Close to Home:
All that was missing to complete my metamorphosis into Jane Fonda was a pair of leg warmers, and coordination. Having been under the impression that most workout facilities had long since abandoned traditional step aerobics for salsa dancing, circuit training, and kickboxing, I was surprised to see that my local YMCA had chosen to stay faithful to its early ‘90s roots by offering a 9:00 am old school step aerobics class that included free babysitting.
Now I am the antithesis of adventuresome, a keep your seatbelt buckled and feet on the ground type of girl. The circumstances that justified my donning of spandex and willingness to make a complete fool out of myself were obviously dire indeed. I was sluggish, melancholy, out of shape, and claustrophobic due to an Indiana winter that is lasting way too long and the walls of my house shifting inward.
“Can I join your group?” I asked the perky instructor when she waltzed all smiles and waves through the doorway.
“Well, I’d be so disappointed if you didn’t!” She chirped breezily, looking past me to her regulars already stretching and chatting and uninterested in my presence. I was twenty years younger than all of them. “Grab your steps from the closet!” she yelled out, and so I did, placing mine down in the furthest back, least conspicuous corner. And then BOOM, BOOM, BOOM the music started pumping, we all began marching, our instructor reviewed the basics which I heard but couldn’t process, couldn’t mimic with any consistency if my life depended on it. When she mamboed, I straddled, when she singled, I doubled, when the whole class pivoted, I was mortified to see myself reflected in the mirror, up front and fully outed as a novice. The pressure to perform better made me worse of course, how predictable. “Oops!” called our instructor when I missed the step entirely and nearly fell to my knees on the floor, “Be careful!”
But here’s the thing, despite my clumsiness I had been moving nevertheless for close to an hour. Sweat was streaming down my face, muscles loosened, extended, and flexed; I had energy whereas earlier I was dragging. The most difficult part of all it was following through on my desire for better health, for crawling out of a fruitless rut, straightening a cyclical pattern one hopelessly awkward knee lift at a time. Grumbling, I’ve learned, can shelter me from the inconvenience of evaluating my life on a long-term scale, but when the novelty of self-pity begins to lose its sticky sweetness turning bitter as the months and years pass by, I start forgetting what contentment tastes like, feasting rather on mediocrity; I settle down with lethargy and malnourishment. But oh the possibilities if I exchange habitual laziness for determination.
Twelve years ago, I sat regularly on my backside with a list of spiritual grievances and a fine toothcomb. I picked apart the pastor’s sermon, turned my nose up at schmaltzy choruses, and ridiculed trite consumerism that profited off an oft-disturbing mix of Christ and culture. I was cynical, vain, and stalemated, heading nowhere in a hurry. And then a well-intentioned professor gave advice that got me thinking: “Don’t jump ship!” she urged me. “Stick around and do your best to help fix what you feel is broken.” I realized, then, so very clearly that it was I who was falling to pieces, it was my choices I’d eventually be held accountable for. The environment in which I found myself had provided me too much freedom to gorge frequently and heartily on my own self-righteousness. What I needed was a diet based primarily upon the premise that one’s spirit functions better on less talk and a lot more action. What I found in the Orthodox Church was a frighteningly mysterious, fad resistant, saint endorsed prescription that had the Christ empowered wherewithal to heal me.
At first I felt foolish, confused, and nervous about the movements I was positive I could never master. It was too different, too demanding of my pride, my intellect, my personal interpretations of Scripture, redemption, and eternity. There was incense and icons and priests and fasting, there were regulars - parishioners who took all this in stride. Then there was me - overwhelmed, sometimes in tears, but nevertheless becoming stretched, breaking through the hardened barriers I had built around Christianity with westernized bricks manufactured in the age of Reformation. BOOM, BOOM, BOOM, was the sound of my resistance being shattered with each Truth revealed within the context of the Traditions established at Pentecost, of not an off shoot, not one of a thousand denominations but of the original Church, protected from heresy by the Holy Spirit and the blood of Her martyrs.
I’m still fumbling like a novice but my instructor, my priest, is there to guide me. “Be careful,” he’ll say in confession when I’ve missed the mark. I keep my eyes on the “Great cloud of Witnesses” who have walked this path before me, whose example of steadfast devotion to self-denial and sacrificial cross-bearing is a gift to all of us who are weary and in need of the inspiration to stay focused on the prize of our salvation. This Church is like the mirror that made so obvious my many missteps, in Her reflection I see myself for what I am: a hollowed out vessel made of skin and flesh and bones, incapable of selflessness, or of love, or of wisdom, or of peace without Christ’s presence filling every square of inch of my being. The most difficult part of all of it is following through on your desire for something more than the grumbling, the trendiness and disenchantment. “But that’s crazy,” you argue, “I could never,” you protest, “or could I – oh, how do I proceed?” As a friend and fellow traveler, who was lost but found her Home, I urge you only my brothers and sisters to “Come and See.”
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