Is it just me, or has everyone else felt like a terrible, lazy human being watching all of the incredible athletes in the Olympics as they swim, catapult into the air, sweat, leap, paddle, and contort their faces into configurations of pure agony and physical exertion? All the meanwhile, you’re watching this with a chocolate chip cookie in one hand, curled up on the couch with the dog?
I remember when I was 6 years old (read: last night), any time the Olympics came on — or for that matter Power Rangers — I would immediate get up and dance and spin and punch and jump and tumble around the room mimicking the athletes on TV.
On the whole, I get incredibly inspired watching athletes on TV. Some of them come from such simple, humble places, and end up world stars. Granted, at this point in my life I’m not particularly seeking to become an Olympic athlete, I have still found myself looking up new workouts to try to get abs like a beach volleyball player, or do a yoga handstand (that’s gymnastics, right?). I even found myself back in a pool swimming laps for the first time since I took a stab at high school diving. Health magazines and websites are capitalizing on the inspiration to suddenly get lazy plush Americans fit. It’s great. It’s like New Years resolution gym-rushes all over again.
This last Sunday, I was making a mad dash to church. I was running late, and sporting a walk that would have rivaled any Olympic speed walker (yes, that is a real sport. See.) Arms swinging, gazed fixed, and so much hip swaying I would have made the Baptists blush. I got there just as the sermon was finishing up (yea, I know that’s really late, but at least I still went), and so I sat in the back (prime pew real estate! Better than the walk of shame to the front row.) I snapped back into reality and BAM. In front of me was a dark blue habit. Any tatooed bald guy in spikes and leather in a church wouldn’t make me bat an eye, but this nun definitely got my attention. Sadly, the first thing I thought of when my brain adjusted to the situation was, “I found Waldo!” (if only nuns wore red and white stripes and hipster glasses. Alas).
During the Passing of the Peace, I was starstruck. It was like I was meeting a celebrity. She smiled and shook my hand with a “Peace of the Lord be with you.” I stuttered back what I hope she understood as “Peace,” but it could have easily passed as a foreign tribal language, “P-p-b-d-p-t-ee-sss.” I know that communion happened next, 21 years in the Episcopal church has ingrained Sunday liturgy into my head, and while I should have been listening to the Breaking of the Bread, my mind was WAY off elsewhere. I started thinking about how cool it is to devote yourself to a monastic lifestyle. I thought about how neat doing the Daily Office with other people would be. Then I realized that I really can pray like that, and that I really should. I resolved that it is time to flex my prayer muscles better!
Usually, I count my time climbing as some of my daily prayers. When I’m up on a rock (or plastic, as would be the case at the Rec Center), I can clear my mind and find myself meditating on the existential themes. Lately, that hasn’t been the case. I’ve plateaued with my climbing and have been a little in the dumps when I go. This means less climbing with each trip, and so less prayer/meditating/thinking time.
Seeing this nun on Sunday inspired me though. I realized that I need to diversify my prayer life a little more, in the same way that I’ve tried changing up my workouts recently. I don’t always want to count on climbing as my prayer time because reading The Screwtape Letters has made me realize that too much of one thing can make you complacent. The happy God-connected feeling I get after climbing does not necessarily mean that I’ve deeply prayed.
So I’m going to better work out my prayer muscles. Just like I eat a lot of protein to build my physical muscles, I’m going to ravenously read scripture and some of the great writings of the saints. Like many Olympic athletes, we each come from humble prayer backgrounds, kind of weak and stuttering. Luckily, Jesus is like our own personal trainer, recognizing our talents and growing them in us, giving us the Lord’s Prayer as a starting block, as our 3 lb. weights to learn proper form. From there, we can gradually increase until we are stronger, with healthy hearts and souls. Like gymnasts on an off day, we may get off balance, not land correctly, trip and fall, but we’ll have the muscle to get back up and keep going.
I’m pumped, I’m motivated, I’m going to don a new habit (get it?) Let’s do this.
Let the games begin! Climb on!