Anyone who knows me would laugh to think of that statement ever coming out of my mouth. I have spent most of my post-high school life treating my body with disdain and depriving it of almost everything good...food, care, exercise...you name it. And my feet, oh my goodness how I abused them as a dancer and as a young woman with a near obsession for uncomfortable shoes.
Two summers ago something happened that forever changed my relationship with my body though. It started as a simple statement made by a well-meaning and very thought-provoking colleague. He made the connection between spiritual growth and physical activity. I heard him say (and remember this is to an audience of young athletes who were training for the rigors of a demanding sports season that they had signed on for being coached in) that one's spiritual growth was connected to one's willingness to push themselves physically. In fact, my memory of his statement was, "You can't grow spiritually if you aren't pushing yourself physically."
I was deeply offended at first! Even though I wasn't his "audience"...I was there and here is how my inner "office slug" argued with him: "How can you say that???? I study the Bible and Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures and the other writings of spiritual thinking pioneer Mary Baker Eddy 24/7, I take calls from patients who are seeking spiritual healing all day and through the night, I am in a constant state of self-examination and reformation...I have to be growing spiritually and I rarely push myself physically more than to get out of my office chair and walk across the room to the kitchen for a cup of tea...and...oh yes... maybe (okay, probably) some chocolate."
Well, his comments fumed and fussed, percolated and fizzled in my gut for three days before I came to the conclusion that, "I can't not know if he is right"....and thus began a journey that has transformed me.
I committed to discovering if what he thought the connection between demanding physical activity and spiritual growth...was true. I realized that this wasn't the same as "well, I was a basketball player in high school and I play basketball once a week with my buddies on Saturday"....unless of course to do this one was pushing oneself each week to do more and go beyond the boundaries of where one felt physically comfortable. No, this was about the push as much as the activity. If I was bedridden, that push might look like just lifting my hand to get the spoon each meal. But it would require a growing sense of body as an obedient servant....it wasn't about becoming an athlete...but using physical activity...or even athletics to... grow in one's understanding of one's relationship to God, as Mary Baker Eddy says, "Immortal Mind, governing all, must be acknowledged as supreme in the physical realm, so-called, as well as in the spiritual." (Eddy uses, Mind - capitalized - as another name for God).
So, I went out and bought a pair of running shoes and a sports bra and borrowed a pair of shorts from my daughter and then went to ask the track coach at my daughter's school how to start. I had grown up a dancer, running was something that I had avoided at all costs...this was so new to me that I wasn't even sure I knew how to begin. Coach Simon suggested that I just start with making it once around the mile long loop on the campus where he coached. He offered that I could run fifty feet (the distance between two of the evenly spaced lightposts that dotted the entire mile) and walk the next two lightposts...then run one, and walk two, until I had completed the entire mile each day. I could switch it up to running two and walking one, and then running the whole thing as I felt ready to push myself into the next gear. This all made sense to me and it was exactly how I started. By the next summer I was running 3 and a half miles nightly and by last winter I was up to five miles a night...rain, snow, sleet....hurricane-like gales (or at least "just after"....fallen trees in the road and powerlines dancing on the street and I was out there dodging debris and leaping over downed branches like a maniac.)
So...was he right? Well, for me....yes...absolutely. But the key, for me, was motive. Why was I doing it? Was I trying to use spiritualized thinking to become a better athlete (or even an athlete at all)...NO. But I was using the physical activity of running as a means to better explore my spirituality. I wanted a better relationship with God and I also wanted to understand the relationship that I had with this servant body that Eddy refers to in her writings when she states, " In Science, body is the servant of Mind, not its master: Mind is supreme." (Here Eddy is, again, referring to Mind as a name for God).
Every night I would battle with the suggestions that "oh, you don't want to do this" or "you're already in your nightgown just relax...you can run tomorrow night".....but I would go back to "What can I do?" and "Why am I doing this?" Well, what CAN I do...I could begin by getting out of my nightgown putting on my running clothes and shoes and walking out the door and up to the mailbox...then I could run to the neighbor's mailbox and every night, even though I often had to pray through each and every step, I would find myself going further or running more than walking....digging deeply for a greater sense of Mind's authority in my life, and my body (not just my physical body, but the body of my work, the body of my service to mankind, the body of my thinking) as an obedient and willing servant to this Mind. And every night Mind ran with me and never let me down. Those nights of prayer for strength, flexibility (of heart and mind and oh, yeah...legs), persistence, etc. were coming from pushing myself out of my comfort zone and into a place where I had to turn to God for every step.
My life started changing so drastically that I was almost frightened by the limberness of movement that God was demanding of me. I often felt like I was in deep pain and there were other times that this total surrender to God's control of my movements was deeply unsettling and satisfying at the same time.
But what was I learning about this body...well, I had a very interesting experience last night that gave me a microcosmic look at my transformed view. I was putting lotion on my feet (usually quite cracked and calloused...but not at all lately) as I have done every night for decades and as I was spreading the cream in I looked at my feet and thought, "Thank you...you are so beautiful to me...you have served me so well and I am grateful that you have given me the opportunity to learn so much about my relationship to God" Wow...this all came tumbling out with such tenderness for my feet. I realized that I was grateful and that this gratitude was an indication of my expression of Soul (another name for God) and therefore I was growing spiritually...I was growing in my awareness of the deep spiritual connectedness that I have with the Divine.
There is a story that was shared with me of a very experienced spiritual thinker, healer and teacher who would get up each morning and take his shower, have his breakfast, shave, etc. and then he would look in the mirror and say something to the effect, "Okay, I have fed you, washed you and cared for you and we have much to do today in the service of our Maker so I don't want to hear another word from you."
Hmm...how many of us would serve faithfully an employer, an authority, who treated us with derision and disdain. Instead of denying the existence of this servant (or calling it ugly names) who we make demands upon to get us where we need to go so that we can do what we need to do...what if we were to see it as a good, obedient and willing servant who is waiting only for our respect, care, and the opportunity to serve faithfully.
Jesus, when asked by the Centurion to come and heal his servant, replies that he will come right away. But the Centurion says, no, you don't need to do that...I also am one under authority who says to his servant, Go and he goeth and do and he doeth it...well, Jesus is astounded at this man's wisdom and says that he has not seen such great faith...no, not in Israel. He is saying that this Centurion soldier has more faith that all the people who already worship God. So what did the Centurion say that so impressed Jesus. I think Eddy gives us the key to this story when she defines body as a servant. The centurion was a soldier, a man who understood hierarchical obedience. And he clearly establishes that he and Jesus are in the same position...they are both "under authority" not the authority and not the servant...but one who speaks to the servant with the conviction of knowing who is in charge...and the servant obeys. God is the Authority, we are "under authority" and have been empowered to speak to the servant with the expectation that it will obey.
What if we really understood, or had faith, that the servant was "with the program" and wanted to obey but was just waiting for orders from one "under authority"...and would serve He who is in Authority with joy, and strength and in silence. We might better understand how it is that we might "present our bodies a living sacrifice, wholly acceptable unto to our God..." and we might understand why Eddy further defines, the word "temple" in her Glossary in Science and Health to include: "body...the shrine of Love" could this very temple, or body, be a place out from which we can serve our God and worship His Authority in our lives with gratitude and humility.
At the end of the day we might say, "Oh my beautiful body...thank you for your faithful (and silent) service."
Just something to think about....
And by the way...thanks Stuart!