A Spirituality Project for a Sedentary Age

4_walking_prayer_exercisesIn 2017, 64% of Canadians were overweight or obese. This has major health implications.

I used to be part of that statistic, and for years I tried and failed to do anything about it. Somehow, three years ago, I managed to take off a huge chunk of weight, but it’s still a struggle for me to keep it off.

I’ve spent most of my working life in a sedentary occupation. I’m a priest, so I sit at a desk, or sit in people’s homes, drinking coffee and eating cookies and talking. And praying. I’m encouraged to spend 45 minutes to an hour each day in prayer, using a Daily Office developed by Christians in much more active times, when just staying alive meant people had to use their bodies way more than they do now, so the need to add more physical activity wasn’t so urgent.

But times have changed.

A few years ago David Hansen wrote a book called Long, Wandering Prayer. Dave is a long time advocate of combining prayer with walking. I wonder if he might be on to something? Given that we are physical as well as spiritual creatures, and that health of body and spirit is intertwined, maybe we should be looking at redefining the Daily Office to include walking?

Older forms of the Office (like the traditional Book of Common Prayer) had relatively few variables. The Office was easily memorized, and once committed to memory, those prayers were yours for good. Even today, I can pretty well pray BCP Morning Prayer from memory (without the psalms and readings of course).

More recent Office books have vastly increased the amount of variable material. But maybe we’re going in the wrong direction. Maybe we should be exploring simple forms of prayer that could be easily memorized and then used as a framework for extemporare prayer—the aim being to encourage people to take their prayer times out on the walking trail with them every day. These days audio Bibles are common too, so listening to the Bible could easily be combined with walking.

Imagine the health benefits if those 45 minutes of daily praying were spent moving my body on a walking trail? Also, personally, I find it easier to connect with God walking through trees and fields than indoors, so it’s a double win.

I think this could be a vital spirituality project for our sedentary age. What do you think?

New Year’s Resolutions for 2018

Yes, I do believe in these things. I think the reason most people fail is because they make resolutions without making a plan to keep them. But I learned in the first half of 2016 that if I make a plan, I can keep it. And I also know myself well enough to know that if I do these things at times when there is a natural ‘new beginning’, it gives me an added psychological impetus.

So, the Lord being my helper, here are my three 2018 New Year’s Resolutions:

Resolution #1: Get back down to 165 lbs by the end of February (I’m currently at 174).

Plan: use the same diet and exercise regime I used January to June 2016 when I succeeded in losing 52 lbs.

Resolution #2: Don’t buy any new books in 2018. Instead, read the dozens of unread books on my shelves.

Plan: sign out of my Amazon account and let Marci change the password! (Just kidding: she knows about this resolution and will help me stick to it! Although, come to think of it, it might not be a bad idea…)

Resolution #3: Each week, plan and implement new ways to love my neighbour as myself.

Plan: Pick a day of the week to journal about this (probably Saturday) and, having decided what to do, put it on the calendar. I need to do this because I’m very selfish and this is the command I (can you believe it?) get most bored with.

Friday miscellany

First, a few pieces of absurdity for you this morning.

Driving.ca has a piece called ‘Eight Cheap Cars for the Cash Strapped Student‘. Hey, folks, if you can afford a cheap car, you’re not a cash-strapped student! Cash strapped students used to ride the bus or the train. When I was a student, the only one in my class to own a car was the son of the wealthy businessman. The rest of us walked or took the bus (or sponged rides off our friends!).

Over the Europe there’s a huge and complex refugee problem caused mainly by a lengthy civil war in Syria. Reading the Old Testament and the New Testament, it would seem that God might be concerned about this – in fact, that it would be high on his list of priorities. Meanwhile, over at ‘Thinking Anglicans’, a joyful post about the appointment of Christine Hardman as the next Bishop of Newcastle has turned into a long discussion in the comments about whether or not Conservative Evangelicals in Newcastle will be able to accept her ministry. Note: so far, no Conservative Evangelicals are taking part in this discussion.

By the way, if you want to read some stories about the real human beings who are refugees, check out this post on the Christian Peacemaker Teams website.

Over in Kentucky, of course, there’s an ongoing controversy about a devout Christian county clerk who refuses to issue marriage licences to same-sex couples because it violates her conscience; she believes that God’s plan is for marriage to be a union between one man and one woman (note: she has now gone to jail over this issue). I’m sympathetic to her view; I have reservations about same-sex marriage myself, and I’m also mindful of the fact that the government appears to have unilaterally changed the terms of her contract after hiring her. On the other hand, as has been pointed out on the internet, if a Quaker clerk refused to issue a gun licence on the grounds that it violated his or her conscientious objection to guns, I suspect that the conservative Christian community wouldn’t be jumping up and down in support. I also suspect they won’t be donating money for the legal bills of Christians who are prosecuted for war tax resistance.

