I wonder if the people who drive by my house think I am crazy. I am out on the front porch with my exercise band, stretching it, lifting it, pulling, twisting, raising, lowering. Sometimes I sing “Spirit of the living God” out loud; sometimes I just hum it to myself. It probably just looks like exercising on the front porch to them. They have no idea its prayer. That would be even crazier, right?
So, today I am trying to imagine what they see when they see me, the exercise-er. And it gets me thinking about the me they don’t see…the pray-er.
One of the reasons I love the exercise bands, especially using them with one body part holding and the other body part pulling, is the continuous loop they make. When I hold it in both hands, the “line of pull” is hand to hand but the shape of the motion – to me – is a loop. A continuous communication. First, from brain to hand about the force to be used and the rate of speed of the pull and the exact muscles and in what order they are to be recruited. Then, the hand responds with where it is in space and how fast it is moving. This is happening nearly instantaneously. And so important, so the brain knows where the body will be when it sends its next instruction. So the relay connection is uninterrupted.
It’s like the quarterback and the wide receiver. The QB calls the play and the receiver runs the route, but the QB doesn’t throw the ball to where the receiver is. If he did, by the time it got to him, he would be long gone. No, the QB must gauge how fast the receiver is running and on what trajectory and then throw the ball to where the receiver will be.
And when they connect, it’s a thing of beauty. When they do it again and again, QB and WR seem to have a second sense with each other. But this is the stuff of many, many practices and many, many plays. It requires incredible accuracy and athleticism for execution. And trust. (This has me wondering how many lead passes I am missing while I am waiting for God to hand it off to me so I can run with it. But that is the fodder for another blog post!)
So the relay of movement, your body does this perfectly, constantly. We move with flow and grace. Not jerkily like a robot but smoothly, without interruption. This give and take. This send and receive. This speak and respond. Even the greatest of athletes cannot reproduce this with a teammate, but inside us, this plays out.
And so, as I move my exercise band, I imagine this looping. In fact, my mind draws continuous loops, circles of movement. Okay – I just saw the Star Trek movie yesterday, coils of transporter beam – coils around my movement as I move through the prayer. (visual artists, a good drawing would be welcome here…)A column of coils, wraps me upward. A crown of round flips onto and over my head. A coil behind my shoulders is pulled, pulled outward to a plank, whose endpoints are hand holds in the palm of each hand. Wings of coil move from out to in to over my head, removing my crown, tipping it forward and down. A waterfall wave bends and falls before my eyes and down to my waist. Resting the band down at my thighs, I pull it taut and backwards, engaging the backs of my arms and my shoulders. A coil like a sash criss-crosses me, hands to waist to shoulders and scapulae. The circle of motion encloses me.
Somehow, what began as exercise has become prayer. Christian prayer.
Here is the video again. If you try it, please share your experience.
No one really wants to be stretched. Especially, not when it goes beyond what feels comfortable. There’s a certain out of control feeling when someone is pulling me and I don’t have any say-so in the how-far-they-go-until-they-stop. If you have ever suffered an injury or undergone surgery and then rehabbed in physical therapy, you know what I’m describing. Pain of a healing sort.
But once you get your range of motion back, you get to start on the strengthening. There are lots of ways to do this. Machines. Dumbbells. Steps. But when you’ve served your sentence you get sent home, often with a lovely parting gift. A resistance band. This band is meant to be your home exercise companion. And it comes with a wonderful secret:
When you stretch it, it strengthens you. A kind of reverse mentality. A give and take sort of relationship, gentle, safe and responsive. It pulls back on you with the force you apply.
Recently, I have been engaged by the folks at Upper Room ministries to address the relationship between body and soul, a connection I find inseparable. I’m a bit unusual in this realm. Religious folk tend to start with the soul and add the body. I tend to start with body and somehow the soul always speaks up for me. I thought the resistance band would be an easy way to make this connection.
So, I designed a simple prayer routine using the band and the words to the praise song, Spirit of the Living God. My daughter Stephanie’s lovely voice accompanies me.
My movement is prayer. The words are prayer. The music is prayer. But it gets better. At the end of this prayer/exercise routine, as the music ended and I rested the band down, I discovered the most amazing thing. I could feel the muscles that had moved the band. The effort, the stretch, the exertion of prayer was still with me. I literally could feel the prayer.
Of course, I had to try it again. Now I was aware of the energy, the symbiosis, the connection of stretch and strengthen, relax and feel stronger. It became fluid, flowing, moving. One motion into the next. Body and soul, together. Who in the world would think of something so simple? I think I know.
My thanks to the folks at the Upper Room for honoring my idea (and unusual approach) and inviting me to join them at SOULfeast 2013.