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Where sport and prayer play together

From the May 30, 2011 issue of the Christian Science Sentinel

How does one discern the difference between wasting time and enjoying life’s joys? 

Some of us may have been cautioned about spending too much time seeking entertainment—reading novels, playing video/computer games, surfing the Web, watching TV. Then there’s preoccupation with exercise, or working too long at our professional jobs. 

In order to forward our spiritual growth, and stay ready to help others and heal, should we read or get involved only in things that are spiritually helpful? How do we know if we’re making the right choices?

Someone once told me that she used to think that prayerfully sitting and reading was more spiritually minded than getting out and exercising or playing sports, but that she’s beginning to rethink that. 

This friend came to the conclusion that she was provided with a body for some reason, and that it must include the ability to be active. So she’s exploring ideas on what right activity means. We may all take a hint from what Mary Baker Eddy wrote in The First Church of Christ, Scientist, and Miscellany: “The natural fruits of Christian Science Mind-healing are harmony, brotherly love, spiritual growth and activity” (p. 213)

Activity as a natural fruit of spiritual thinking is great, but can it be over-done? 

At one point in my life, I used to skydive nearly daily, certainly every weekend during both summer and winter. After a while I began to realize that I was a pretty good skydiver, but my spiritual progress was slow. Was this really what I wanted? No! (More about this later.)

At another time in my life, I used to hike many miles, every day. I felt personally obligated to do this for exercise, for health, for freedom, and to escape my house for a few hours a day, because I worked and lived at home alone. After an extended time of these daily hikes, I began to have trouble with my feet. Every step hurt, but still I kept hiking daily, rain or shine, until I could hardly walk at all without extreme pain. Then I realized that I needed to start praying about what felt like an “addiction” to hiking. 

Daily I began to consider my motives for hiking—to pray to align my motives more with divine Mind’s consciousness of right activity. I thought about the spiritual qualities that hiking represented for me, qualities like direction, progress, peace, beauty, dominion, and joy. I knew it was right for me to be able to painlessly express and be inspired by these qualities. My motives for hiking naturally changed to being far more God-centric. Hiking became a way for me to express my God-given dominion, to feel divine Life’s exhilaration and action, to walk with Love, to see creation unfolding in the beauty around me, and to demonstrate spiritual progress. Through this prayer I realized that God was my life, my health, and my constant companion. I didn’t need to go anywhere to have health, joy, and peace. 

My love of hiking has continued, and I still go hiking often; but prayer led me to a balance where now God, family, and friends come first. Also, now I never feel a sense of loss if something else comes up that interferes with my ability to put on my boots and hit the trails. I really feel genuinely free now, and know my spiritual growth has climbed to new heights.

Regarding participating in any activity, I’ve found that it is important to consider the motive. In Science and Health, we read, “We should examine ourselves and learn what is the affection and purpose of the heart, for in this way only can we learn what we honestly are ” (p. 8). If I’m hiking, backpacking, kayaking, skydiving, gardening, or whatever else I may be doing, I ask myself if I’m doing it to express God’s qualities more expansively (qualities such as joy, dominion, strength, life, peace, coordination, etc.), or if I’m merely doing it to “get” something for myself (better health, an escape, etc.). If I’m demonstrating to myself and others more peace, joy, and power by an activity or because of an activity, then it’s a great thing to be doing, but if not, well, maybe I should reconsider my participation.

While I’m engaged in an activity, I find it helpful to ask myself, “Where is my thought?” Sometimes gardening, kayaking, or hiking can provide a time for deep contemplation, prayer, appreciation of growth, and wonderment at God’s great love for His children. Unfortunately, sometimes this time is used for mentally rehashing conversations long past, replaying events I may wish I could change, or planning what I will say to someone in a future conversation. If I find myself in a spiritual train of thought, then I rejoice and continue my activity. If I find myself aboard a mortal thought-train, I try to get back on the spiritual tracks. If this rerouting into heavenly thought doesn’t happen right away, then I stop whatever I’m doing and do something uplifting. This could be study with our Pastor, the Bible and Science and Health, reading some Christian Science literature, or doing some fully dedicated quiet prayer that brings thought back in line with Truth.

I ask myself, “Am I feeling God’s protection, exhilaration, and a zeal for good while I’m doing this right now?”

For me, skydiving generally demands my full attention and thought to do it safely, but when I skydive, I still ask myself, “Am I feeling God’s protection, exhilaration, and a zeal for good while I’m doing this right now, or am I just here because my friends are here?” If it’s the first reason, then I continue to skydive in the arms of Love and appreciate every moment. If my motive is more aligned with the second reason, I stop jumping for the day and leave the airport.

You may have heard the saying, “If you’re not having fun, you’re not practicing Christian Science.” I do my very best to always practice Christian Science, regardless of what I’m
 doing. Christian Science is certainly a way of thinking and not a list of approved or disapproved activities. We can all be better “porters” at thought’s door—always! (see Science and Health, p. 392). A verse Mrs. Eddy wrote to children applies to each of us, regardless of what we strive to do: “In the way Thou hast,— / Be it slow or fast, / Up to Thee” (Miscellaneous Writings 1883–1896, p. 400). 

I still skydive, but choose to go only a few times a summer now. I also hike, backpack, kayak, and read, but I keep watch on my thought. I try to evaluate my activities by taking into consideration a sentence in Miscellaneous Writings: “And pleasure is no crime except when it strengthens the influence of bad inclinations or lessens the activities of virtue” (p. 362)

Sue Holzberlein is a Christian Science practitioner in Ashby, Massachusetts.

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