By Cathy Luchetti
Nearly everyone has taken yoga in some form or another. The local YWCA—historically the Young Women’s Christian Association, offers yoga as well as Tai Chi and other meditative exercises. The idea is to focus, to center, to stay in the moment. Everyone wants such targeted calm, prompted and enforced by austere exercise regimens. You can experience muscle burn as well as zeal burn. Two for one while pursuing a journey into Now.
Exercise has its own supplication, in which the body reflects upon its shortcomings, resolves to do better, and has a fresh start. That means penance, followed by redemption via some workout machine or another, from weights to a treadmill. But, just like life, by the next day, its Sisyphian course repeats itself all over again. I ate the tiramisu. I did. I am here to pay for it.
So I wonder, as I watch the bodies in the yoga room stretch high and wide, like graceful lilies shooting up in a garden, if I can’t find the same degree of prayerful commitment at the gym, only Christian style.
I start with the day’s most tedious, boring routine, the StairMaster. I hate its dull sameness, mind numbing repetition, and sweaty inevitability as the routine inches through its medieval path toward the heaven of cardio.
Around me, other stairfolk thumb through magazines, memorize conjugations, or read tv captions. Headphones clamped tight, eyes stare over the traffic on Oakland’s downtown streets. Anything to relieve the hellish dictates of the equipment.
But what if….what if...boredom can be used to some better end? I think of the Catholic rosary, its litany in constant repeat. I think of the Jesus Prayer, which my Greek Orthodox husband sometimes cites. Taken from the Prayer of the Heart, from the Eastern Orthodox Philokalia, the words are repeated over and over. Too repetitive, I tell him archly, citing Matthew 6:7, “When you pray, use not vain repetitions as the heathen do…”
My newly-minted Protestant side demands a more personal, more compelling interaction. So I begin to pray. The machine whirrs away and so do I, and somehow, the 20 minutes seem to fly by.
The next day, I’m looking forward to the machine—but just slightly. I remember the story of a frontier missionary who was asked by a Native American , “Who is your God?” She told him to go out into the field with his horses and sincerely ask in his heart who God is and how to find him. A month later, he came to her and said, “I still don’t know who God is but I am out in the field all the time now.”
Every day I’m more eager to return to my “field,” the machinery of the gym. Penance has turned to prayer under the aegis of the Christian dojo, the PrayerMaster. ©