Be who you are meant to be and you will set the world on fire

On the 29th April, the Church celebrates, St Catherine of Siena, 1347-1380, who, despite opposition from her family, responded to God’s call and became a Dominican tertiary. She was a mystic, contemplative, teacher of the faith and actively served the poor and sick. One of her well-known quotes is ‘Be who you are meant to be and you will set the world on fire.' This quotation always resonates with me and I find it helpful when thinking about calling, mission and wellbeing.

Wellbeing can be seen as quite me-focussed and individualistic. However, when Jesus says ‘Peace be with you’, which is ‘Shalom be with you’, he is saying ‘Wellness, wholeness, peace be with you’ and as we receive his ‘Shalom’ it is supposed to make a difference to the way we live our lives, being those who foster ‘Shalom’ in others. So, by focussing on our own wellbeing, we can make a difference in the world, ‘set the world on fire’ even!

Each of us is made in God’s image with gifts and talents with which to serve God, shaping and announcing his Kingdom on earth. When I was learning to walk – my parents realised I was struggling a bit and after seeing various doctors, it was confirmed that I had an mild Tallipes or 'Club Foot 'as it’s known. The treatment in those days was to wear shoes on the wrong feet. People would say, ‘Excuse, me did you know your daughter has her shoes on the wrong feet?’ and  my parents would say 'we know!’

But that didn’t stop me becoming an explorer – I loved nothing more when I was a child than being outside playing, climbing, building dens and running, this was innate in me. Our garden was my ‘alive place’ – I felt safe, free and connected somehow to God, even though it would be years later that I realised it was him who I’d met in the garden through running, playing, building and skipping.

When I was at the end of secondary school, I had a choice to make between dance and running. I was rubbish at dance, but chose dance because that’s what girls did, even though I was much more at home in the muddy cross-country fields. For years this part of me lay dormant until a few years ago when I was a vicar – I realised that a) most of my friends were Christians b) I didn’t have a lot of life outside of being a vicar c) I wasn’t doing much exercise and the balance between personal spirituality and creating space for others to engage with God was out of kilter. There was more of the latter than the former, so, I joined a beginners' course at our local running club – it was a life saver on many levels and to this day, running is part of who I am - body, mind and spirit. I connect with Jesus in this embodied way, it is part of my spirituality, as is wild swimming. (For an inspriring story and tips on safer wild swimming, see this great article from Jo Lorimer

Over the years though, Christians have had a love-hate relationship with Sport. Many professional football teams were set up by Christians in the 19th Century with the rise of what was called ‘Muscular Christianity’, seeking to bring the love of Jesus in practical ways to those living in more deprived areas and engaging with these (mainly) young men in and through the ‘Beautiful Game’. Later, in the 20th century we seemed to move away from this, perhaps being suspicious of sport due to its connection with the ‘body’ and ‘the flesh’ which has often been interpreted negatively, compared to our ‘spiritual’ selves. 

If you’re feeling uncomfortable about the thought of physicality being part of a Christian spirituality then you’re not alone, but perhaps there is an invitation to see sport and our physicality more holistically and integrated into who we are as human beings, created by God, made body, mind and spirit. If we embrace our whole humanity in this way, then it’s easier for us to see ‘sport and wellbeing’ activity as part of an embodied Christian worship. It seems especially important for Christians to engage with who we are as human beings at a time when our health and wellbeing has taken such a hit throughout the pandemic, and as we emerge and recover together. 

I love running and Wild Swimming, for me, it’s part of this sort of embodied spirituality – the river where my friends and I swim, is home to kingfishers, geese, swans, otters and probably pike (but we don’t talk about them!) and throughout the seasons the colours of the river and the bank transform – sometimes it’s more appealing than at other times, but there is always a gift to notice. As I’m carried and held by the water, I’m joining in with this congregation of creation and it’s impossible not to avert my eyes to the Creator of it all. Again, this isn’t something new. For the Celtic Christians or the Celtic Church (approx 3rd -12th century in Britain) water was an extremely important part of their way of life and connection with God. They saw the water like their desert place, a place of withdrawal to be near to God, listening and being ready to be sent out in their coracles, upon the wild sea. Building on this sense of worshipping God in and through our sport and wellbeing, a group of us took the theme of ‘Water as Desert’ as a lens through which to journey through the Celtic Advent this year. (You can read about it here and we also invited friends to a Wild Easter gathering – you can download the reflections here

So, Catherine of Siena inspires us all to 'find who we are meant to be to set the world on fire'. Jesus calls us to be 'Shalom’ people, and an embodied spirituality can help us live out this calling.