Category Archives: Spiritual Fitness

Fuel For the Journey

Today we consciously think about the car’s gas gauge. We keep one eye on that needle as it slips toward the red line, dreading the next trip to the gas station. The cost of fuel for our cars eats up an ever increasing portion of our weekly budgets. Consequently, most of us endeavour to car pool whenever possible. It’s easy to be aware of the needs of the environment when we are motivated by the amount of money in our wallets or bank accounts.
Our bodies also need the fuel of rest in order to function efficiently. Most youngsters, after a day of school and play, sink into ten or twelve hours of untroubled sleep. Teens tend to enjoy their twelve hours between one a.m. and one p.m. whenever possible. They know their bodies need rest, too.
By the time we reach forty, sleep like gasoline for our cars, feels like an expensive essential luxury. Demands on our time have multiplied. Between our regular day job, and extra-curricular work as family taxi driver and problem solver, housekeeper, community volunteer and whatever else we do, we have to ration out our time for sleep. We’ve developed a pattern of offering our bodies just enough fuel to keep going. Psychologists tell us that sleep deprivation is an effective form of torture. When I look at today’s parents, and some of today’s seniors and young people as well, I see faces grey with fatigue.
What wisdom does the Bible offer for this dilemma?  In Genesis, God does the work of creation from morning till evening. Then God stops to rest and proclaim that day’s work good. God repeats this for six days. On the seventh, God rests all day. This simple pattern requires intentionality. Like a long distance runner, we must pace ourselves on life’s journey. Sleep is an essential fuel. We cannot live well without it.
It’s useless for you to work so hard from early morning until late at night anxiously working for food to eat, for God gives rest to his loved ones.  Psalm 127.2

Is it really all over?

Easter weekend is over. The Chocolate Easter eggs and bunny rabbits have disappeared from the store shelves. Commercial interests have marched on to Mother’s Day.

For Christians, Easter didn’t end on April 9th. We celebrate Easter each and every Sunday, all year long. That’s why we worship on Sunday rather than on Saturday like our Jewish and Muslim friends. We have our day of rest and celebration on the first day of the week, because our Christian story tells us that Jesus rose on that day.

Two thousand years ago, we committed the ultimate act of violence and rejection. We endeavoured to kill God. The joy that we celebrate at Easter is that we failed. No evil, no darkness has enough power to destroy God. On that third day, when Jesus rose from the dead, God showed us that goodness and love always triumph over evil. No matter what we have done, said, or thought, God’s love for us cannot be defeated. When we experience our guilt and ask for new life, God’s forgiveness is there waiting for us. New life is possible. The spark of God’s goodness and love that is born in each one of us can rise up and transform us.

The wonder of Easter is that God wants to work through us. Regardless of our past mistakes, God’s love lifts us up and sets us on a new road. We can speak out for justice. We can share willingly and easily of our abundance. We don’t have to live in fear of tomorrow.

The new life we are trying to live means that Easter is with us every single day. Like babies, we begin with a few halting footsteps. We can speak up when we hear a friend speak ill of another person. Instead of buying water in plastic bottles, we can refill our bottles from our taps. We can write a letter in protest when our government’s policies appear unfair. With each new step, we gain more of God’s courage. Easter is about transformation, about God’s victory over the darkness in each one of us. Easter is never over.

