This morning I did a new workout called Yoga for the Warrior. Besides being intrigued by the title, I was trying a yoga-based workout because my osteopath told me I tend to get tight in my core, especially when I sit at a computer for long periods of time and write (like today). She suggested some yoga moves to help me keep the body more open. While I was doing some strange poses this morning (something where I had to thread my arms through my legs and stand up straight and pull one leg to the side?!?!?) I started thinking about the different types of exercises we do to help our bodies stay healthy: some work on flexibility, others bolster strength, and some enhance stamina and speed.
People who focus primarily on strength have a certain physique. They are big. They are solid. They can move mountains. But they are not always the most flexible or nimble of people. On the other hand, long-distance runners have incredible stamina but very little mass. They are lithe and sure-footed and can go on and on and on. Then there are dancers and gymnasts who have developed flexibility, precision, and balance to such an extent that they can paint beautiful, moving pictures with their bodies.
Allow me to draw some parallels between the physical and the spiritual.
Strength: As people who follow Jesus, this is probably one of the first things we focus on. We want to develop a strong and solid faith. One that is not easily shaken. One that can withstand the winds of temptation and the storms of suffering. But strength isn't everything. One can be incredibly strong and pop some big biceps, but still be outrun by (the faith of) a little child. Strength without stamina or speed means that although we have a solid mass of faith, we do not move all that well and our faith can be a bit unwieldy. A strong faith without flexibility translates into rigidity which makes one prone to injury or breakage. I have known people who were very strong (and dogmatic) in their faith and at some point, the pressure of life caused something to snap and their faith collapsed. So simply having a strong, massive faith can be somewhat limiting.
Stamina: Probably the next element we tend to focus on as Christians is to develop stamina. We want to be faithful for the long haul. We want to keep going and not drop out of the race. We don't want a lot of baggage hindering us. In a long race, one can become easily depleted. Since the focus is always on pushing forward and making it to the end, one never builds up much strength or mass, one mostly runs alone, and there is very little time to stretch out those tight muscles which are always pounding the ground. Our faith can become very lean and stretched to the limit if all we do is run race after race after race.
Flexibility: It seems to me that the element of flexibility is near the bottom of the list of qualities that people seek to develop in their walk with God. Perhaps this is because flexible faith sounds too much like relativism. But stretching is all about helping the body to move the way it was meant to move. Unfortunately, we usually engage in a only a few select activities (physically and spiritually); this results in the body getting (up)tight and not wanting to move in any other direction. Unless our faith continually moves and stretches, it becomes small and limited; we have to encourage it to enlarge and expand and stay open. I am not talking about going beyond where God has called us to go or leaping outside the skin of the body of Christ, limbs and muscles running willy-nilly wherever they like. But faith in God means that ultimately our faith resides in him, so it should only be as limited as God is. Dancers and gymnasts are known for having a very strong core which supports all those crazy moves while allowing them to keep their balance. In the same way, a strong core of faith (being tightly bound to Jesus our beloved) is necessary to be able to stretch beyond our self-imposed limits and move with greater expansiveness, beauty, and grace.
Speed: Perhaps linking speed with theology seems a bit of a stretch, but I think there are times when we need to be able to move quickly and sprint in our faith - to leap from where we are and dash to the place where God is calling us to. When Jesus revealed himself in his resurrected body, some disciples sprinted to align themselves with him while others were not quite ready to move so quickly. When the Holy Spirit indicated that Gentiles were now to share in the kingdom of God alongside the Jews, not everyone raced toward that goalpost. This has a lot to do with what we are tethered to. If our faith is tied to certain traditions or insecurities and fears, we will not move very quickly. However, if we are bound to Jesus, when he moves, we move.
In my opinion, theological studies is one tool that can help us develop a well-rounded regimen that not only strengthens our faith, but helps us stretch where we are not used to being stretched (ouch), builds up our core strength by forcing us to rely on the Holy Spirit for discernment instead of our own prejudices, gives us more stamina and patience (for ourselves and others), and hopefully, increases our ability to make quicker and more beautiful leaps of faith that land us in the amazing, dynamic, and incredible kingdom of God.
I am a little sore from my exercises this morning. When was the last time my faith was a little sore?