, exercise and get an appropriate amount of sleep.

Let’s go back and visit our friend, the poison dart frog.  The frog, like all non-mammals and birds is cold blooded, meaning its body temperature is not regulated internally, but externally, by the surrounding air temperature. Too often our minds are like the frog’s body temperature.  We allow our surroundings and circumstances to regulate our emotional and spiritual temperature.  But unlike the frog, we can influence the environment of our minds by what we put into them.  As a contemplative person, I can easily find myself given to extended periods of melancholy. It is during those times that I must remind myself of what the Apostle Paul wrote to the church at Philippi “And now, dear brothers and sisters, let me say one more thing as I close this letter. Fix your thoughts on what is true and honorable and right. Think about things that are pure and lovely and admirable. Think about things that are excellent and worthy of praise.”

Some might misconstrue Paul’s message as one of simply “think happy thoughts.” The Gospel message does not ignore the ills and heartaches of the world.  The Gospel or “good news” is that Jesus Christ came to redeem the world of its greatest ill, sin.  When Christ first proclaimed his public ministry he read these words from the prophet Isaiah, “The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to release the oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor” Luke 4:18-19 (NIV).   As Christians or “little Christs” we are called to do the same.

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