One day in the coming week I will set foot out the front door to walk or run across the SA/WA border. Not literally, but a mobile phone app has enabled me to track my daily exercise this year, providing a cumulative distance covered, which has taken me (theoretically) from home to the Nullarbor.
More important than the distance covered has been the time to reflect, pray, grieve, think, converse (when with a friend), or simply absorb the surroundings. Exercise has been a deeply spiritual experience.
We too easily confine faith to strictly religious or moral/ethical activities: prayer, meditation, bible reading. Yet reading the Bible one encounters a holistic approach to spirituality and life, embracing what is eaten, what we wear, how we relate, how we are governed, how we care for animals and the earth, and more. Faith is formed in the fullness of life experiences.
What I miss most when I can’t exercise is the time out for perspective – away from the “noise” of the everyday, alone with my thoughts, with time to process what has been going on. While I value my physical fitness, there is a deeper fitness of spirit and soul that emerges from this time. Like the mobile phone app, it places the exercise I do in a broader, cumulative context, helping me to see the sum of my actions and not just individual pieces.
Residents of a Geelong dementia unit have found the value of this perspective. Taking a “walk around Australia” by accumulating their laps around the corridors, their whole lives have been transformed. The have gained new interests and energy and expanded their social worlds.
The teachings of Jesus are grounded in the ordinary yet rich experiences of human life: drawing water at a well, sparrows and lilies, weddings and feasts, agriculture and animal care, use of power and influence. They exhibit a stubborn resistance to narrowing faith and spirituality to esoteric or contemplative endeavours, and a vigorous determination to underline the spiritual nature of all activities.
I would never have contemplated travelling to Eucla on foot, yet the accumulation of steps has offered a perspective not only on the immediate relationship between faith and life, but also between individual acts built up over time. Every faith journey can only be made one step at a time yet needs the broader context to understand its full meaning.
October 21, 2012
NB: this reflection was published in the Sunday Age on October 21, 2012
Rev Gary Heard is pastor of The Eighth Day, a Baptist Community in West Melbourne.