Free & Fit NYC - A Reflection by Tim Cheux - An Introduction to Sport & Spirituality
Introduction to Sport and Spirituality
The growth and emergence of Sport and Spirituality is attributed by some scholars to the Anglo-Saxon movement of “Muscular Christianity’ (Parry, J. Robinson, S. Watson, N.J. and Nesti, M. 2007). In order to engage with the history, culture and tradition of Sport and Spirituality we also have to consider the rise of female participation within Sport and Spirituality. At the London Olympic Games in 2012, 44.3% of the athletes were women (Adriaanse, J., & Schofield, T. (2014).
The rise of female sports participation, spiritual exercises and its links to spirituality through non-Christian faith practices including Yoga, Pilates also offer new and interesting developments of Sport and Christianity. Romans 12:1-2 explains this well.
“Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is your true and proper worship. 2 Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.’
Sport provides us with the ability to transform our minds and the Holy Spirit can discern and approve what is God’s will. Through Ignatius prayer we can discern God’s will as described by Father Timothy Gallagher of the Roman Catholic Church. The link between sport and spirituality grows through Spiritual Direction and Gallagher helps us to recognize the ability for an individual to use Ignatius prayer to meditate on the word of God. When we are participating in sport we are presenting our bodies as a living sacrifice in worship which is also later explored in new concepts of Sport and Spirituality.
Hebrews 12:1-2 informs us of a more traditional sport and the benefits of continuing to run the Christian race.
“Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, 2 fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. “
Running also enables us to get back on the road to a pathway and pursuit to Jesus Christ and ultimately eternal salvation. Today we will explore how together, independently and with God we can use Sport and Spirituality to honor the bodies we have received from our Almighty using the Word of God to proclaim the Kingdom of God.
What is Sport and Spirituality?
“One mile to go. You are turning right at Big Ben and into the last mile. How can you feel so good when the legs ache so much? But you do feel good. In fact you feel so good that you are getting a second and third wind. Feels like you are sprinting now- only pausing to encourage some of the guys who have slowed down to a walk. By the time you have reached Buckingham Palace all the old aches are back but it doesn’t matter anymore. It's like you have been released from your body. Its more than a runner’s high, it feels as though you are outside yourself, but at the same time truly yourself. All these things connect you with your Spirit, your real self.’
Jon Green, London Marathon, 2003. (Parry, J. Robinson, S. Watson, N.J. and Nesti, M. 2007).
Firstly, when we refer to Spirituality we are talking about Christian Spirituality. For the purposes of a definition for Spirituality we may refer to the traditional Church definition given as the “Practice of Worship, Devotion and Prayer which enables an awareness of the Holy Spirit (James, 1968).”
However, in the context of Sport, other denominations (Catholic), other faiths and new age spirituality Marlatt and Kristeller (2003) state that this type of meditation in the running context aims to create mindfulness, an awareness and centeredness. This can be perceived as a “runners high” where there is an experience through contemplation of transcendence and direct dialogue between the individual and God whilst running in the Lords creation.
Susan Saint Sing (2004) states that this is similar to the Greek concept of arête.’ This is a state of both Gods grace (the presence of the Holy Spirit) and Gods excellence (the Lords creation) (Parry, J. Robinson, S. Watson, N.J. and, M. 2007).
What is Muscular Christianity?
“In the playing field boys acquire virtues which no books can give them; not merely daring and endurance, but better still temper, self restraint, fairness, honor, unenvious approbation of another’s success, and all that “give and take” which stand a man in good stead when he goes forth into the world, and without which, indeed, his success is always maimed and partial.”
Kingsley, quoted in Haley 1978 (Parry, J. Robinson, S. Watson, N.J. and, M. 2007).
Playing sports during extra-curricular activities can create a space for teachers, students, faculty, parents and guardians to come together. The setting, the rules, the boundaries and the stakes are all equal. It’s a game, which everybody can play, yet the competition and the seriousness are not just about recreation. They are about rank, authority and bragging rights in the classroom.
