Spirituality in Movement
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“Incarnational ministry happens to runners in the great outdoors. The idea is to name God in what’s already going on in people’s lives. ‘This is not just about physical fitness, ... Gardening could be your prayer life. Computer programming matters in the life of God. A life well lived is when you start to recognize that, hey, God is in all of this.’” - George Linney, pastor of Tobacco Trail Community
About a month ago I read an article by Jess James DeConto in Christian Century on a new form of worship evolving around the U.S. It was all about running as worship. Running groups are forming that see and engage their running time as a worship practice. These groups are introducing elements of liturgy and patterns of worship into their running ritual. The concept of it made quite a lot of sense to me. Understanding and envisioning worship outside of the building and Sunday mornings is something that I’ve embraced for a long time, yet extending that to the inclusion of physical activity took me by surprise. It was pretty much an ah-ha! and a well duh! moment at the same time. Physical movement has long been understood by health professionals to positively impact mental and physical health but I think it could also have an impact on one’s spiritual health as well. I know it has on mine.
I have always understood there are two constants in my life where everything else changes. One is participation in sports or other physical movement activity. The other is theology in some shape or form – either participation in church or by pursuing religious studies. These two driving aspects of my life are occasionally balanced, but it is not uncommon for one to override the other. Particularly when I was on a competitive team, it was not uncommon for my sporting activity to take precedence over church attendance. Neither I, nor my father (who is a Lutheran pastor) questioned the impact of my spiritual life and health or the role that Christ had in my life. I wasn’t until I was injured and set on a long road of rehabilitation that I felt the full impact of how movement keeps me healthy in more ways than just bodily health. Looking back on the time that I was restricted from running, rowing, hiking, and doing basically anything that required much movement, I can see how this impacted not only my mental health but also my spiritual health also. It marks the start of a period of spiritual unease for me, one that didn’t really end until I added a running regimen back into my weekly schedule.
Prior to joining the staff at St. Paul, I was interviewing for another church and one of their concerns was that I would be working during worship and how would that impact my spiritual life? I hadn’t considered that question before they asked it and I didn’t consider it much afterward. I am delighted to wake up Sunday mornings and come to St. Paul. I love to see Godly Play and Sunday School happening, I love to engage the kids in Children’s Church and connect with parents, families and other parishioners between and after services, but the responsibilities can take me away from being able to be in worship. This is the reality of a church worker and one that we accept and embrace as part of our calling to serve the church. The question to ponder as a person serving a worship community is where do you find worshipful space if not in the worship service with the community. I am beginning to realize that my answer has to include running or at least some kind of physical activity.
This isn’t really a new concept. There is a long history of people engaging physical practices to encourage connection to the community, appreciation of the natural world, and transcendence and connection to the divine. What is new to me is the notion that the two largest parts of my life don’t need to be segregated. Not only that they do not need to be but that they shouldn’t be. Lent is just around the corner and I have decided to use this time of reflection and preparation to consider this connection between movement, worship and spiritual health. Between Ash Wednesday and Easter, I will be engaging an exercise regimen that includes my typical running schedule of 3-4 times a week, adding yoga and a random other form of movement (swimming, hiking, dancing, biking, tbd later). The intention is to focus on the how these practices and the general habit of movement is a positive spiritual and worship practice rather than merely a good health habit. This is not meant to suggest that physical movement is THE new form of worship for everyone. But consider for yourself where you find yourself worshipping. Are there other places than just worship services that you feel worshipful? Do you have a place that you meet God?