I came across an article in the paper well before lockdown which got me thinking, and for obvious reasons, the person who is the focus of the article has appeared in several other articles much more recently.
He’s Sir Muir Gray : one of the UK’s leading medical figures (no I’d never heard of him either) – he’s a physician, an Oxford University professor, a public health expert and innovator and he’s 75 years old. He’s researched and written much about old age, fitness and what we could and should be doing in our latter stages of life. His view is although the aging process is something we’re all powerless to escape (Signs of aging start at around the age of 30!). His research suggests that an individual person’s rate of decline is hugely affected or aggravated by inactivity and a loss of fitness. He calls this the fitness gap and maintains that there are things that older people can and should do to make a significant difference to the narrowing of that gap.
Gray suggests that to narrow the fitness gap there are 4 s’s we should consider:
Stamina, strength, skill (balance) and suppleness.
It has stuck with me and it gave me food for thought. Not only about my level of physical fitness (definitely a work in progress) but could I apply some of this guidance to my spiritual health? To my faith community?
There are tensions and traps in pursuing this thinking –the trap of dualism – of seeing only some things as spiritual (prayer, bible reading etc etc) as opposed to seeing absolutely everything as permeated by God.
Then there’s the trap of ‘effort over ease’… I am wary of defaulting back to effort – to trying to earn God’s love, God’s favour through what I do. (e.g. ‘I’m a ‘good’ Christian today because I’ve done x, y and z….) It’s taken me a long long time to unlearn that toxic theology.
But I’m equally wary of becoming flabby….so laid back in my faith I’m horizontal….that the blurring of lines result in a blurring of vision.
So the following is some food for thought – a hanging on to Sir Gray’s advice as a way of reflection and prayer. The words in bold are from quotations from Sir Gray – if nothing else – you might want to consider his advice.
Stamina : Stamina is best assessed when someone is under a bit of pressure and has to keep going. You need to get a little bit breathless
“So we’re not giving up. How could we! Even though on the outside it often looks like things are falling apart on us, on the inside, where God is making new life, not a day goes by without his unfolding grace” 2Corinthians 4:8
When have you known God’s unfolding grace when under pressure?
Getting a little bit breathless: Pay attention. Take time. Demonstrate reverence.
“I think it pisses God off if you walk by the colour purple in a field somewhere and don’t notice it.” (Alice Walker: The Colour Purple)
Skill: The most important skill to maintain and improve is the ability to keep upright.
“Jumping out of the boat, Peter walked on the water to Jesus. But when he looked down at the waves churning beneath his feet, he lost his nerve and started to sink. He cried, “Master, save me!” Jesus didn’t hesitate. He reached down and grabbed his hand.” Matthew 14
What things, situations and people cause me to ‘lose my balance’ or perspective?
“We take our lead from Christ, who is the source of everything we do. He keeps us in step with each other. His very breath and blood flow through us, nourishing us so that we will grow up healthy in God, robust in love.” Ephesians 4
Give thanks for people who support you to keep balance, perspective and stability.
Suppleness: “Suppleness is probably the most under-valued part of fitness and the aspect that is most important as we age. As people lose suppleness they become stiffer and the usual reason for this is that what are called the connecting tissues become less elastic.”
“Recently I was in the town of Joppa praying. I fell into a trance and saw a vision: Something like a huge blanket, lowered by ropes at its four corners, came down out of heaven and settled on the ground in front of me. Milling around on the blanket were farm animals, wild animals, reptiles, birds—you name it, it was there. Fascinated, I took it all in. “Then I heard a voice: ‘Go to it, Peter—kill and eat.’ I said, ‘Oh, no, Master. I’ve never so much as tasted food that wasn’t kosher.’ The voice spoke again: ‘If God says it’s okay, it’s okay.’ This happened three times, and then the blanket was pulled back up into the sky.
If I had the same experience as Peter – what would my response be?
How might I be flexible, be open, be willing to stretch myself?
And how do we strengthen the connecting tissues between us in our faith communities that keep us flexible?
And if you’re wondering where the 4th s went – strength, we used that as a reminder of ‘weight bearing’ – so we prayed for those we know and love who are going through hard times and who need us to bear them up in prayer.
Finally, Galatians 5 seems to provide the perfect summary of all of this pondering:
But what happens when we live God’s way?
He brings gifts into our lives, much the same way that fruit appears in an orchard—
things like :
affection for others,
exuberance about life,
We develop a willingness to stick with things,
a sense of compassion in the heart,
and a conviction that a basic holiness permeates things and people.
We find ourselves involved in loyal commitments,
not needing to force our way in life,
able to marshal and direct our energies wisely :