ski retreat 2014, ii.

I have thought before
about the link between body and spirit in prayer—
intrigued by the concept of actively embodied prayer
(intrigued by the concept, to be honest,
more than any practice).

Intellectually, you see, I’ve noted
that other than closing eyes and bowing heads,
we’ve pretty much removed the body from the act of prayer.
We don’t clasp our hands together,
let alone raise them!
We don’t kneel in our tradition,
let alone prostrate ourselves.

And so though we speak of the act of prayer,
it truly is less activity,
than, well, thought process.

Yoga was the second activity
to make me question such distinction.
Yoga involves, of course, the whole body,
and is yet also explicitly linked with meditation.
And there is something about
the body placed in unfamiliar positions—
in twists and inversions—
there is something about the constant movement
from your entire body configured one way
in centered balance,
to your body configured a completely different way,
in a new centered balance—
there is something about the tension within your body
with part of your body pulled this way,
and another part pushing that way—
or one part of your body pushing both back and up,
and the deep stretch within that tension,
and that consistent reminder to breathe into each pose—
there is something (there are somethings) about all that—
about the physicalness of it all,
that gets you to thinking about prayer—
about inviting the Spirit into the familiar and the unfamiliar,
into the twists and inversions of life,
into the hope and the work for balance
within the struggle for it.

And if the rigorously physical experience of yoga
can teach us something about prayer,
then I have had to wonder
if a particular, physically memorable experience in skiing,
offers lessons in prayer as well.

It takes a steep enough and long enough slope
to pick up speed and establish the rhythm
until you feel both the parts of your body
that are relatively still (your head and trunk)
in contrast to the movement you feel
in your shoulders and arms reaching down and ahead
to plant poles around which to turn,
in contrast to the movement you feel
in your hips (like they comprise one ball swivel joint)—
in your legs rotating through half-circles
in interlocking S turns,
slower wider
quicker tighter,
knees loose—
drawn up preparing for a turn,
extending through it,
absorbing any rise and fall to the slope
the contours of the mountain below you,
and all the various textures of the snow,
ankles flexing,
heels alternately digging into the fall line,
lifting out of and over it.

And there’s the feel of the speed,
the wind against you—
rushing past you—
eyes tearing up,
the sound of your skis carving your path—
those different textures of snow
each creating a different sound,
the powder (if you’re lucky) kicking up around you
(ankle-high, knee-high, waist-high, shoulder-high
blowing up on and around your face),
muscles working
with the inexorable pull—
the gravity that draws you ever down—
the awareness of and the alertness to
your self in your surroundings,
the clarity of where you’re going—
of what’s right in front of you,
the blur of what’s beside you—
the speed with which you will arrive—
the path to get you there
less planned than felt,
in control that’s just on the edge of being out of control—

an intermittent shifting of weight—
exertion of pressure—
a little edging amidst gliding,
that is less control
than it is assurance
that you can face what lies ahead.

So what’s worth contemplating as insight into prayer?

A comfort and skill acquired through years of practice—
each opportunity to practice anticipated and celebrated,
a growing competence
encompassing a flexibility to ever changing conditions,
a commitment to long term effort,
to knowing the stillness within the movement,
an awareness of and alertness to
self in surroundings
that include God,
the development of a rhythm to your movement
through your surroundings with God,
and to enjoy such movement, profoundly,
trusting assurance not control,
and, perhaps,
expecting less purpose to prayer
and more simple pleasure in prayer—
the pleasure creating and sustaining
the desire
to get better
and to engage more often.



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