BY FATHER JOHN FRAUENFELDER
A group of friends had been discussing the times they prayed - in church, before meals, on the eve of surgery. Some people, it was noted, pray before they play bingo or buy a Lotto ticket.
It was then that Sister Karen posed an interesting question, “What about praying when we exercise?”
And she went on to say that many people find that praying during exercise is the perfect place to meditate, contemplate and clear their minds.
Scripture speaks of both physical and spiritual exercise, for example, ‘Train yourself for devotion, for, while physical training is of limited value, devotion is valuable in every respect, since it holds a promise of life both for the present and for the future’(1 Timothy 4:7-8).
I wonder, then, why we can’t do both when the ideal is to pray always.
I began to think, yes, Sister Karen’s right – prayer and exercise are a perfect fit. As Christians we want to be good stewards of creation and our bodies are a major part of that. When we exercise or work out for our physical health, our spirituality can be woven into any routine.
Exercise brings a repetition and rhythm that are a perfect complement for prayer.
My friend Sister Sharon breathes in and out using the “Jesus Prayer.” She inhales deeply to “Lord Jesus Christ, son of the Living God,” and exhales praying, “have mercy on me, a sinner.” She uses it when she walks, and says it can be shortened to a simple, “Jesus ,mercy.”
There are many people who work out on treadmills or weight machines, and pray a simple sentence like “Bless me, God, and all my friends.” Some even use the Taize refrain, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your Kingdom,” as they do their daily morning stretches – they might even be making a subliminal connection to Good Friday, which is associated with this hymn! Some, I ‘m told, run or power walk, praying short mantras like “Jesus, heal me!”
Christians have always been reminded to keep their bodies in good order, for they are temples of the Holy Spirit (1 Corinthians 6:19). Exercise can bring many physical and psychological benefits. “When we add a layer of prayer, we can benefit spiritually,” says Sister Karen. “Exercising is just as important as taking our medication and seeing our doctor.” It is a healthy call to be faithful stewards. Praying during our workouts can be a powerful blend of motor and faith skills.
Then Sister Karen commented, I chuckle at what the philosopher Michel Montaigne noted, “To strengthen the mind, you must harden the muscles.” It seems to go with Scripture, “Pray without ceasing” (1 Thessalonians 5:17).