It has now been fifty days since re-booting my blood production system. The past week has been a good one, with fewer days of fatigue and more days with renewed energy. In part that is surely due to my body's capacity to continue to restore itself to health. But it is also partly the result of a return to a daily exercise regime, overseen by my old friend Mike. Mike and I became friends in 1971. Can that really be forty years ago? Over the years we lost touch until a back injury sent me looking for a good chiropractor. Enter Mike. For the past decade he has been both my chiropractor and running coach (he being an ironman triathlete as well as a chiropractor). To my surprise he showed me that my body, injured back and all, could not only return to running 10k runs but could actually complete all 26.2 miles of a marathon. That was five years ago. Since then he has helped me recover from various minor running injuries, not to mention knee surgery, always taking me through the slow process of stretching and strengthening muscles to the point where they can withstand the demands of increased exercise. But then came the diagnosis of multiple myeloma six months ago and word from my doctors that chiropractic adjustment of my spine is out for the rest of my life. Multiple myeloma weakens the bones and puts them at risk of fracture. Gone were my monthly check ups with Mike. Or so I thought.
When I was in to see my doctors a few weeks ago I mentioned that I have increasing back pain and noted that, in the past, I would have been off to see my chiropractor Mike. I asked their advice. They said that so long as I do not have chiropractic adjustments to my bones that I could certainly go to Mike for care and advice. So I did. That was two weeks ago. I expected that Mike might send me off to a physiotherapist or a massage therapist. Instead, he reminded me that he works with people who cannot have adjustments due to brittle or fractured bones. And he began to work with me. I can already feel the difference. His careful manipulations of my muscles along with a daily discipline of simple exercise and stretching already have my back feeling better and my body feeling stronger. Months on steroids followed by weeks of inactivity led to loss of muscle mass and strength. It seems ages since I was running twenty-six miles in four hours. The puny three pound weights I am using feel a bit silly. The short rides on the exercise bike are far removed from the cardio workouts of a few years ago. Yet it reminds me of the other times that I have returned from injury. Each time begins with slow, disciplined exercise that seems far removed from anything resembling fitness. Each time builds through daily, weekly repetition. Eventually you find yourself surprised at how far you have come.
I don't really know what to expect in terms of recovering fitness. Will I be given the "okay" to return to running or will that be deemed too much for my bones? We'll see. In the meantime, I find this slow recovery of the body's strength and capacity to be a living parable of the church in our time. Many congregations have lost fitness and gained weight. Many do not have the muscle mass to carry out significant ministry, having spent too long sitting on the couch, forgetting that the Body of Christ is made for discipleship. Many well-meaning pastors have forgotten that recovery of fitness in the church - as in the body - takes a long view with slow, steady, daily pastoral encouragement of the congregation. They have often expected too much, too soon and have not had the patience that is required. I notice that the 2012 gathering of the Ekklesia Project has as its theme "Slow Church: Abiding Together in the Patient Work of God". After sixteen years at University Hill Congregation I am convinced that commitment to being a slow church is critical if congregations are to return to fitness without becoming injured in the process.