Spiritual Pushups

Warning: This is a sports metaphor, which, shall we just say, is not my native language.

But even I know that if you want to play basketball well, you have to practice. You have to practice dribbling and shooting the ball – these are basic elements of the game, and you have to do them over and over to get good at them. And we could talk about what are the basic elements of our spiritual game – of worship or clerking.

But we also all know that to be good at dribbling and shooting the ball, we have to do even more basic training, like running laps and doing push-ups. Now you will probably never have to do a push-up in the middle of a basketball game, but we know that if we’ve been doing our push-ups in practice, we’ll have built the muscles we need to do the actual shooting and dribbling, to respond to whatever happens in the course of the game.

I invite you to think about what are your spiritual push-ups? For some, it might be journaling, or reading the Bible, or walking in nature.

For me, it includes abstaining from alcohol. I wonder if plain living is like losing that extra ten pounds so you can run farther and faster? (In both cases, it could be both cause and effect.)

One of the things about our spiritual lives is that we don’t know if next year we’re going to be on the basketball team, or the football team, or volleyball or the swim team. We don’t know if next season God will call us to lead some major political action or to be of comfort to a dying person. None of us knows. But if we’re out there, doing our spiritual push-ups all along, we’ll be better able to play whatever game we’re in.

Another way this metaphor works is that even when you’re in the play-offs, when things are really going hot and heavy, you have to keep doing your push-ups. And in the off-season, still doing your push-ups.

We all need to build our spiritual muscles so we’ll be ready to respond to the leadings of the Holy Spirit.


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Blogger Martin Kelley said...

When I took a workshop with Lloyd Lee Wilson at Gathering one year he told the story of some colleague who asked him if Quakers would respond to a fire alarm by convening meeting for business and taking an as-long-as-it takes approach to discernment. Lloyd Lee gave some answer that felt inadequate to me. Then I realized that one reason fire alarms don't need complicated discernment is that we've practiced for them. We've gone through innumerable drills in school and we conduct tests so we know what the alarm sounds like.

I've wondered whether corporate discernment is like a fire alarm. Sometimes--most of the time perhaps--our business meetings focus on issues that really aren't all that earth-shattering. But even these give us practice, they give us comfort with one another and build the group trust. If time is too short for full-out discernment, I know I can trust the group and trust the judgment of certain "weighty" Friends (trusted because of their ability to call the Meeting to not out- or under-run its guide).

5/17/2007 8:37 AM  
Blogger Robin M. said...

Ooh, another good simile. The reason we don't need deep discernment when the fire alarm goes off is because we already came to unity about what to do when there's a fire in the building. We don't have to rehash it all everytime it comes up. Even if you were absent at that business meeting, or you weren't part of the community when the alarm system was put in, you are still under the obligation to comply with the policy of the meeting. If you choose to witness against this policy for conscience's sake, you must be prepared to suffer the penalties without evasion. Well, maybe that's taking this metaphor a bit too far, but I like the imagery nonetheless.

5/17/2007 3:52 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Robin, your post almost immediately reminded me of a book I read (most of) as an assignment for my local management team. It is The Power of Full Engagement. The elements I saw in common were about the practicing, the repetition, the preparation for the "big game." Putting your post and this book together have made me ponder the time pastors have to practice.

One interesting point brought up very early in the book is that "The performance demands that most people face in their everyday work environments dwarf those of any professional athletes we have trained." That's because these people train 90 percent and perform 10 percent of the time. In (some of) our work lives, we have little time to train and therefore performance can suffer. Athletes have days between games and months of off-season. How many of us enjoy that from a work/employment point-of-view or a spiritual one?

Recent posts by Cherice (the role of a pastor and quaker pastors) and the associated comments, bring to mind several questions regarding pastors or ministers who are paid by a church for their spiritual leading, guidance or gifts. Is a pastor in their job similar to me in mine where I feel that I have performance demands all day long and very little time for actual practice? Are they subject to the same demands on their time such that this training is more difficult due to their other duties? And if so, do they have the strongest "spiritual muscles" in the congregation? I don't want this to sound like some kind of condemnation that pastors become or are unfit, but do our demands upon them on a daily basis have an inherent weakening effect on their spiritual fitness?

I sure hope that doesn't sound like I'm saying pastors are spiritually weak, because that is the farthest intent of my ponderings here.

5/17/2007 6:17 PM  
Blogger Robin M. said...

Alan, I went and looked at the listing for the book. What it connected to for me was the concept that a Friend recently introduced to me of being spiritually tired or depleted.

For pastoral workers, I think it could go either way - steady use can build your muscles but it is possible to overwork some muscles at the expense of others, or to exhaust yourself before the end of the performance period.

I think that in many faith traditions, there is an expectation that ministers/pastors/priests will spend some regular time in retreat, both short periods daily and some longer periods every few months or each year. One danger these days is that the organizers of pastors' retreats will fill the time with too much programming and not enough private reflection, to make it seem useful and busy.

In my meeting's ministry and oversight committee, we were recently discussing how people maintain their spiritual lives when going to church becomes their job. For us, it's a temporary assignment to be the clerk of ministry and oversight, or clerk of the meeting. But what sustains people who have ministry/pastoral care as their full time/long term employment? A Quaker pastor I know sent me this in an email:

"For myself, I have chosen to change how I look at Sunday morning gatherings. One way I have changed is to see the whole morning as my opportunity to serve rather than my time to have a worship experience like I would like. I choose to see “interruptions” of questions or unlocking doors or “Where are the coffee filters?” as my chance to offer worship through service. I’ve just had to re-train myself, and now it largely makes an ok experience, where I used to get really frustrated by being interrupted.

For worship itself, I have two things that seem at odds. First, I recognize that because I’m involved in leadership in some way, it just is not going to be a great worship experience for me personally. Second, I do everything I possibly can to make sure that I am engaged and allowing God to speak to me in every moment. The first is to release bitterness and expectations, and the second is to keep me from being a hireling minister who just does stuff because it’s my role. I know it sounds opposite, but for me, it honestly is important work to do.

Last, I try to find other opportunities for corporate worship, where I’m a participant, not a leader. I occasionally go to chapel at [the local university], I meet with a couple of friends once every other week (or so) for what really amounts to unprogrammed worship. I think it’s really important for anyone involved in leadership to have other places where they just participate, so I try to do that too."

I thought that was really helpful advice.

My husband also wondered recently about the measures of performance for people in pastoral or advocacy work - how do you know you're successful if you don't have a number of widgets manufactured or sold to count? [I thought he blogged about it, but I'm not finding it in his archives.]

Anyway, these are all related to questions of endurance, trust, and performance, and ultimately of faithfulness, our commitment to live up to the Light we have been given.

5/17/2007 8:58 PM  
Blogger Chris M. said...

As the new clerk of my monthly meeting, and someone who is very busy at work, I read Alan's comments with relish.

Martin's analogy of the fire drill, and Robin's point that the policy on how to react to a fire drill and -- more important -- therefore a real fire is an important one.

Robin, I don't think it was on my blog, it might have been on Cherice's. Or hasn't Nancy's Apology written about how her meeting has done outreach to "tired clergy," to offer them quiet space to worship without responsibility?

-- Chris M.

-- Chris M.

5/17/2007 11:22 PM  

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