Sunday, December 28, 2008

Tilting into the New Year

Tomorrow morning, I will head up to Detroit for our tri-province formation gathering. I'll not return until Thursday, so this will be my last post until then.

We had last our night a gathering of Cleveland-area Jesuits and their families last night. Generously hosted by the John Carroll University community, it provided a great opportunity to catch up with other Jesuits and a moment to spend time with many men's "family of origin." I don't know why I like the phrase "family of origin" so well, but I have to say that meeting a Jesuit's "family of origin" puts the man into context: you get a sense of why a guy is the way he is when you've spent some time with those who've raised him.

As I mentioned the other day, I've decided to train for a marathon. In fact, the weather was so beautiful in Cleveland yesterday that it inspired me to try a 7-mile run which I was able to achieve in 1 hour and 3 minutes. That's 9-minute miles, which is not too shabby as far as I can tell. I still have 4 months to increase my distance and quicken my pace. To be truthful, it's still intimidating to me but, I trust, with patience and perseverance I'll make progress toward the 26.2 miles.

A friend asked me why I would want to train for any such thing. "Surely it is easier," he said, "to drive the 26.2 miles than to run it!" And, to be sure, he is right. Nevertheless, there are two main reasons that I have undertaken this challenge.

First, I'm doing it for me. I really have begun to enjoy running. Further, this seems like such a feat of endurance and diligence and I'm willing to embrace this challenge in order to push myself further.

Second, and more importantly, I'm doing it for my future students. No matter where I am teaching next year, I am bound to have students who are intimidated by physical activity and exercise. I was one of these kids who had convinced himself that he was too uncoordinated, too slow, too incompetent when it came to doing anything physical. And I can't help but think that if someone had reached out to me, if someone would have encouraged me in some way, that I would have tried to be more physically active. 

What's really funny, as I think about it here at Bruegger's Bagels, is that I was heavy for a relatively short period in my life: from the 5th grade to the middle of sophomore year...so just about 5.5 years. It is true that my weight fluctuated in college and even in my first months in the novitiate, but in general only about 1/6 of my life was spent heavy. And yet it is one of the most formative experiences of my life. For years now I have struggled with self-image, always wondering if I "looked fat" and avoiding tight-fitting clothes, preferring baggy sweaters and too-large shirts to conceal any fat or flab.

I mention this because I feel that a sensitivity I bring to teaching is an awareness of body image and the way that the way we see ourselves really does shape the way we live out our lives in the world. I have found that the more physically fit I have become, the more I have grown in confidence. Indeed, it is as though the integration of my spiritual, social, and physical life has made me more the type of person that I want to become, has made me more free to be sent on mission as a Companion of Jesus. 

As we enter into the new year, I should like to encourage my readers to assess how they are doing emotionally, spiritually, socially, and physically. I have known many Jesuits who exhort  spiritual health, while ignoring completely the role the importance of our bodies! But doesn't this seem to fly in the face of the Incarnation - the "Word made flesh" - which certainly seems to indicate the human body as a site of God's grace? In brief, I think we are too often tempted to a crypto gnosticism or duality that opposes the body to the spirit...and this, by the looks of our retirement communities, has led to the shortening of men's ministries and has made more difficult their final years. Weight-related issues such as diabetes, hypertension, and heart disease often plague older Jesuits (and older people in general) and I can't help but think that if they had been more diligent about their own health and wellness that many of these difficulties could have been avoided. 

So that's that. I hope all of you have had a glorious Christmas as that you await eagerly the advent of the New Year. I'll be back to blogging after January 1st, so please stay tuned!


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