Monday, June 30, 2014

Running the Race

During our travels in Greece, our Biblical Tours guides spoke of the Isthmian Games, biannual competitive events held the years before and after the Olympic Games. Scholars believe Paul was in Corinth during the Isthmian Games of 51 or 53 AD,  since Paul was in Corinth for 18 months, ending during the term of Roman Proconsul Gallio. The "Gallio Inscription," identified in Delphi in 1903, offers a historical record of Gallio's term, dating it to 52 to 53 AD.

Archaeologists have found remains of several stadiums and a hippodrome in Ishthmia, on the narrow isthmus between the mainland of Greece and the Peloponnesian Peninsula. Although the games were miles from the center of Corinth, there have been no discoveries of housing in Isthmia adequate for the crowds that converged to participate and watch the games, which would explain why tentmakers Priscilla and Aquila, and Paul himself, were able to find work in an urban center like Corinth.

As a tentmaker, Paul may have had an economic interest in the games, and there’s a strong argument that he timed his visit in Corinth to coincide with the games, but he also saw in the games metaphors for a purposeful life. He spoke of “running the race," "fighting the fight,”  "winning the prize."

Beyond that, he saw what could be accomplished through physical discipline, and was willing to exercise physical discipline to accomplish spiritual ends. I had seen those little maps in the backs of our Bibles: “Paul’s Missionary Journeys.” But seeing those miles unfold in the real terrain of hilly, rocky Greece, we quickly realized that Paul would have needed to be a fit, active, tireless man, able and willing to face hard conditions and long dusty miles to accomplish the goals he pursued.
I wonder how many ministers today consider physical fitness an essential attribute for the life of ministry?

And how many of us are fully convinced of the Latin aphorism: “Mens sana in corpore sano” ("Healthy mind in healthy body”)?

Our church has been considering the interplay of faith, food, fitness, friends, and focus as small groups work their way through The Daniel Plan, a program created by Rick Warren of Saddleback Church to address his concern about the trend toward obesity in his own congregation. 

The Plan offers insight into diet and exercise, stresses the need for accountability and partnership in meeting goals, and puts physical health into context with emotional, spiritual, even social health.

I’ve been watching a version of this in my own small circle of friends.

Kate Alleman, Finish Strong NSC
Two years ago, I attended my first reunion of women I’d worked with at a girls' camp back in the seventies. One of those women, Kate Alleman, has packed several careers into the intervening years: four years in the army, 21 years in the FBI, and a new direction as personal trainer. When we talked two years ago, she noted politely that many of us weren’t in the same good shape we'd been in during those long, activity-filled days at camp years ago. And she wondered why it's so easy to be neglectful of our physical health.

We talked then, and again this weekend, about the dangerously fractured view of the world so pervasive in our current culture. We divide physical health from spiritual health, emotional health from economic health, in ways that are themselves symptomatic of our deep dis-ease. 

Reading Paul’s letters, I see his certainty that health is never realized in division. We are part of one another, old and young, rich and poor. Spiritual health is demonstrated in economic generosity; physical health is necessary for accomplishment of spiritual goals.

In an essay entitled Health is Wholeness Wendell Berry laments:  
From our constant and increasing concerns about health, you can tell how seriously diseased we are. Health, as we may remember from at least some of the days of our youth, is at once wholeness and a kind of unconsciousness. Disease (dis-ease), on the contrary, makes us conscious not only of the state of our health but of the division of our bodies and our world into parts. . . .
 In the present age of the world, disintegration and division, isolation and suffering seem to have overwhelmed us. . .  .
Kate’s response to the question of division was to invite our group to see physical health as part of wise stewardship of the days we’ve been given. She invited us to prepare for a 5k or 1 mile reunion run, offering long-distance coaching and encouragement.

In the past two years, members of our reunion group have lost over two hundred pounds, begun walking or running our way to better health, and are learning what it means to offer support and encouragement to one another in the quest for a broader view of stewardship. 

That's me on the left, and Beth, mother of six, on the right
So yes, I did participated again in Kate’s 5K event, running most of the first mile and half, encouraged on my way the last mile or so by another very fit new/old friend, Beth.

But I need to do better. 

Much as I hate running, I need to find some way to keep myself in shape so I have the energy and endurance to finish strong.

I just downloaded an app Kate recommends:

And I’m exploring The Daniel Plan website, thinking about ways to re-frame my thinking, retool my menus, and re-prioritize my time. 

I’m puzzling over my relationship to both food and fitness, trying to sort out the messages I've absorbed about nurture, food, bodies, love, value, health, wholeness.

And wondering about this notion of Wendell Berry's: that health implies membership in both community and creation. I think he might be right. 
I take literally the statement in the Gospel of John that God loves the world. I believe that the world was created and approved by love, that it subsists, coheres, and endures by love, and that, insofar as it is redeemable, it can be redeemed only by love. I believe that divine love, incarnate and indwelling in the world, summons the world always toward wholeness, which ultimately is reconciliation and atonement with God.
 . . . I believe that the community - in the fullest sense: a place and all its creatures - is the smallest unit of health and that to speak of the health of an isolated individual is a contradiction in terms. (Wendell Berry, Health is Wholeness)

This is the seventh in a series, Texts in Context, revisting two formative weeks spent in Greece in March 2014Earlier posts: 

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