Finding Faith at the Barre

“God moves in a mysterious way His wonders to perform.” I think of this famous opening line from the poem by William Cowper, every time something surprising happens to me. Recently, I was overcome with the feeling of finding faith in the oddest of spots, a Pure Barre exercise class, actually six days a week exercise class. But first, a little background.

My mother died at the age of 69, way too early by today’s standards. She wasn’t sick, but she wasn’t well, either. She had lost her faith in life as she discovered she was no longer young. For decades my extremely accomplished mother had been two things, a corporate executive well ahead of her time and an alcoholic. The alcohol, accompanied by chain-smoking, wrecked her health. She wasn’t dying of anything, but as I said she wasn’t well. The work part was more disheartening. My mother defined herself not as a mother, grandmother, and wife, but as an executive. When she was no longer sought after for important jobs, she lost her interest in living. She didn’t commit suicide; she just drifted away in her sleep. 

My mother was also an Episcopalian to the core. She was an Episcopalian just like she was a Republican, life-long without much thought about why she just was. Her loss of faith wasn’t related to the Episcopal Church, but it was related to the fact that the Episcopal Church couldn’t provide her with a sense of faith. Her faith and the church were not related. While she loved the ritual, it never occurred to her to love the spirit found in that ritual, which leads me to the Barre. 

When I turned 69, I spent a lot of days in panic. Was I going to follow in my mother’s footsteps? I too, had been a high-ranking female executive. I had been a smoker at one point, was sufficiently overweight, and I was concerned. As I have mentioned elsewhere on this site, I was not the happiest of people. My 69th year was filled with battles of depression and anxiety, and I must confess, I wasn’t focused on faith as a way of coping. Then the miracle happened.

In October of my 69th year, I visited one of my daughters in Washington, DC. This daughter, I suspect, never thought of me as being old; instead, she suggested I go with her to a bar(re) class and then to brunch. This casual suggestion of a mother-daughter outing changed my life. I loved the class, and I was thrilled that I could do the exercises. Anyone who has done a bar(re) class knows how strenuous and fast-paced it is. It was such a high for me that the minute I returned home I found a studio, in this case a Pure Barre studio, and went nuts. Soon I was doing six classes a week, and on three days, I did double workouts. Miracle #2 came with an improved sense of well-being. In approximately six months, I lost 30 pounds and the best part was all of my clothes were too big! I added the NOOM app for nutrition and intellectual guidance on living thinner and better. I was unstoppable.

While this new health was indeed a blessing, turning depression and anxiety into positive energy was not the biggest miracle of all that came with what happened at the Barre. Over a few months, a group of women formed something close to a prayer group. This group to the left, by the sidebar, as you face the mirrored wall was where all the good stuff happened. One of the ladies decided that the great thing about us was that we had the mind of children. Children believe in things; they are curious, and they love unquestionably. In our exchanges, we all came to believe in ourselves, to share our troubles and joys in the way one might exchange such things with a priest. Another woman, who occasionally joined in, started a conversation on the church. She is or was Roman Catholic, and she told us a story about being at Mass when a priest condemned divorce in the most powerful of manners and blamed the wife when a couple divorced. She was incensed and stormed out, now she was, as another woman said, churchless. 

While Episcopalians are not noted for proselytism in a missionary manner, I immediately started telling my churchless friends how much I liked my church and how great the music was! While my efforts might bring them to an Episcopal church, it did something far more critical for me. At that moment, I had a sense of what being an Episcopalian meant to me. The faith that I had was more than a building and great music. It was something I believed in. Unlike my mother, at that moment, I was able to connect faith to the church in a manner not proscribed, but uniquely my own. One morning, after coffee with one of the group members, she turned to me and said, “you give me great joy by being in my life.” I was for a moment stunned. Then it came to me, in these months of renewal I had found a center of faith and God’s goodness in a small diverse group of women who like me spent some time wondering. Each of us a decade or so separated by age and yet united in our faith in ourselves and each other. When one of us failed an MRI test because she couldn’t sit still in that cylinder, we were there to reassure her that she had not failed and that all of us had been in similar situations.

Now you may think this is all a little silly. How can a gaggle of women exercising be equated with the power and majesty of a church on Sunday morning? Well, I would respectfully disagree. Like my mother, it is quite easy to sit in church Sunday after Sunday, enjoying the comfort of the ritual and failing to find faith in yourself, in life, and God. Faith grows and is located in many places, at many different times. For me, that belief is the cornerstone of my faith. The Episcopal side gives me the tools to recognize the Lord’s work and believe in its reality everywhere, not just in a building with stained glass, but also in a funny rectangular room with mirrored walls. In those mirrors we see ourselves and have faith.

Fair Winds,

Susan Hynes


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