Palm Sunday Meditation

I’ve heard the Palm Sunday scripture each year since I started Sunday School. As a child waving that giant fan like branch felt like a huge celebration. When I followed my friends down the church aisle, all those adults staring at me dampened the party somewhat, but certainly didn’t ruin it for me. I remember imagining I was there with Jesus, skipping along beside the donkey. The coming events of Holy week didn’t even register on my radar. I skipped passed Good Friday right on to Easter Sunday. I didn’t think about the significance of the parade or who might be watching.
            As an adult I want to understand more about this story. I want to find the relevance it has for me as an individual and for our world today. One way of doing that is to place myself in the story, but this time as an adult. I invite you to join me in this process. Therefore, I offer you my guided meditation. Open your Bible to Matthew 21:1-11 . Read through the story you find there. When you’ve finished reading, turn to the meditation below. Take some time to answer each question as thoroughly and honestly  as you can.
Sit back and take several deep breaths to help you relax. In your mind’s eye see the scene. You’re right outside the Golden Gates that mark the entrance to Jerusalem. The setting sun shines directly on those gates nearly blinding you, when you look back to the city. It’s hot and dry. There’s not much grass in this dry land. A growing crowd is lining both sides of the road and still more people are poring through the gates. People are jostling one another, excited because Jesus, the great teacher and healer is coming. You’ve found a good spot in the crowd. What thoughts are floating through your mind? Are you happy to be there? Are you anxious to see Jesus? How do you feel about him? Is he a hero or an enemy?
            As you peer down the road you see them coming, men, women, a few children their sandals kicking up dust in the dry air. One man is riding, the donkey just a little small, so his long legs drag in the dust.
The stranger standing next to you points and yells, “There he is.”
Your eyes follow the line of his pointing finger. You ask, “On the donkey, is that Jesus on the donkey.”
            The stranger nods. As they approach people around you cut palms from the trees and wave them. A chant rises from the watchers. “Hosanna! Hosanna! Hosanna, to the son of David.” Are you joining them or standing back and just watching?
            A victorious king rides a donkey as he returns to his city. What victory is Jesus celebrating?
            The little party passes directly in front of you. Your eyes are drawn to Jesus. He turns his head. Your eyes meet and hold their gaze.
            What message are you receiving from Jesus? What would you like to tell him?
The moment is fleeting. He smiles and turns to someone else. In minutes the parade is over. Did you wave your flag?
As you watch the little band of people pass through the gates, you realize the sun has dropped even lower. They disappear from view. How are you feeling now? What will you tell your friends about this encounter?

Wasted Time

When I was a child, my father chided me about wasting time. “Put that book down,” he would say. “Do something useful.” That admonition still resonates in my life. In fact, I find satisfaction in filling up those little squares in my day-timer. My life has purpose when I’m busy. I do my best to stop and listen when someone comes to me with concerns. I try to visit shut-ins and friends. When someone is needed for a task, I volunteer. My family knows that I can be depended on to come in an emergency. I try to use the gifts God has given me to spread God’s Word of love. I have often declared, “Come judgment day, God will have a long list of my failures, but at least God will know that I didn’t waste God’s precious gift of time.”
Lately, I’ve had some second thoughts about my use of time. Maybe God has the following questions for me and for all of us:
 “How much time do you set aside for caring for yourself? That amazing body I created for you needs sleep, exercise, fun.
 “How much time do you waste worrying about things that never happened, or things you can’t change? Do you trust me?”
“How much time do you waste complaining about your problems, lamenting about what you don’t have or can’t do? Do you ever count your blessings?”
“When you do rest, do you fill your mind with kind, loving and peaceful thoughts? Think about the books you read, movies you see, video games you play. Do you waste your moments of rest?”
Maybe God is saying, “I give you twenty-four precious hours. Yes, you care for others, but yourself? I’m not so sure. Seems like there’s been time wasted there. You’ve got a few days, months, years left, make some changes, now. Remember you are valuable. Use your time wisely.
“For God created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother’s womb. I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful, I know that full well.” (Psalm 139: 13-14)