Competition is real and the opportunity to get one over on your teacher or student perhaps is not very biblical. However, the fact that the rules are written, the blood is pumping, the endorphins are going and participants are building endurance means that it’s not just sweat and tears, but that virtues, values and variables all become equal. The need to be sportsmanlike is similar to the theme of the Olympic spirit which provides all people and all nations with the opportunity to represent who they are, where they come from and what they believe in without the restriction of reading, writing or arithmetic.
The rise of Muscular Christianity appeared during a time when weight lifting, “Musclemen” and Sports were perceived to be predominantly male. Yet the values, virtues and experiences gained through playing sport can benefit all participants when used well wisely and in the way God intended. Charles Kingsley sited that these values represented through sport could be learnt through play, not study, including endurance, temper, self restraint, fairness, daring and honor (Harvey, L. 2014 cited Parry, J. Robinson, S. Watson, N.J. and, M. 2007 ). The foundations of Muscular Christianity can be attributed to 1 Corinthians 6:19 which states”Do you not know that your bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God? You are not your own.”
The reality that we belong to God is not unknown, but the fact that we need to fight, remain vigilant and authentically pursue God may not be obvious.The battles of being a Christian in modern day society create various obstacles which contradict and seek to challenge our Christian faith.
“Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one gets the prize? Run in such a way as to get the prize. Everyone who competes in the games goes into strict training. They do it to get a crown that will not last, but we do it to get a crown that will last forever. Therefore I do not run like someone running aimlessly; I do not fight like a boxer beating the air, No, I strike a blow to my body and make it my slave so that after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified for the prize (1 Corinthians 9:24-25).
So by encouraging sports participation, instilling Christian values through sports and ensuring religious influence is within leadership sport can make a practical and real difference in education. However, competitive sport, physical based activity and some sports professional clubs and leagues can become idols, their own Gods and develop stronger relationships together. Sport and Spirituality, perhaps the more feminine sister of Muscular Christianity, can offer a more spiritual, less competitive and intimidating recreational activity to build community, relationship and fellowship.
Running with the Torch was truly an out of body experience, a spiritual type of experience. The torch was a very heavy three and one half pounds, and running with it should have been a challenge, but it felt like a feather in my hand. As I ran the kilometer over the infamous Mount in the Pelopnissos of Greece, I couldn’t help but ask, was my guardian angel helping me with the weight? Why was I so lucky to run with the torch? It brought to life exactly what the term Olympian means: harmony of body, mind and spirit.
Elizabeth Hanley, Olympic Torch Runner (Sing, S. S. 2004).
The Olympics create a platform for sports athletes of all nations, people, backgrounds and faiths can be represented in one arena. At the Olympic Games in 2012 Sports Chaplains were available for all athletes across different faiths including Christian, Muslim, Sikh, Buddhist, Jewish and other interfaith religions. It is in this arena that Muscular Christianity, Female participation and sporting spiritual influences and all forms of Christian Spirituality can co-exist. At the London Olympic Games in 2012, 44.3% of the athletes were female and female boxing, amongst other sports, were represented as female participation increases both at the Olympics and globally across sports as a whole (Adriaanse, J., & Schofield, T. (2014).
The relationship between Sport and Spirituality can also be hidden under the title of Sports Ministry which can enable neo-Muscular Christians to confuse both the theological, word of God and thus elevate Sport above its Christian heritage, values and virtues already identified by Kingsley within muscular Christianity (Parry, J. Robinson, S. Watson, N.J. and, M. 2007).The introduction of more contemplative and meditative spiritual practices in sports such as Yoga, Pilates, Zen and other spiritual exercises have increased the awareness, benefits and rhythm which we can slow down, not compete and still keep in shape! St Ignatius of Loyola begins the Christian conversation of practices through pilgrimage walks, spiritual retreats and practices which could be borrowed to increase, improve and benefit Christians whilst using sport to improve their spiritual relationship with God.
