As someone with the physical build of Napoleon Dynamite, lifting weights has always been an activity that strikes me with fear and trepidation. I am much more at home running some beautiful bush-trail or pounding the pavement in my quest for fitness, so had successfully avoided a room full of grunting men straining under bars of steel.
A month ago, however, after much cajoling from some of my stronger friends, I agreed to try out a weights session at their home gym. Donning my sweat band and thrusting my chest out as powerfully as possible, I boldly strode towards the unknown.
I bluffed my way through the first few sets of exercises and then came my new nemesis - squats. After a helpful demonstration of the perfect squatting form by my supportive friends, I assumed the position and began my first ever squat. Almost instantly, I was swamped with shouts of "Stop!" and new instructions at an ever increasing frequency.
"Jeremy, keep your back straight! Stick your bum out!"
Dutifully, I attempted to straighten my back and extend my posterior.
"Your shoulders! Shoulders back!" My shoulders were forced back, instantly curving my back into some ungodly position.
"What's happened? Your knees should be above your ankles! And why are you on your toes?"
I rocked back onto my ankles, repositioned my knees by forcing my shoulders forward and bringing my hips forward.
"No! Your back! Your bum!"
And so it continued. They filmed me, critiqued the video, demonstrated time and time again, before they collectively scratched their heads and decided it wasn't safe for me to continue. Perplexed, I drove home with new parts of my body aching, and decided to stick to running.
The Walking Sleep
Reflecting on this event, I was amazed at how little control I had over my body. For 27 years I have been this physical mesh of flesh and bones, yet when asked to do something new with it, I realised how unaware I was of my movements. It was similar when I attempted to learn to dance, play guitar and skateboard - muscles that I had used on autopilot protested to these new challenges.
It was as if a part of me was waking up for the first time and - despite the struggle and pain - I was learning that there was more to my self-awareness than I originally thought. At the risk of sounding like a wanna-be romantic philosopher - there was more to me than met the eye.
When we repeat something - an action, thinking process, taste or journey - our brain does a remarkable job at learning how to do it easier next time. This means that we can tie our shoe-laces, choose our clothes and drive a car without having to give it a second thought. Sometimes, however, our familiarity can breed content, as we can live most of our days without much conscious thought.
We can drive to work and as we arrive, realise that we have zero recollection of the journey there. We can eat a meal without giving a thought to the taste of the food. We can talk to friends while our minds are a million miles away. Although we don't quite reach a zombie-like state of existence, we can become the walking sleep.
An Earthy, Dirty Glory
In 740 BC, a young man was walking to Jerusalem, up to the temple, as was his custom. As a royal member, he had likely enjoyed the privilege of wealth and luxury - and we can imagine him walking the familiar path, his body and mind on autopilot as he heads to worship. Suddenly, everything changes.
In a flash, he catches a glimpse of the God he worships, with the very edge of this deity's robe over-flowing the spacious temple. Glorious, never-seen-before creatures are flying around and calling out, "The whole earth is full of God's glory". Thus began Isaiah's life-time calling as a prophet; as one fully awake before God. Yet in these angels' song is a message for all of us to hear in our auto-pilot reality.
When we hear the word "glory", it often causes us to look up. We think of glory in terms of purity, light and magnificent cathedrals, beautifully designed to draw our focus heavenward. When Isaiah heard the word "glory", however, it had a much different meaning.
This word - kavod in the original Hebrew - has a meaning of heaviness and weight. These angels are telling Isaiah that the earth - all the earth - is soaked heavy with God's glory, life and goodness. Every path, every person, every journey, every bit of dirt and nature contains grace-notes of God; yet Isaiah had been oblivious to this reality around him.
A few centuries later, when Jesus was walking through Jerusalem, he embodied a life fully awake. Each story he told had an electric twist in its tail, which hit his audience like a ice bath. God was present in Samaria? More, a Samaritan could be my neighbour? Workers being paid the same wage, regardless of how long they worked? What was going on here? Each story demanded a response of the listener; one could not sleep through Jesus' messages.
And - whatever your beliefs about Jesus - it cannot be denied that this was a man who lived life. Every person - whether a child, poor, disabled, short, Roman, Greek, male or female - was someone who was full of God's glory and someone who Jesus gave his full attention and life too. We read of a man full of emotion, who mourns, enjoys, laments and is amazed. He is one who calls us to a life with our eyes wide open, being aware of God's glory in each part of the mundane.
Awake, My Soul
The British poet Gerard Manley Hopkins took this awakening vocation into his work, with playful lyric urging us to break out of routine and see things as they really are. In Pied Beauty, Hopkins writes (and this really must be said out-loud - go on! No-one will notice!):
"All things counter, original, spare, strange;
Whatever is fickle, freckled (who knows how?)
With swÃft, slow; sweet, sour; adazzle, dim;
He fathers-forth whose beauty is past change:
Our modern-day minstrels, Mumford and Sons, join in harmony with Hopkins, repeatedly singing to both themselves and to us, "Awake, my soul". The world is charged with God's grandeur and glory (to plagiarise the poet again), yet we are the ones who must awaken to the fact and be called anew to the wonder that is life.
So, I urge you - as I try to avoid a preacher-like conclusion - chew slowly. Taste and see that the Lord is good. Open your eyes and look at the world around you as you drive to work. Enjoy the harmonies of the birds and the joy of a good episode of The Simpsons. The sun and the stranger all sing of God's heavy glory, surrounding us all. Stop running, try lifting the weightiness of the world, to see how alive this God really is.
Jeremy is a student and Innovation Consultant (www.creativate.co.nz) who can't dance, skateboard or lift weights – but can run, cook and free-style rap.
Jeremy Suisted's previous articles may be viewed at www.pressserviceinternational.org/jeremy-suisted.html