As some of you know, I am a member of gym. I’ve been a member of many gyms over the years. Sometimes over those years, my attendance has been sporadic, paying my dues and never darkening the door. Other times, I find I get into a rhythm and find a pattern that means I go 3, 4 or 5 times in a week. I know amongst people at St Andrew’s there are some who also do a variety of fitness pursuits, whether that’s going to a gym, a swimming pool, a dance class or something else. There’s a number of possible ways that people get active.
My enthusiasm for going partly depends on what I feel the purpose might be. I find that there have been times – usually the sporadic times – when I have thought that a workout would help me keep fit and perhaps lose some weight. I would go across to the gym in my lunch break, spend 45 minutes watching a television programme on the screens while building up a sweat, then shower, change, and head back to the office before eating something satisfying to compensate. Between the sporadic visits, I was continuing my lax routine and didn’t eat in moderation those things that I probably should have eaten in moderation.
But at other times, my gym attendance has been about more than just the one off experiences. I’ve gone along to the gym as part of a general pattern of fitness and wellbeing; an opportunity to build myself up in a holistic way. This has included keeping fit and losing weight – but those have come as side effects. Instead, it has been about eating well, looking after myself, developing my own life and shaping my own skills, working with trainers, counsellors and nutritionists to guide me. As a result, I’ve been able to lift more, carry more, move faster, jump further, think more clearly and sleep more deeply. Those times have been times in which my fitness for life has been deepened, strengthened, and firmed up.
I wonder whether we can see the Church as a kind of gym for the spirit. Is Church somewhere that we come to be strengthened, deepened, and encouraged? Are we part of the church community to be able to make ourselves fit for the challenges of life as faithful disciples and pilgrims? Do we enjoy the one off experiences, or are we training regularly, making use of the resources of those around us to develop our spiritual exercises? Do we feel experienced enough to help boost those who are new to faith and encourage them on their journey?
The benefits of a gym attendance – either regular or sporadic – are only really backed up with a holistic approach to health and wellbeing. It helps to do exercise away from the gym, walking or cycling or swimming. You also need to be disciplined about what you eat and drink. No matter how often you go to the gym, if you do some fitness between visits and watch your diet, you can make progress.
When we think about our spiritual lives, they need some wellbeing too. Sundays are the focused input with the help of a ‘trainer.’ In addition, we need to do some spiritual exercises between Sundays to help strengthen our spiritual lives. There are several things we can do. We can read the bible, either on our own or with the help of some reading guides. We can find times and ways to pray, either on our own or with others, using written prayers or extemporary prayers. We can pray for those known to us, those who we have concerns about health or situations, and those who have good news. We can pray for our Church, its leaders and congregation, the work we do in the world, the things we may want to do in the future. We can pray for the world, for the challenges in our community and further afield, and the celebrations we can share in together. We can listen to God’s guidance to us and to God’s call upon our lives and discern what God is saying to us.
So whether we can attend sporadically or regularly, and whether we think we are strong or not, we can still work on being built up spiritually and connecting with God who guides us as individuals and as a community. With our spiritual exercises carried out, we will be able to carry more, move faster, think more clearly and respond more deeply to God’s call upon our lives.