Who would have thought that walking is almost as good for depression as taking an antidepressant? As we all now know from the Government’s Coronavirus advice, exercise is not just good for our physical health but also for our mental health. And not just any old exercise, the best is green exercise, exercise surrounded by nature.
Creation feeds our souls and spirits. Looking at the birds of the air and considering the lilies of the field reassures us of God’s faithfulness and benevolence. But in these days of heightened anxiety the rhythm of exercise, walking at a steady pace, has a calming effect. Rhythm has that effect and we shouldn’t be surprised. God has built multiple rhythms into creation, the most basic, day and night, is fundamental and essential to life, each day giving us a fresh start and a host of new opportunities; each night a time to regroup, be restored through sleep and process the events of the day in our dreams.
I have found these days of confinement at home quite disorientating, one day seeming much like the next. It is difficult to recall on which day a conversation took place or when I read a particular passage in a book or online. I am sure this is due, at least in part, to losing the rhythm of the week; going to work, meeting with friends, going to church – the activities that give a week shape and substance have gone. That is why instituting new activities that inhabit the week and differentiate certain days are valuable. Family Zoom times, online church meetings, Microsoft team meetings, daily exercise sessions all help to give days and weeks structure.
Modern life, invaded by social media and the 24 hour news feed, not to mention the constant flow of emails into our inboxes, has lost the daily sense of ebb and flow, the chronological architecture that gives shape to a day. The rhythm of the seven-day week, with a day of rest, was already in jeopardy. In Belfast pressure to open up Sundays to greater commercial activity has been building. Yet even institutions like the NHS benefit from a Sabbath. The weekly rhythm is good for wellbeing – human and economic.
However, suddenly the accelerating pace of life and incessant activity has come to an emergency stop, the jolt almost giving us whiplash. Reminiscent of the biblical Year of Jubilee many of us are experiencing a prolonged Sabbath, an enforced rest, a time when we have no alternative but to cease from our normal work.
While the idea of Sabbath rest has become increasingly counter-cultural it is surely increasingly necessary. The circumstances leading to this enforced inactivity are a cause for lament. Yet they provide us with the opportunity to rediscover the practice of a Sabbath, taking time to reflect, to learn from the experiences of the past week, to review our priorities and goals, to recall God’s goodness to us, to remind ourselves of His many gifts of love. Essentially… to be grateful and, in the words of Walter Brueggemann… to ’take time to be human’.
This pandemic is, in the words of the Book of Ecclesiastes, a time to cry and a time to grieve. But it is also a reminder to us that God’s rhythms are for our benefit and not to be ignored and that time to reflect, think and pray could help rebalance our lives, restore rhythm to our activity and produce a treasure that moths and rust cannot destroy and neither thieves nor unemployment can steal.
This post was originally published on the Contemporary Christianity website.
Dr John Kyle, recently retired from General Practice in East Belfast, is a member of Christian Fellowship Church and a Councillor on Belfast City Council representing the Progressive Unionist Party.