Body and Spirit

It’s my day off–from exercise, that is.  Of course, that means that I had most of the evening to relax, instead of running or biking.  I spent the time in my easy chair.  Sleeping, mostly.  She was there, but beyond a word or two, we hardly spoke all evening.  Before that, we made a trip to and from a nearby town in the car, nearly sixty miles in all.  We didn’t talk much then either.

Both the quiet trip and the day of rest for my battered body were a little slice of heaven.  Perhaps, we shouldn’t tell her that I enjoyed the silence.  Let’s just say that the time off was wonderful and leave it at that.

No.  I don’t think I can.  Leave it at that, I mean.  You see,  I’m remembering the old pastor who married the Lovely Lady and me, nearly thirty-five years ago.  He told a story that has always stuck with me.  I wish he hadn’t.

“I was in a restaurant the other day,” he smiled as he remembered it.  “I love to watch people.  Without knowing them, I can tell a lot about them.  It was on a Friday–date night.  Every table in the place was full and it was noisy.  Young people, everywhere you looked; all of them talking back and forth to each other.”

As he warmed to the subject, he moved his fingers on both hands, making the motions of mouths opening and closing.

Then, more somber, he continued, “At this one table though, I saw a couple.  They had been married a long time.”  Looking quizzically over the front of the pulpit at us, he asked, “How do I know they were an old married couple?  Why, because they weren’t talking at all!  They just sat there and ate their food, only speaking to their waitress or asking for the salt or ketchup.  There was no doubt they were married!”

The old saint meant the story to be a cautionary tale to the recently wed couples in his congregation.  And, for many years, I took it in the spirit in which he offered it.  If you had a relationship that was healthy, you talked with your spouse.  So, knowing my task, I endeavored to fill every silence with words.  Any time the Lovely Lady and I were together, especially in public, I talked.  Every action in the day was grist for the mill, every little detail had to be discussed at length.  I never ran out of material, talking almost non-stop.

Can I tell you a secret?  The idea that old married couples don’t talk because there is a rift in their relationship is mostly hogwash.  I’m not telling you that communication isn’t important.  It is.  What I am saying is that as we grow to know and love each other, there is no longer any need to fill up the spaces between us with empty chatter and drivel.

The comfortable silences in our life are not evidence of distance between us, but just the opposite.  When we are secure in our connection to each other, the peripheral trappings of words and banter often simply muddy the waters. Indeed, silence often, is golden.

The quiet evening was aided in its success by my weekly day of laying off the physical exercise.  In my quest for a healthy lifestyle, I run, walk, or bike almost everyday.  Although I don’t admit it often, I tend to be fairly competitive. Because of this, I push myself to go faster and further almost on a daily basis.  I know that this type of attitude carries with it some risks, especially to this closer-to-sixty-than-fifty year-old man.

When we exercise heavily, we actually are not building muscle, but tearing it down.  The exercise itself causes trauma to the old tissue, which triggers the body to develop more muscle, almost as a way of protecting itself.  The problem is that, when I push myself everyday, I don’t give my body time to rebuild and replenish what has been torn down.  Believe me, the aches and pains after a full week of daily hour-long exercise sessions tell me that I need some rest.

So, I take at least one day off every week.  It feels good.  The physical activity, the sweat pouring into my face, the heart pounding at elevated rates–all are left behind for a day.  My sabbath rest.

Hmmm–Did I just use that word?   Perhaps, it would be best to hurry past, with just a nod to the concept of resting one day out of seven, which is indeed, the most literal translation of the word we know.  I don’t use it here for any other purpose, but the thought of a time of coming aside and recovering from the busyness and fatigue applies in a much broader sense as well.

Perhaps, I do use it for another purpose.  I spoke earlier of resting from constant communication, of sitting quietly and just being together.  If one insists, it could mean that spiritually, couldn’t it?

I like it.  A time of rest for the body; a time of healing, of growth, even in repose.  A time of relaxation for the spirit; a period of building relationships and growing closer, even in the silence.

It goes against everything we are told by this frantic world in which we live.  Work!  Achieve!  Be heard!  Be seen!  Small wonder that we burn out.  It stands to reason that we are damaged and worn.

I like the words which the Teacher spoke to his followers at the end of one of His (and their) frantic periods, “Come with me to a quiet place,” He said, “and get some rest.”

I’m thinking it is good advice, even today.

Be still.

“You’ve got to quit, just one day a week and watch what God is doing when you’re not doing anything.”
(Eugene H Peterson ~American pastor/author)

“Come ye yourselves apart and rest awhile,
Weary, I know it, of the press and throng;
Wipe from your brow the sweat and dust of toil,
And in my quiet strength again be strong.”
(Edward Henry Bickersteth ~ Bishop in the Church of England ~ 1825-1906)

© Paul Phillips. He’s Taken Leave. 2013. All Rights Reserved.

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