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Tuesday, August 3, 2021
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    Something to Lean On

    Reverend Ryan Downing
    Ryan Downing has been pastor of Faith UCC since September 2016. He has a passion for exploring faith, spirituality, and the common good with others, both in and outside the church.

    Muscatine Living

    “Isn’t religion just a crutch?” a good friend once asked me.

    I paused. I paused because usually that phrase is used pejoratively, as in religion is just another way to restrict, inhibit, or hold someone back.

    ”Would it be such a bad thing if it is?” I finally said. “After all, how else is someone who needs help getting around supposed to get around?”

    “But what if someone doesn’t need help?” My friend paused and then continued, “But, I suppose we all need help sometimes.”

    Several weeks ago, after throwing my back out, this conversation percolated in my memory. Like many back injuries, there was no one single event or sudden “pop” that gave rise to my aches and pains. It could have been exercising without stretching first. It could have been moving paving stones around the backyard. It could have been just the way I got out of bed one morning. All I know for sure is that one day, my lower back began radiating pain that slowed me down and kept me inside when I would have rather been outside in the summer sun.

    Fortunately, I had my annual check-up in the midst of this malaise, and my doctor referred me to a physical therapist who, among other ideas and exercises, recommended I try using trekking poles when out hiking. The next day I purchased a set and ventured out on the trails. Because this isn’t meant to be a plug for trekking poles, I’ll just say that they made a great difference. More significantly, however, hobbling around with something to lean on, balance with, and push off of reminded me of that conversation I had long ago.

    Is religion a crutch? Sure, it is. Religion and spirituality offer a person something to lean on, push off of, find balance with, and be rooted in. Like anything, religion or spirituality can be used to stifle development, progress, and even going deeper, but when approached the right way, religion and spirituality can help a person grow into their full potential and give them something to lean on when times inevitably get tough.

    In the grand scheme of things, a slow-to-heal back isn’t the worst predicament for someone like me, but it has been a reminder that just as the best laid plans can sometimes go awry, the way of healing is never a solo trip. As my back continues to heal, I’ll be aiming for my family’s annual summer backpacking trip. This year however, when I’m heading up a high mountain pass, I’ll have my trusty trekking poles at the ready, and with each lean, push, balance, and pull, I’ll remember that in the grand scheme of things, it is also always good to know that a greater presence is always there to help carry me through all the aches and pains, joys and wonders that this life has to offer.

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