Running as fast as we can. Not because we are being chased by a hungry lion. Not to catch a train. Not to get anywhere. Just running.
Lifting pounds of iron, again and again. Not to build something. Not to stack shelves. Lift it up, bring it down, like Sisyphus.
Yoga. The dog pose, not to scrub floors, the tree pose, not to remove dust from cupboard tops. We imitate dogs running in a dream, but never getting anywhere. Doing all this because the three components of fitness are strength, flexibility and aerobic exercise.
How obscene all this must seem to abused domestic workers, to the hard pressed poor who end each day in shattered exhaustion.
· * *
On exercise, the Bible is strangely silent. Nowhere are we commanded to exercise. Paul says there is some value in it, but the value pales before godliness. For physical training is of some value, but godliness has value for all things, holding promise for both the present life and the life to come.
I have known women who would work out, but not make time for prayer, or a Bible reading. If we are one of them, perhaps we have got our priorities wrong.
There is much about running in Paul’s letters, but it is, of course, metaphorical.
* * *
Until the last 30-40 years, we heard little about exercise as a part of Christian discipleship. Now eating healthily and working out have been added to the definition of what a good Christian should do.
The law again, in yet another guise! And it insidiously adds extraneous things to the pure and simple love and devotion to Christ, which he himself commanded.
* * *
Why are commandments or exhortations to exercise strangely missing in Scripture? Partly because it was assumed that we would get all the exercise we needed in the course of our daily lives.
Planting, harvesting, shopping, cleaning, cooking, washing….
* * *
Life in the West has removed the physical labour from the tasks of producing food, washing dishes, washing clothes, sweeping houses, getting to stores. Even cleaning; one of the first things (sensible) women do when they can afford it is get a cleaner.
· * *
I go to the gym, and wonder if doing zumba to ear-splitting music, or lifting weights with TVs on, or swimming to music makes sense, when I could be getting my exercise digging or hoeing or cleaning. But I don’t clean, for the simple reason that if I were to take it on, it would get procrastinated until the task seemed impossible. If I pay someone else to, it gets done weekly. And gardening, well, that will not build up the fitness I need—or burn as much fat as I need to burn.
· * * *
What a ridiculous result of affluenza–that our daily lives do not provide us enough activity to keep strong, and so we need to drive to gyms, or set off walking with no destination, or lift weights with no purpose, except to keep fit
· * *
I love the Benedictine ideal of ora et labora , work and prayer, a life finely balanced between the two imperatives of work and prayer. Manual work stabilized their personalities and kept them sane through the rigours of prayer, and study (another Benedictine imperative.)
My own ideal is to get 3 hours of mild physical activity a day to balance the prayer, scripture, reading and writing, and keep me sane and grounded, level-headed and not over-intense. To keep me on the right path, without wandering off on tangents. My goal is an hour of gardening, an hour of housework (which can include decluttering and finding the right places for things) and an hour of physical exercise. I can manage all three in the spring and summer, but it’s harder in winter, when I find myself more introspective, and more of a dormouse who loves to curl up with a book or laptop. Besides, it gets dark a full six hours earlier!!
But even if I did do all three, it would not be enough to keep me really strong.
* * *
I so wish I could find a Benedictine way of living, interspersing prayer, contemplation and writing with physical fitness through activity which serves some useful purpose.
All my adult life, I have longed to find a way to be fit and strong which would also serve some practical purpose. We are trying to grow our own vegetables, and have been largely successful, but would that make me strong? Gardening keeps you stronger and more flexible, but does it significantly increase fitness, not to mention burn stored body fat. Cleaning? Well, we use the cleaner’s visit as an inciting event to put everything back in the right place, and get rid of things we can see no use for. If I cleaned, I would not have that inciting event, and if I procrastinated it, the house would never be cleaned.
And an impressive fringe benefit of exercise is that it not only keeps me physically fit, but also improves my capacity for intellectual work, and my mental stability and acuity. It sets my emotions on an even keel, and significantly improves feelings of happiness. A healthy body was essential for healthy thought, as the Greek said, but I find it also helps with sane thinking and spiritual insights and breakthroughs.
I am still trying to see if I can find a way to be fit which is also economically productive, or does some good to myself, or anyone else. Open to suggestions.
But till then I will just have to exercise.