Interestingly, some of the folks involved in the fight to legalize same sex marriage in the US seem to have a good sense of perspective on this incident:

“I think this is a tempest in a teapot,” said Marc Solomon, national campaign director of Freedom to Marry, which was active in the push for same-sex marriages to be recognized. “If the big backlash and the mass resistance that our opponents promised is one clerk from a county of under 25,000 people, I think we’re in very good shape.”

Now, a serious issue.

Jesus told his critics that the reason he spent time with ‘sinners’ was that it wasn’t the healthy folks that needed a doctor, but the sick. Christianity believes in grace, which is God’s love poured out generously and without reservation on all who need it, whether they deserve it or not. So Christianity isn’t supposed to be a club for those who are doing well; it’s meant to be a community for imperfect people who help each other and share the love of God with each other.

So I’m saddened by the continual realization that when some people start having struggles, they stop going to church. There are all kinds of legitimate reasons for this, and I’m not in any way wanting to judge these folks. I simply think that we in the church need to do a better job of being obviously, in the sight of the world, a community for the broken, not a club for people who have their lives all together.

Speaking of brokenness and how we deal with it, many of my friends will know how much I enjoy the CBC program ‘Heartland’. A couple of years ago Graham Wardle, who plays Ty Borden on the show, got together with another motorcycling friend to start the annual ‘Cruise with a Cause‘, a motor cycle trip to raise money for good causes. Their 2015 ride is ending in High River today, and their cause this year is the Canadian Mental Health Association. ‘Heartland’ stars Graham Wardle, Amber Marshall, Shaun Johnston and Alisha Newton are all taking part. I think that’s a great cause; mental health issues affect millions of people, and often they’re afraid to talk about it or ask for help. Anything that raises the profile of this subject is a good thing in my books.

And while we’re talking about mental health issues, I should mention the World Suicide Prevention Day ‘Cycle Around the Globe Initiative‘ on September 10th, sponsored by the International Association for Suicide Prevention. Here in Edmonton my good friends Bill and Betty Jo Werthmann and the ‘Hillary’s Ride’ initiative are sponsoring a ride at Hawrelak Park, one of several events happening in Edmonton as part of ‘Lift the Silence’ suicide awareness week.

And finally, getting back to the refugee crisis, there is of course a lot of excellent noise going on out there. However, we also need to do something. I have a rather small house and I doubt if a refugee family would fit into it. So the best I can do is to give my financial support to one of the excellent organizations that are doing something about it. Here are a few:

Canadian Foodgrains Bank

World Vision

Primate’s World Relief and Development Fund

Mennonite Central Committee

Oxfam Canada

Carry on!

Taking a Break from Alcohol

no-alcoholI have never in my life been a heavy drinker. However, I’ve always enjoyed a good glass of (dark) beer, red wine with a meal has been a frequent occurrence, and in recent years I’ve developed a taste for single malt Scotch. All this, I think, is entirely innocent. I’m not an alcoholic, my health (and my finances) are not at risk from this, and it’s all part of God’s good creation anyway.

However, at the moment I’m taking a break. I decided to give it up for Lent (except for communion wine), and after Lent ended, I decided not to go back to it.

I think the reason has to do with something else that is a problem for me: my weight. I have struggled with this issue for over thirty years now. My weight has gone up and down, but overall, more up than down. This time last year I was sitting at 226 pounds, and then doctors gave me a talking-to (in the context of what appeared at the time to be a heart issue, but eventually turned out not to be), and I started eating more sensibly and exercising more conscientiously. By about the end of October I was down to 202 pounds. Then the snow got deep and the weather got cold, and now I’m up to about 207 pounds again.

Self-control is hard for me. I’m not in a job where I’m constantly being supervised, I have a huge amount of control over how I use my time, and there are times when I don’t use this freedom wisely. The same is true with eating and exercising. I find it very, very hard to say ‘no’ to eating too much, and far too easy to skip the daily walk. My self-control muscles can use all the exercise they can get.

I think that’s what this current fast from alcohol is all about. Of course, it’s about calories too; alcohol is rich in them, and it doesn’t do a lot for you that grape juice wouldn’t do just as well. Skipping a glass of beer is basically the caloric equivalent of skipping a ham sandwich – thick slice of ham, two slices of bread and butter. But it’s also about practising saying ‘no’ to myself. I have to admit, I miss the bottle or two of wine a month we were in the habit of drinking. I miss the little glass of Scotch I sometimes indulged in at the end of the day (the bottle is still up in the cupboard), or the occasional glass of beer with a friend.

But my self-control muscles need exercise, and this particular form of exercise, it seems, is one I can keep up with daily. So for now, I’m going to stick with this discipline. I probably won’t be a teetotaller forever, but for now, it feels right for me. I have the freedom to go back to it if I want, and the freedom to stay away from it. For now, I’m choosing to stay away from it, and I’m enjoying being able to do that.