How I’m planning to turn exercise into a mini-pilgrimage, with Mary at my side

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From taking care of the temple that God provided for me, to worshiping within the temple of the universe that He gave all of us.

I’ve started a dozen exercise programs over the years, only to abandon them after a few weeks (or a few days, if I’m being honest). But I think I may have stumbled upon something today to keep the fire burning.

As fall returns and our kids are back to school, I have found myself with a few more moments of solitude in the morning. I decided to take a little of that time to exercise so that I will be able to keep up with my kids in the years to come.

I started experimenting with some modest stair climbing. There is a staircase at a complex near my house that affords an incredible view from the top of a local inland lake as well as Lake Michigan. You are able to see sunrises as well as sunsets from the vista, and it is spectacular. Especially as the vibrant colors of autumn are taking over.

This morning after my children went off to school, I biked down to the stairs and started my hikes up and down, up and down. After the first set I realized it was a day to pray the sorrowful mysteries of the Rosary, so I began. What happened next transformed the experience from being about me and taking care of the temple that God provided for me, to worshiping within the temple of the universe that He gave all of us.

The experience became much larger than simply a set of stairs. All of a sudden I was in Jerusalem, watching Christ on his way to Calvary. I began seeing other people on the stairs with a more compassionate eye, and began to pray for them as well.  The whole experience was transformed from “self-maintenance” to mission.

I turned my imagination to the Communion of Saints. I began to think of all of the hills and mountains that the saints had climbed throughout the centuries. I began to think of Juan Diego, of St. Francis of Assisi, of Blessed Pier Giorgio Frassati, of Moses and then Jesus on the Mount of Olives.

I thought of Mary — she is a sure companion to all of my days’ activities, so why not a companion to my exercise as well? She herself had to climb her own share of mountains, including the climb to Calvary.

Our faith tradition has given us great examples of praying while climbing. Drawing from this inspiration, I am going to incorporate more rosaries into exercise. My suspicion is that over time, I will not consider it to be exercise anymore. Those moments of silence and physical exertion are set to become mini-pilgrimages, with an added health benefit.

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