Tuesday, May 29, 2012

What is Spiritual Fitness?

Catholicism has not necessarily transformed my life as much as it has guided me and formed me into the man I am today and aspire to be tomorrow, spiritually.   CrossFit is in the process of guiding me and forming me into the man I aspire to be tomorrow, physically (I have only been involved in it for four months)  What is CrossFit?  It is a strength and conditioning program built on constantly varied, functional movements done at high intensity. It's not about losing pounds or inches.  It's not about being just healthy.  It's about being "fit."

What is fitness?  If you ask five different people you'd probably get five different answers.   In October, 2002, Coach Greg Glassman, founder of CrossFit, posted an article in the CrossFit journal in which he tries to answer that question, "What is Fitness."   Coach Glassman writes in 100 words the guide to world class fitness.  Simply:

  • Eat meat and vegetables, nuts and seeds, some fruit, little starch and no sugar. Keep intake to levels that will support exercise but not body fat. 
  • Practice and train major lifts: Deadlift, clean, squat, presses, C&J, and snatch. Similarly, master the basics of gymnastics: pull-ups, dips, rope climb, push-ups, sit-ups, presses to handstand, pirouettes, flips, splits, and holds. Bike, run, swim, row, etc, hard and fast. 
  • Five or six days per week mix these elements in as many combinations and patterns as creativity will allow. Routine is the enemy. Keep workouts short and intense. 
  • Regularly learn and play new sports.
To say that I've bought into the CrossFit program would be an understatement.  For the first time in my life, I love to go work out.  In four months, I've lost twenty pounds.   It's become a family event.  My wife and kids have been going to the police academy (KCPD CrossFit--a non-profit CrossFit affiliate) and been working out with me.  It's been great, but just like you cannot focus on one thing too much in CrossFit, you also cannot focus simply on your physical being.  You have to focus on your spiritual side too.   This brought me to the thought, "what is spiritual fitness" and the comparisons to Coach Glassman's article came to mind.

The first comparison was in CrossFit's first fitness standard.  Coach recognizes ten general physical skills:  cardiovascular/respiratory endurance, stamina, strength, flexibility, power, coordination, agility, balance and accuracy.  Coach states that, "a regimen develops fitness to the extent that it improves each of these ten skills.

In Catholicism, we believe that we are each given each of the seven gifts of the Holy Spirit: wisdom,  understanding, counsel, fortitude, knowledge, piety and fear of the lord.   Just like the ten general physical skills, we should always try to develop these seven gifts.

How do we do this?  In CrossFit, the ten physical skills are developed by playing sports, weightlifting, gymnastics, metabolic conditioning and nutrition.   There are portions of the spiritual life that compare to each of these physical areas of development.

Sports is "the applications of fitness in a fantastic atmosphere of competition and mastery" and can be compared to "living the Christian life."  St Francis of Assisi has been attributed with the quote, "Preach the gospel always.  If necessary, use words."   We are supposed to LIVE the gospel, not just talk about it.

Weightlifting can be compared to study, whether it is theological study or Bible study.   Whenever I've tried to read or learn about God, I have felt like I've done some heavy lifting.  Sometimes it is because what I've learned is "heavy" or mind blowing and other times it's because my brain hurts as if I have a stack of 45 pound plates on it.

I compare gymnastics to the interior life--or the prayer life.  That's because I see these gymnasts doing things  like flips, hand stands, or feats of skill on the rings or parallette bars and it blows my mind.   I want so badly to be able to do that and I believe, that some how, I could---but not anytime soon.  In the same way, I see these people with great prayer lives who act as if God is their best friend.  I want to be like that too.  I so badly to be able to break into conversation with God as easily as my best friend---but I don't see it happening anytime soon and not without a lot of practice.

In the physical fitness world, cardiovascular activity is looked upon as the one thing that you need.  Often, it's looked upon as the only thing needed in order to "get fit."  In the spiritual world, it seems like some believe that "social justice" is all they need to do to get closer to God.  Social Justice is very important.  We are called upon to feed the hungry, care for the sick, visit them imprisoned and to bury the dead.   But, it seems to me like many people think that all they need to do is to be "good people."   They may do something in the social justice arena but then live an immoral life.

Finally, one of the most important things we need to be fit is nutrition.  You can work out seven days a week but if you eat a #3 extra value meal from McDonald's daily or if your diet is filled with pizza and ice cream then you are not going to see the progress you hope for.  You need a healthy balanced diet.  Like wise, in Catholicism, what we eat is very important.   Jesus gave us the Eucharist--his body, blood, soul and divinity under the appearance of bread and wine in order that we may be nourished and fed.    Being able to attend mass, the source and summit of our faith, every Sunday is the most important thing we can do every week.   Without the Eucharist things are much made much more difficult.

A Christian may expect to make some progress in the spiritual life if he only concentrates on one of these items just as a runner may expect to make gains in endurance and stamina.  But, they will only grow weaker in other areas just as that runner won't become strong and powerful.  It's like a puzzle.  We need all of the pieces--the Eucharist, social justice, interior life, study and living the Christian life if we expect to succeed.

1 comment:

  1. Great post, Jamie. I need to work on both my spiritual and physical fitness...it always feels like there's so much work to be done. Thanks for the reminder.