A couple of Fridays ago, we finally got a break from the rain. After I finished what I had to do for work, I went for a bike ride. I took one of my favorite routes that has just enough in the way of hills to be a workout but that only takes about 90 minutes. It was a great ride and I felt very “pumped” as I pulled back into my driveway.
It occurred to me along the way that it might be an odd way to spend a Friday afternoon during Lent. It doesn’t seem very penitential, does it?
It’s easy to think that Lent is about self-denial. But I don’t think that’s quite it. In the same way that trimming back the excess branches of a tree reveals its true shape and beauty, the disciplines of Lent help peel away the layers of our false self.
For a good part of my life, I never gave much thought to my body. I was naturally slender, which meant I didn’t have to worry about what I ate. I didn’t think twice about working late or heading out to a bar after that. Like many people, I began to notice my body more as I aged. It was after my waist size had gone up two inches in two years that I took up cycling.
I think this sense of disconnection from our bodies has gotten worse in our culture. Our kids spend more time playing video games than playing outside. Many of us work in jobs that don’t require much more exertion than it takes to walk down the hall to the laser printer. The development of new technologies like web conferencing, social networking, virtual world, MMORPGs and the like means that we live more and more of our lives in a quasi-disembodied state.
For me, cycling is a way of reconnecting with my body. It is a joy to train and see that my body can pedal faster and longer. But my body also has limits. It tires, it gets injured, and it requires rest and care. To climb a long steep hill on a bike—to say nothing of the subsequent descent!—is to be reminded with every labored breath that you have a body and that you do not have life apart from it.
Christians do not believe in the “immortality of the soul.” We believe in the “resurrection of the dead,” persons who are body and soul and who are saved by God from death for no other reason than that He loves them. A prudential care for our bodies is a form of stewardship over the part of God’s creation that we know most intimately.
So perhaps it’s not a bad idea to add a little exercise to our Lenten observance!