Sunday, December 28, 2008

Swimming, Modesty, and Personal Idols

"Ah, well, yes, sometimes I swim alone. It’s not a very safe thing to do though, so when I do that, I don’t swim laps, just sort of laze about, and I don’t do it for very long. I’ll mostly swim with female friends, or, I have one friend who doesn’t like to swim, but she likes to sit on the deck and read, so she can do that while I do some laps or something. And I don’t wear bikinis or two pieces. Just nice, solid one pieces. I’ve always been too afraid the bikini would…malfunction at an inopportune moment.

Swimming, like anything, can be immodest. I actually, when I began to care about that sort of thing again, really thought about it. I gave up the beach, unless I’m just walking on it, and then I’m dressed. I only swim in my own pool, not other peoples. I know I’ve got bushes and trees and lots and lots of space between me an my neighbors, most of the people I know, don’t. I’m staying a friends house right now, house sitting, and she has a pool, and a cement wall around it, but her neighbors are right next door, and I’m just not taking that chance. I don’t have mixed pool parties anymore, and when my parents do, I don’t participate, and I actually try to avoid going out there. And until the hedge grew tall enough, I went into the pool in a big nightshirt and put it back on before I climbed out, just in case. And I made myself a big terrycloth headscarf for the pool too."

The above is my description of how I try to keep modest while also enjoying swimming. This was from a conversation on Umm Adams blog. She made a post about something else entirely, but it had this picture of a woman in a hijab-compliant swim suit, and of course we all latched on to the unusual outfit to discuss.

I love to swim. I could swim before I could walk. Growing up in Florida, that's what smart parents do. They teach their children to swim, as a precaution, because we are, of course, surrounded by water. Before my health issues made it impossible, I swam competitively in junior high. I just love the water, and everything about it. At the time, when modesty became important to me, I made all these changes just to enable myself to continue to swim and not violate my new sense of modesty. But looking at it, it seems like a lot to do just to immerse myself in water. Just saying that, though, doesn't reflect my enjoyment, the pleasure I get from this simple act. But on reading someone else's blog, that I can't recall, they were speaking about idols.

I am the LORD your God: you shall not have strange Gods before me. - This is a traditional Catechetical formula of the first commandment. It is not, obviously, a direct quote from the Old Testament.

In RCIA, when we went through the Ten Commandments, 'strange gods' was explained as being 'idols'.

An 'idol', according to the dictionary is –noun

1. an image or other material object representing a deity to which religious worship is addressed.
2. Bible.
a. an image of a deity other than God.
b. the deity itself.
3. any person or thing regarded with blind admiration, adoration, or devotion
4. a mere image or semblance of something, visible but without substance, as a phantom.
5. a figment of the mind; fantasy.
6. a false conception or notion; fallacy.

The definition that we concerned ourselves with, mainly, was number 3. An idol is not just a false god, but anything that you place before God. This can be money, your job, family, a hobby, friends, anything. I know that I have many 'idols' in my life, and I am doing my best to turn away from them. It's simply hard, after a life time of it, to reorder your life. However, swimming is not something that ever occured to me as being one of my 'idols'.

But maybe it is. I love it, I've gone to great lengths to be able to keep doing it, despite what I've come to realize are problematic aspects of it. One of the women on Umm Adams blog, Emma, belongs to a conservative Mennonite church, which views swimming as immodest, and they simply don't do it. I see that it can be immodest, and I've done my best to curtail that, so much as is possible. But the question becomes, am I placing my desire to do a thing I love before my obediance to God? It's not as though I believe swimming is going to send me to hell, far from it. But swimming is maybe just a focal point for this general question in my life. What other things am I bending and twisting around to be able to keep in my life, when I might be better served to just cut them out all together?

If I became convinced today that God forbade swimming, would I be able to stop? Do I have the strength to obey like that, in all aspects of my life?

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