Spiritual Fitness: This is the Time

We hear a lot about physical fitness in the media. People seem to recognize the importance of a regular workout. I try to run for 15 minutes every day because it gives me more energy. But there is another kind of “workout” that is far more important. Unfortunately, it gets no press. There is no “Biggest Losers” TV show about spiritual fitness. But there should be. Those who neglect their prayer life may very well be “the biggest losers.”

Spiritual fitness is a process of tuning into the silence of the heart in order to connect with God. It’s not easy. I read somewhere that cultivating an interior life is “rarified air.” That image makes me think of a room that has been closed up for so long, even the air feels stale. Our world is so noisy and demanding, even a drive to the store isn’t quiet. The phone buzzes. The children squabble. The road signs blaze with messages. Quiet. Where do you find that?!

But that step of finding some quiet time is only opening the door of the gym. It’s the very basic first step. Lots of people open the door, but seem to change their minds and shut it again!

The real “exercise” begins in the quiet of the heart. And part of that exercise is to try and keep quiet on the inside. The mind is so full of chatter.

And talking to God isn’t easy because we have ignored Him for so much of lives. We’ve forgotten how to even get started. God seems at first to be very reclusive…actually, we are the ones who have tried to hide from Him. So it seems hard to start. We look to old prayers and they seem dry.

But that’s OK because God wants “us.” Not the stuff we like to put between us and God. The prayer practice of St. Teresa of Avila appeals to me. She tells us to call to mind an image of the life of Christ. Jesus with the children. Jesus healing the blind man. Jesus in the Garden, sweating blood. Jesus meeting His mother on the road to Calvary. Jesus meeting His disciples who don’t recognize Him after the Resurrection.

After we call to mind an image, we can reflect on what it means for us. Why is it important? What does it teach us about Jesus? Why did He come to earth, leaving behind His heavenly glory? We must seem pretty lowly to Him…and yet He loves us. And His love is not a collective, generalized “yes I love all of you.” His love is personal. He loves me in all my unworthiness. Wow!

Then we can praise Him. Thank Him. Love Him. After that it is time to be quiet in His presence. He is near. He is here. Be with Him.

I asked my son to try this and told him to see the word “Jesus” if he couldn’t see an image of Jesus. Eventually, what he saw was a blue flame. A flame of love, burning away everything else.

I tend to come back to the image of Jesus in the Garden. Because He was human, He knew fear. He knew the pain and the heavy load of sins that He would carry. And for a moment He may have wondered if there wasn’t someone else who could do this. Couldn’t it happen a different way? He gave this question to the Father. And then the load was lifted. There was peace. He surrendered to the Father’s will.

Peace. That’s the gift of Spiritual Fitness. The load is lifted. The burden is light because we are doing God’s will and God is lifting us up.

So, here’s the pitch for this fitness program: On the one hand there is the inevitability of Hell if we neglect God…And on the other hand, there is the great gift of peace that comes when we pay attention to Him!

Open the door…and begin. He is near.

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