Lent

A friend of mine has been looking for work. The process is slow, and depressing. With each disappointment, frustration and fear mounted. Job hunting is tough. In January, she greeted me with a smile on her face and determination in her soul. “I’ve decided to use this miserable limbo time to care for myself,” she said. “I’ve joined a gym. I’ve met with my trainer and laid out a program of diet and exercise to strengthen my body. Being unemployed I can exercise every day. After two weeks, I’m feeling much better. My spirits have lifted. I have more energy. I’ve added prayer to the program so my hope has returned. I’ve decided to trust God with my future. I’m using this time to prepare. I’ll be ready for the job when it comes.
During the season of Lent, Christians set aside forty days leading up to Easter to care for our souls. Like my friend, we join the program. We spend time talking with God our trainer. We look at our lives, the times we’ve hurt others, the unnecessary luxuries we enjoyed while others went hungry, the things we intended to do but didn’t. Beginning with the service of ashes, we’re marked with the sign of Christ’s cross, a symbol of our repentance. As we journey through those forty days, the program can involve giving up something that we particularly like, not to punish ourselves but to help us focus on giving up our selfish ways. The days lengthen. The light and warmth of spring warms our souls. As we slowly accept God’s forgiveness, our minds clear, our guilt recedes. We’re on the road of thanksgiving. By the time we get to Easter, and the joy of the resurrection we’re ready to celebrate. Our faith is stronger, we’ve begun a new way of living.
“The lamp of the body is the eye. If therefore your eye is good, your whole body will be full of light.But if your eye is bad, your whole body will be full of darkness. If therefore the light that is in you is darkness, how great is that darkness!  (Matthew 6:22-23 NKJV)

Physical Fitness

Last September, I started on a program of daily physical exercise, just twenty minutes of strengthening and stretching my tummy and leg muscles. I’m happy to report that I’ve lost five pounds – not much over five months, but my joints feel great, loose and supple. When I told others about my new health regimen, I said, “It’s easy. Tom and I do the exercises together first thing in the morning, in bed.” Everyone laughed. I struggled to explain. The most important part of the program for me is that we do the exercises before breakfast. Exercise on an empty stomach seems to kick-start my sluggish metabolism for the entire day.
            Our faith life functions in the same way. For nearly thirty years, I have started each day with God, through prayer, scripture and daily reflection. These exercises get my spiritual being rolling for the day. Similarly to my body, missing intentional exercise for my spirit means I don’t have the strength to resist today’s temptations, the stamina to withstand today’s trials or the gratitude to enjoy today’s gifts.
            All you need for this spiritual program is a Bible, preferably one in modern English for ease of understanding, a book of daily reflections, and time. (I also need pen and paper.) It’s the time that is most difficult. Thirty years ago, I started getting up a half hour earlier than the rest of our household so that I could have special quiet time with God. At first, it felt like a huge sacrifice. Eventually, that time became a precious gift. Today, as I settle into retirement, once again I struggle with time. Often, I give in to my love for late nights and need to sleep in. I’ve learned that if I don’t start with God, the day disappears and I’ve never got back to my prayer time. My morning reflection time is a sacrifice as well as a precious gift. It’s well worth every single moment.
“Very early in the morning, while it was still dark, Jesus got up, left the house and went off to a solitary place where he prayed.”  (Mark 1:35)

The Amazing V (Part I)

I watched a giant “V” float steadily across the sky like a well trained army platoon. The geese know winter is coming, I thought.
Why are Canada Geese so disciplined? Science tells us their “V” formation increases the flight efficiency of the entire flock by seventy-one percent. The leader flies out front, breaking the wind and showing the way. The rest, flying in formation, enjoy  the slip stream of the bird in front of them. Tired, the leader rotates to the back and another flies forward. There is no need to become exhausted. When a goose leaves the formation, he feels the resistance of the air and the difficulties of flying alone. Quickly, he returns to take advantage of the flock’s power.
“I believe in God, I just don’t need the church. I can worship God anywhere. Why bother with church, God and I are fine on our own.” Over the years, I’ve heard these words often. Yes, one person, like one goose, can live well, caring for others, and loving God. Alone we can know our destination and eventually get there.
Jesus gathered a group around him. He didn’t do his ministry alone. He knew the value of flying in the slip stream, alternating leadership. He knew that the group is not only more efficient but easier and more fun. We call his group the church. It is our “Amazing V”. We have learned that sharing our problems, leaning on one another and learning from one another increases our abilities, and our joy by much more than seventy-one percent. Try it, for a year. Enjoy the strength of work shared.
“As Jesus was walking beside the Sea of Galilee, he saw two brothers, Simon called Peter and his brother Andrew. They were casting a net into the lake, for they were fishermen. ‘Come, follow me,’ Jesus said, ‘and I will send you out to fish for people.’ At once they left their nets and followed him.”          (Matthew 4:18-20)