For the past five years, I’ve been participating in a Pilates class taught by a church member. We do all exercises on a mat, rather than using any kind of special apparatus. Even though this form of exercise was originally developed for dancers, the class I attend is mostly middle-age women. So, we use a gentler regimen of muscle strengthening exercises. Participating weekly in this class has strengthened my core. It has taught me not the importance of stretching one’s muscles but of using one’s muscles beyond what is comfortable in order to build them up.
Key to avoiding injury in Pilates is to keep one’s core muscles engaged. Doing so not only builds strength, but protects one’s back. During nearly every exercise, for the past five years, I’ve heard my Pilates teacher say, “Keep your belly in.” The reminder has been spoken so many times that I now hear my teacher’s voice in my head even when I’m not in class. I will be bending over to pick up my three-year-old and suddenly hear: “Keep your belly in!” Swimming? “Keep your belly in.” Standing for a long period of time? “Keep your belly in.” I’ve heard the message so often that I’ve absorbed it. I still need the reminder – my belly does not always stay in – but the reminder is embedded deep within me.
I wonder if Scripture engagement can serve a similar purpose to my teacher’s voice. We memorize beautiful words like “Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil,” so that when we unexpectedly find ourselves in the valley of the shadow, we hear the reminder not to be afraid but to trust. We read over and over again Jesus’ exhortations like “love your enemy,” so that when our enemy strikes a wound, we don’t immediately strike back. When our initial inclination is toward fear and revenge, we need a reminder to love. But love doesn’t always come naturally to us. We need a voice in our head directing us toward love. Reading familiar passages, committing them to memory, gives us the hope we need when we need it.
I’m grateful for my Pilates teacher’s voice and even more grateful for the voice of Scripture, which I have heard over and over again in the words of Sunday school teachers, preachers, musicians and in my own reading. Both voices strengthen me.
RACHEL YOUNG is the associate pastor of spiritual formation at Clear Lake Presbyterian Church, in Houston, Texas. She is married to Josh, who also serves on staff at Clear Lake Presbyterian as the director of contemporary worship and media.