I began my day with a 30-minute swim. A time when I lose sense of time and even space, except for the tiled lines of my lane. The gym complex is near, although its nearness doesn’t make getting there much easier. Now that I am retired inertia can prevent me from lots of obligations, including Sunday worship.
Faithfulness was a prized church behavior in the “old” days. Remember the gold pin we won for perfect attendance? I had several of those. Because of this obligation in our home, Dad turned up the temperature on the hot water heater every Saturday night so that all five of us could take a bath. (Baths, only once a week!) We’d polish our Sunday shoes, help to wash and vacuum the family car, then all drive together, sometimes picking up Mrs. Duchine on our way. Not all women then had learned to drive. As near as we lived to the center of town where the church was, we could easily walk. And Mom and I often walked to town to shop.
When I was ordained a Baptist pastor in 2000, Rev. C. Elroy Shikles, the minister who baptized me at eight, commented, “My, how many sermons you’ve heard!” I still remember some. I remember when he used my Howdy-Doody marionette to illustrate to us children that God does not operate us with strings from heaven. And he’s the one who taught me with a collection of various-sized sieves how to screen what I say to others: only what is true, kind, and necessary. I learned early that I made my own choices and was responsible for them.
Today twice-weekly swims keep me flexible. And the rhythmic strokes and breathing are calming. Weekly worship engenders less tangible results. But its very familiarity and repetition are like rest to a hummingbird. It isn’t my brain that worships. It’s my heart. When I keep my attention focused, I transcend time and space into another dimension. My breathing slows; my heart fills.
In the midst of song and silence something in me lets go. I remember I am not alone. I rejoice in the reminders of God’s faithfulness even in the midst of trial and loss. I lean into the everlasting arms and relax, remembering the examples of the many disciples I have known who have traveled ahead of me.
I miss those gifts when I skip church for the NY Times, which does not nurture me anywhere near the love that will never let me go. But the silence of the pool during my swim gives me similar time to reach and stroke, aware from shoulder to toe, moving in ways I cannot accomplish in gravity. I let myself down into the water trusting its buoyance in much the same way I let go into the silence of prayer.
Even though I have to make myself get out of the house, I am glad I have done it. I feel rested, refreshed, in the center of my real reality. The news that strikes fear in my heart during the week has somehow found a context. Less harried, less worried, I breathe deeper, and feel confidence I can’t always create for myself. It’s a dimension just a breath away.