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Toward Wholeness Blog

extreme sports, shamanism, and the danger of boredom

I’m rereading a favorite old book of mine called,

“Bone Games” right now, about extreme sports and shamanism.  The author had one of those supernatural experiences that climbers sometimes get when their life is hanging by a thread.  He was able, after a fall, to down climb a stretch of ice covered rock flakes in Colorado, something most expert climbers wouldn’t be able to do in a state of even perfect health.  As he writes regarding his perfect presence during the ordeal, “I was the very best version of myself that I could possibly be”, and the rest of the book catalogs his academic anthropological quest to understand people who seem endowed with supernatural powers, some of them at will.

If you overlay the Christian faith on the subject, you come up with lots of conclusions or speculations about demon possession, and those of us who’ve encountered demon possession firsthand know the reality of supernatural capacities that attend those so possessed.  However, I’m not convinced that’s all there is to it.

After all, Jesus was alone in the wilderness for 40 days, fasting no less, when he encountered the forces of darkness.  In other words, his body was involved in his spiritual formation, along with his spirit.  Only after that did he begin his ministry.  Moses had 40 days in the mountains with God, alone.  Let’s not forget about Paul’s word that he “buffets his body and makes it his slave” in I Corinthians 9, all for the purpose of displaying the power of God.

I’m only pondering here, but my suspicion is that cultural softness and physical softness lead, invariably to spiritual softness.  On the other hand, my first response to my own thought is, “Of course not,”  because the Bible tells us in II Cor. 4:16 that “though our outer man is decaying our inner man is being renewed day by day.”  I know old saints who can barely walk, whose face and faith are joy filled and confident.

On the other hand, there must be something to the relationship between body and spirit, because we crave comfort.  As a culture one might even argue that we’ve become so addicted to comforts that we’re digging ourselves a hole of debt, in part because of our refusal to live simply.  I wonder if “comfort addiction” has spiritual as well as financial consequences.  The premise of “bone games”, in part anyway, is that they are best suited to live well who are living near the edges, at least some of the time.  Drop the shamanist labels, and the fear of demon possession, and just look at it this way:   If Paul prayed that we would prosper, body, soul, and spirit, wouldn’t it be wise to think about what means?  I know that I’m a better version of myself after a day that includes some exercise and eating right, than after a day of sleeping too long, surfing the internet, and eating potato chips.

Not only am I better, but I’m slowly discovering that I’m wholly better, soul, and spirit are better when I’ve lived in direct contact with the earth, faced a challenge or two, and finished my shower on cold.  I don’t want to make too much of it, but I don’t want to make too little of it either.  I certainly recognize that each of us have limitations and afflictions, but it’s also true that we can choose to either live in contact with the earth – cold water, bike rides, smelling flowers, gardening, nights under the stars – or we can live behind the curtain, watching TV and staying indoors.

What do you think?  What’s the relationship between challenging our body’s desires for comfort and ease, and being spiritually healthy?

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