“In Ignatian meditation, our reflective capacity is our gateway into the word of God. If I meditate, for example, on the first Beatitude “blessed are the poor in Spirit, for theirs is the Kingdom of heaven (Matt 5:3).’ I may ponder why Jesus adds “in Spirit” to “poor,” and why Jesus says that this disposition gives entry into the kingdom of heaven. As I reflect on this scriptural text, I enter more deeply into its meaning, such that the word speaks to my heart and elicits into its meaning, such that the word speaks to my heart and elicits a response: “Jesus help me to be poor in Spirit. Give me a love for gospel simplicity of life.” Through my reflection on his word, God speaks that word to my heart, and my heart speaks to God.”
Taken from Timothy M. Gallaher’s “A Handbook for Spiritual Directors: An Ignatius Guide for accompanying discernment of God’s will.
The elevation of Sport above Gods word through muscular Christianity has created doubt in many Bible scholars’ minds as to the platform, motivation and reasoning behind Sports being used as an evangelical tool to spread the good news of Jesus Christ. Through Ignatius prayer, contemplation and the practice of stretching and working out it is possible to focus on the word of God whilst honoring our bodies, to benefit our spiritual focus, discipline and practice alongside an improved physical and mental well being whilst exercising.
Gallacher recognizes these gifts in the relationship between a Spiritual Director and Directee of using St Ignatius of Loyola’s prayers to inform, discern and educate the decision making process. Further research needs to be completed to examine if when playing sport, whilst using Ignatius Prayer, it is possible to grow closer to the Bible and improve spiritual practices and disciplines. In contemplative practices such as walking and hiking on pilgrimage, workout and worship and psalms, planks and prayers and other practices there is reason to question and seek to find answers if through independent Sport based Spiritual Direction and Prayer benefits can include a closer relationship with God and Scripture through Sport.
New Spiritual Practices
‘In general…it demonstrates a high degree of social and ecological awareness; it demonstrates a high degree of social and ecological awareness; it demonstrates a particularly useful attitude in understanding that life can be led as a reflective process of growth and transformation; and liberates spirituality from the confines of religious dogma and empowers direct personal experience.’
Perry 1992, p36 taken from Parry, J. Robinson, S. Watson, N.J. and, M. 2007.
Spirituality continues to change and challenge religious practices and it also creates opportunities to practice Sport as a spiritual exercise in the Christian practice of religion. It is possible through running marathons, hiking the mountains, walking pilgrimages, competitive sports, Yoga, Pilates and other contemplative and non-competitive practices that we can use exercise to gain access to God through
Sport and Spirituality.
The concept of incorporating Ignatius prayers into a Christian practice through the Song of Songs is another method. This fresh approach enables us to explore Anglo Catholic (High Church) and Pentecostal (Low Church) forms of Worship and Workout. In the books “Awakening Love: an Ignatius Retreat on the Song of Songs” by George Cleveland (2019) and the “Passion Translation commentary of the Song of Songs” by Brian Simmonds we can start to see if it possible to develop a practice of reading the Song of Songs, Stretching and Conditioning and meditating and reflecting on Scripture whilst in working out tune with charismatic or hymnal worship songs. This new practice of Sport and Spirituality creates opportunities for centering on the word of God, whilst improving physical, mental and social well being and benefiting from an increase of endorphins and through exercise, perspiration and a meditative, yet active, state one can workout and worship with God.
The benefit of Sport and Spirituality creates opportunities for any religion, individual or group to benefit from an improved physical, mental and social well being. The increasing desire to explore new ways to get closer to God is similar to that of a vastly changing and developing sports and spiritual industry. This changing climate also means that Christians can be open to explore new, yet perhaps traditional practices, to overcome obstacles such as decision making, lifestyle choices and reading the word of God.
Ignatius prayer and spiritual practices create new and exciting methods to practice sport and spirituality within Christianity. The author would like to use further research, sport and spirituality Christian retreats and more in depth studies to learn more about the subject. However, through what little research we do have Sport and Spirituality can work together as spiritual practices on a daily basis to improve, complement and fundamentally sustain a relationship with God through exercise, reading, meditating and reflecting on the word of God.
Love & Blessings
Tim & F&F team
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