We watched the Father Stu movie last night, the story of the stroppy Priest who was in succession, a failed boxer, and a failed actor. He went on to become a priest whose body was failing and this was where he turned things around. He found spiritual strength in physical weakness.
You couldn’t watch his physical decline from a progressive muscular disorder without wincing. I felt like I was reliving my recent hospital stay, where you are confined to a bed unable to do simple things like get up to take a pee. It puts a whole new meaning to incarnation: the idea of having a body. Like the saying, we are not human beings having a spiritual experience, we are spiritual beings having a human experience, having a body that will at some point inevitably decline. All of human experience goes through this curve, from beginning, to apex, to nadir. Enjoy the ride up because there will also be a ride down to the bottom at the end.
Last year I got rid of an unwanted tree stump in the back yard. It was instructive. I put one YouTube remedy to the test, which relies on nature. Here is where sweetness and decline have an unusual marriage. You want to get rid of a tree stump? Rot it from the core outward with sugar water. Following this method, I drilled a bunch of deep holes in the stump with an auger bit, and poured in the sugar water. Sure enough, a day later, masses of ants had convened, drawn by the sugar which had seeped into the wood. Little by little, the ants ate away at that stump like a million tiny wood chippers. After a few months I lit a fire, over top, and what was left of the stump crumbled into the abyss of time and forgetfulness.
Like the ants and the sugar, physical decline can creep up on you unnoticed and buried in sweetness. It’s not like you were doing anything particularly pernicious aimed at that result. You simply become older. The man in the mirror stares back, stark, white haired and red-faced. I remember Jesus’ words, “This is also my body, broken for you” and the words take on new meaning. On this note I am thankful for my daily workout, and experiencing a new joy at the ability to feel strong, to push weight, and to put my body in a state of healthy exhaustion that feels so very different from sick exhaustion.
I can feel the burn. And I sing to the blues, along with Larkin Poe,
“Burn baby, burn with that Holy Ghost fire
From your fingers to your toes, going to testify...”
That’s Holy Ghost fever running through my veins. Excuse me it’s time for a few more reps. The Spirit is moving me. Like the stump, taken down gradually through sweetness, while it lasts. It feels good just to go through the motions.