The Christian Image: How to justify physical fitness and bodily focus
And 5 reasons to take care of the image…
Many would find a focus on the body to be counterproductive in a journey toward Christ, especially within the boundaries of Orthodoxy. But it is through these same boundaries that you can see just how productive it can be. When I mention the “image,” I am not referring to what most in this world would automatically think about: how you look to others, or how physically fit or hot you appear and thus attract provocative thought processes. Definitely not! I am referring to the image of God. This is a reoccurring theme in many of my blog posts because it is so central to everything we use, along with our relationships with those we know, to relate to something that we cannot see. That’s how the importance of using icons, venerating (not worshiping!) the saints, taking care a church building (the list goes on) is shown to be so tangible: the Christian image of God is in all He has created.
Ok, so I may seem to be deviating. What in the world does this have to do with working out or keeping fit? Well, everything. Not that I am suggesting that everyone needs to have a workout routine, or if they do that they need to make it a priority. Of course not. Our priority is moving toward God. But it can be one path or tool that could be of particular use if done right and not corrupted by sin. Here’s 5 items to think about, in addition to taking care of the Christian image:
• Overcoming Sloth
• Discomfort for the Soul
• Increasing your mind’s awareness and mood
I am going to share a few experiences that I have met along my path and through that you will see how the above 5 items fit into the idea that a fitness routine brings one closer to God. My childhood was probably similar to most kids these days. Facing bullying, a household where a parent is ill and the other is working to support the family… feeling lonely: that’s how I felt even through the last day of high school. And so I joined the army and went to boot camp 3 days after graduation. I am not sure what was running through my mind other than I felt that there was not much else to do and I had nothing else to look forward to. That challenge is where my first feeling of “closeness” to God took place. I remember being exhausted one morning – Sunday morning to be exact. We were allowed to go to a general place of worship following a long week of discipline and abuse to our muscles. At that time, I was still part of the Lutheran Church, although I had not been in some time. My father was going to an Orthodox Church and I had attended Liturgy with him from time to time in the previous few years. But never until that experience Sunday morning in boot camp had I felt so close to the Lord! I was physically exhausted, I had been humbled and I was in pain. And there was more room for the Holy Spirit to reach me. Each time I went out on a road march or challenge course, I felt inspired by God to humbly continue to improve myself both mentally and physically.
Of course, that lasted as long as boot camp did. I was in the reserves for a while and eventually was subjected to sin and I went down a negative path. That path was broken up by a positive where a workout routine again seemed to lead me back to God. I found martial arts. It’s not that it has a Christian focus in particular, but the principles of discipline and respect for others are quite similar. I don’t want to try to necessarily link meditation through martial arts and a rigorous workout routine to the principles of Hesychasm. But I will say that through clearing my mind from worry and concern, while experiencing discomfort and increasing my awareness, I again was met with a strong feeling toward our Savior Jesus Christ. That experience led me to read the entire bible from front to back. Eventually I let go of my routine and followed a more dangerous path. This is because working out was not everything because you need a bit more than that to sustain your relationship with Him. But I again found God, began my routine and ever since I have not looked back. You are starting to see the pattern here of preparing yourself for closeness to Him. Kind of like fasting. Eventually you will become good at it and it will integrate into your being.
The final experience was the greatest and has led me to an uninterrupted relationship with God ever since. By this, I mean that I have not deviated from the path through misfortune but instead have grown consistently in the good times and the bad. I got married, work out 6-8 times a week, left my full time job and focus on spreading Christianity through this blog. Through this I have stayed with Him. The human body – the Christian image – is impressive in what it can achieve through grace. My outlet was simply physical exertion. I’m not looking back.
Love in Christ,