Monday, June 30, 2014

Of Merton and Mileage....

Ron Rolheiser states, "We have in us spirit, soul, and what we do with that soul is our spirituality." His words remind me that my spirituality is something I shape and others mold. It is an unfolding reality; it is the deepest part of who I am.

The course I teach, Sports and Spirituality aims to help students understand their spirituality and develop one that is life-giving. According to Rolheiser, one way to do this is to name and reflect on "what feeds your soul?" It's an important and fun question to think about. Where do I find spiritual nourishment? What gives me joy? What challenges me in a way that leads to growth? 

And a good way to get some answers is to consider the opposite. What sucks your soul? What leaves you feeling empty? "Harry Potter and the Prince of Azakaban" provides as interesting mechanism for this concept which my students are quite familiar with: the Dementor. 

"Dementors are hooded dark arts creatures who used to follow Voldemort. They were the guards for Azkaban who have recently been released. They have the ability to suck all good thoughts out of those around them. Their kiss is a fate worst than death as it will steal your soul." According to Rolheiser and to J.K. Rowling, losing one's soul is a fate worse than death. My students agree.

And so I ask them to name three things that feed their soul and three things that suck their soul. I encourage them to be practical and to identify these matters with perspective. Although homework make "suck one's soul," it's also a gift to receive an education. They get it (First World Problems is a great resource for these). Soul nourishment often comes by way of music, friendship, service, and laughter. Sucking one's soul is in gossip, a job loss, betrayal, conflict or doubt. 

Summer fog sucks my soul. When I reveal this truth, my students give me an incredulous look. "What are you doing here?!" they query. Our school, located in the Sunset district in San Francisco is known for foggy days and nights that stay for days or weeks at a time. An old joke among those who know and love this western neighborhood is that "the sun set and forgot to rise again." When it's sunny, it's a glorious place. But most days of the year, we are lucky if we can see the beach just 10 blocks west of campus. 

This is a typical day in July. Probably a high of 57 degrees? Judah Street.

To combat the soul sucking, I make an effort to literally and metaphorically "get out of the fog." I visit my parents in the East Bay. I feel very fortunate that a sport I love—golf—invites me to play in sunny locales all over the Bay Area. Just a little bit of sun lifts my spirits and allows me to give more to others. Self-knowledge in this capacity works wonders. Soul sucking be gone.

The only wrench in my equation is that fog can also be a gift. I am never more aware of this than when I return from a trip on the East Coast where my beloved humidity prevents me from running outdoors.
Day 7 (without washing hair) at CPMC hospital, June 2010. Showing my battle scar.

In 2010, I was diagnosed with a heart condition known as ARVD. This means that I should not get my heart rate above 150 beats/minute. To do so, can advance my disease and more practically speaking, it puts me at risk for my defibrillator administering therapy.  Yes, I want to stay heart healthy. Yes, I love running. Yes, heat, humidity and mileage is a dangerous cocktail I should not drink. Does it suck my soul? Yes. Fear... Waiting for the shoe to drop.... I wonder if I have so many runs left in me...that can be frightening. But the fog, changes this equation.

Fog keeps the city cool in the summer months. It means I can run longer and farther that I might otherwise be able to do. It means less worry, and more endorphin release. It means more time with prayer. How so? For me, running is prayer.
Thomas Merton: Contemplative. Convert, Catholic.
Thomas Merton, a Catholic spiritual writer and Cistercian monk once wrote "the very contradictions in my life are in some ways signs of God's mercy to me." Indeed they are. I hate the fog, but it's one of God's great gifts of mercy. It allows me to do what I love. And in that way, my soul is fed. My spirituality is channeled in a way that is life-giving, grateful and free. 

Ask yourself, What feeds your soul? What sucks your soul? And once you identify them both, look for the contradiction between the two. Perhaps it will serve as a window to God's mercy. Not a bad way to understand one's spirituality.

Photo Credits
Spiritual Growth

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