Fitness and faith: the sins of the flesh?

This morning the Sunday service on Radio 4 came from Ireland where Pope Francis was mid Papal visit, and the crowds (smaller than in past years), had gathered for a festival in celebration of the family. I listened with hope and positivity, hoping for something that would edge towards the reconciliation with Rome that is the dream of many Anglicans. There were a few glimmers, but I was left disappointed with the paternalism and authoritarianism of the message. I was told that my desires were not to be led astray by the individualism of society today, and I had the feeling that the Bishop may have been talking about the desires of the flesh, though he left the listener to decide on the exact desires which were to be avoided. Of course an individualism which excludes community, love for the poor, and a desire for God is not the Way of the Cross, but the history of the church and its theology surrounding the body is not without complication and perhaps could have done with a little ‘fleshing out’.

So, I am pondering the degree of my ‘sin’ as I sit blogging in the gym cafe on a Sunday evening.  There are other things I could be doing - running the home, sewing labels on my kids’ school uniform, spending time with my husband, calling my parents, watching the TV - like many working mums it is a high rope balancing act to hold it all together. But I have chosen to prioritise my fitness, my flesh, over other demands on my time.

In January, the Guild of Health and St Raphael is running a day conference on ‘Faith and Fitness’ exploring the links between our body and our spiritual life. It is an area that for me has kept demanding my attention. When I was depressed, it wasn’t prayers, or therapy, or drugs, or the spiritual masters that pulled me out of the hole - it was running. I feel better, more connected to creation, when I am in it, sweating and pushing my body to its limits. Whether it is on a treadmill, running the streets around whatever conference I am on, or on the water in a boat or canoe, or body boarding with the kids (and with little success) - the spiritual connection hit is awesome. 

And it is not just me - I have been collecting stories from the faithful and agnostic alike. A trail running agnostic cosmologist, a Christian philosopher, a personal trainer inspired by the Rocky films, a one legged divorcee who hated the world and got me to teach him to sail- all have told me that somehow, being in creation and using their body has led to previously unimagined spiritual depths. And the converse is true, I have collected a much more difficult bunch of stories that when people have gone through trauma involving spiritual abandonment, their reaction has been to abuse their body. There is something here, something important that the Church and theologians skip over to the detriment of God knowledge. We are created body and soul, and a 2000 year history of favouring the latter over the former, has led to spiritual paucity and stunted growth. 

So, I am getting fit for ‘Faith in Fitness’, and exploring what I learn on the way. So, its time to quit the cafe and hit the gym. I have booked a personal trainer session, and I will blog here as I explore  this ontology, the theology and the practice. Wish me luck! Or join me in this journey 

If you want to book on the Faith and Fitness click here