Friday, February 18, 2011

Spiritual Fitness

Have you heard of "BOD4GOD"? I encountered this word-phrase last week in an article about The Journey church. It describes a program that uses "spiritual" principles for weight loss and exercise.

Although the article didn't go into detail as to what these spiritual principles are, I think the idea of connecting physical and spiritual fitness has some merit. I would also add emotional/mental fitness into the mix.

There is an intimate connection between body, mind and spirit. When one of these three is out of shape or damaged, it can affect the other two. For example, depression doesn't only affect the emotions, it affects the body and the soul. When we're down, we don't eat well and exercise is difficult. Depression also saps our spiritual energy as well.

When it comes to exercise, we need to apply it to our minds and souls as well as our physical selves. St. Ignatius developed several spiritual exercises, including prayer, reflection, imaginative reading of scripture and others. Keeping our minds active and growing can be done with reading, crosswords, problem-solving and writing.

I believe that to exercise any one dimension of our self has benefits for the others. To get physically fit gives us more mental and spiritual energy. What I call "active spirituality" encourages us to look at spiritual practices that involve motion and movement such as walking, hiking, fishing, cycling and so on. Spiritual fitness is interconnected with physical and mental/emotional fitness.

Thursday, February 10, 2011


Yesterday, I was inspired by the story of a friend who had been through some very difficult times in his life. He escaped from Denmark after the Nazi's invaded his home country. He lost a son to a boating accident 25 years ago. His daughter-in-law has survived for 7 years with a rare and aggressive form of cancer. And, he is being treated for metastatic cancer.

Despite these difficulties, he says that he feels "lucky" and "fortunate." He is filled with gratitude for his life and is focused on how he can help others.

The quality I see in this friend is resilience. Despite being knocked down by the blows life has dealt him, he remains steadfast and positive. He doesn't give in to self-pity or depression. Even though his initial reaction to these tragedies was deep sadness, he bounced back from each difficulty.

My suspicion is that the source of his resilience is his deep gratitude for life. Gratitude is the foundation of resilience. If we can understand how we are blessed, even in the midst of challenging circumstances, we will find the inner strength and fortitude to survive and even thrive.

As I said, I have been inspired by my friend. So, each morning I'm reflecting on what I'm grateful for. I'm making a list and adding to it each day. To begin each day by giving thanks for even one thing can make the rest of the day go better. When we strengthen our sense of gratitude, we also strengthen our resilience when difficult times come-- and they always do.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Listening to the Silence

One thing that feeds the soul is solitude. While solitude can be an inner quality such as inner peace, it can also be external. I seek external solitude in places that are away from people, traffic, and noise. Fortunately, there is a wonderful nature preserve called Devil's Den that is a 20 minute drive from my home (I am aware of the irony that one of the important places in my spiritual life is called Devil's Den).

A few days ago, after I finished my work, I headed to Devil's Den for an hour of snowshoeing. Since we've had 4 major snowstorms over the past 6 weeks, there was plenty of snow-- up to 3 feet in most places! Because it was a cold Friday afternoon, I was the only person there.

I was enjoying the exertion of snowshoeing when I stopped for a drink of water. Suddenly I heard it. Silence. There was no wind. No birds were singing. Just silence. I stood there for several minutes, not wanting to break the spell. I watched the sunlight filter through low clouds and took in the beauty of the brilliant white snow.

So often, we don't know what we're missing until we experience it. I realized that such silence is all too rare in my life. While driving, I listen to the radio. While walking in my town, there are sounds of traffic. Even when I'm alone at home with no appliances on, there are sounds of wood creaking and the heater blowing. Silence is also rare in nature with the sounds of wind, birds, streams and boots hitting the trail.

There are few things that feed the soul like silence. Finding times and places of stillness can help soothe the mind and calm the soul. However, our ability to enjoy silence depends on whether we have cultivated inner solitude as well. More about that in another blog.