Father Andrew's Hot Body Gym

October 15, 2009

Getting Stronger – physically and spiritually

Filed under: real talk — Tags: , , , , — frandrewrowell @ 9:48 pm

I’m supposed to be working on a sermon for Sunday right now, but I just got back from the soccer pitch and feel I must comment on a realization I had tonight.

I think I might be, after five short months of Crossfit and a major diet change, in the best shape of my life. And my life has been an active one for sure – full of a persistent obsession with pick-up basketball, a college career at Duke and the University of Glasgow where I was a competitive rower (which required a daily 3.5 mile cross country run and a half-stadium finisher in addition to the 5 am water workouts), and three years of competitive cycling at UVA during law school. Even during periods during which I could easily hop on my bike and crank out a century in a morning, I think was in a different, less all-encompassing kind of fitness than I’m in right now. Back then, I had that long, consistent, steady-state, zone 2ish/3ish, 7-hour-slog kind of fitness down pat. Now I’m quicker and stronger than I’ve ever been, at least in my adulthood, capable of sprinting with 16 year olds down a soccer pitch without much fuss, and still capable of managing lengthy rides on a bike in the woods and the road (and don’t get me started on how much better a mountain biker I am becoming as my core strengthens). That myth of the usefulness of a long, zone 2, tons-o’-base-miles workout seems like such foolishness now. I’m not doing long cardio work (this morning’s workout of 5-5-5-5-5 155lbs deadlifts/10 burpees between each set took a whopping 8:48) and yet my cardio performance is soaring. My core is solidifying – I can now do a legitimate handstand on the spot and 10 straight full-hang ring pull-ups, which I reckon a very small percentage of the population can do. That one measly muscle-up of which I dream by January is coming faster than I thought. Oh, and now I can pick up Mac, who’s a fatty.

Andrew and Mac

Andrew and Mac

I’m not writing all of this to brag. I’m just shocked at how fast it seems to be coming along. I arrived in Tallahassee to serve my first church (www.saint-peters.net) on September 1, 2008, a bit flabby and in a lot of L4/L5 back pain from a tough surgery in July of 2008.  Now I’m cleaning and jerking substantial weight, cranking out 100 pushups without too much of an effort, and generally more aware of my body and its growing strength than ever before. In five months!

I do believe one thing to be true – that it has been the diet change that has made the biggest difference. I’ve shed so much silly excess and added so much core muscle mainly by purging my diet of stupid sugar and carb calories and dedicating myself to meats, fruits and veggies. It is amazing what the body can do with the proper fuel with which to restore and build.

Putting on my priestly collar for a second, there’s a much deeper blessing emerging from all of this.  When I sit down before God’s Word in the morning, fresh off of a 6 am session of “Cindy” or “Grace” or “Fran,” a steaming cup of coffee beside me, dwelling in a temple with which I’ve been blessed that is becoming stronger and more poised – it does change my posture before the Word, both literally and spiritually. Maybe that sounds a bit odd, but we aren’t just souls hanging around in useless shells for 80-odd years waiting for the parousia. Rather, we are embodied souls. It is this vessel that I’ve been given. It is within this vessel that I live out a life that is the crucible wherein I sort out my salvation. I’m learning all over again, from the ground up, that I am not trapped in a shell of flesh waiting for something better, but I’m rather blessed with one in which to live for and love God now. I’m not saying that my body doesn’t groan for redemption along with the rest of creation. But I’m doing what I can with that which is clearly flawed, which seems to me to be the proper way to live out the imago Dei within me. And here’s the gift – when my body is rested and healthy and well-fed and growing in strength and not mentally deadened by corn syrup and two pounds of bread, there’s a freshness to God’s Word, there’s a mental sharpness that makes the gift of God’s Word that much more vivid. Do the rest of you feel an intellectual and spiritual acuteness emerging along with those triceps?

The Core Team (the Ellers, the Vandys and me) have sat around my dining room table often these last few months and talked long into the night about how we hope to grow toward the perfection of our spiritual postures before the Lord even as our shoulders round, our backs straighten out, and our quads swell. I think it might be happening by God’s grace. I’d encourage us to pay some attention to it – to ask if we aren’t being transformed by the renewing of our bodies, these bodies which will be at the eschaton remade and reformed into the image of our Redeemer.  I think we are – I think that in a state of strength and health, when creation-care is directed toward our own human form,  our minds and our hearts become less encumbered. We become more readily able to stand boldly and frankly before the Lord (who is, notably, embodied forever) whose call on us, whose Word to us, is sharper than a sword and more gracious than we ever deserve.

Ok, back to a sermon….



  1. On the topic of spiritual growth and motivation, and I made light of this earlier today actually, I like to think that all of this hard work, and the failures of our physical bodies that arise out of hard work, are reminders that we are a fallen people. Now I know that sounds a depressing but, if we are truly on the road toward sanctification (and I find it useful sometimes to think of this grueling exercise as a metaphor for sanctification) how much more glorious will we be when we ARE sanctified. When these mortal limitations, which we have cast in bright light with taxing strain, are lifted away, think of that glorious form and what it will feel like, and look like.

    Comment by Graham — October 15, 2009 @ 11:36 pm

  2. Mmm… nicely thought and nicely articulated, Fr Andrew. You always have a way of making the rest of our posts seem so superficial…

    As for your question, it has given me pause. My first instinct is that no, I have not been enjoying increased mental agility because I have been dealing with a level of chronic sleep deprivation that I have never encountered before. I am deliriously tired much more of the time than ever in my life, including college and graduate school. This has not been caused by our workouts, but the 5:30 am wake up times do not help when I have trouble falling asleep.

    But what I then started thinking is that what has been different recently is how well I can function on less sleep. It’s still pathetic compared to most peole, but I can make it through life being reasonably functional on amounts of sleep that before would have made me comepletely useless and depressed. Is this a victory? A small, sad one, but a victory nonetheless, I think.

    Now if I can only fix this stupid sleep problem, maybe I can start to experience the mental and spiritual acuteness of which you write, Andrew, in addition to the physical advancements I am enjoying! Now that’s an inspiring thought.

    Comment by Mara — October 16, 2009 @ 9:22 pm

  3. Well said indeed. I really like your extension of our work in the gym to ‘creation-care’. Such an important calling in so many different ways!

    Comment by joshuaeller — October 18, 2009 @ 7:04 pm

  4. […] Getting Stronger – physically and spiritually […]

    Pingback by Want Physical Change? Exercise Doesn’t Cut It. « Father Andrew's Hot Body Gym — November 4, 2009 @ 3:37 pm

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