Since I live in the northwoods, I have little access to a good fitness center. However, I have been fascinated by several articles about Crossfit and SoulCycle fitness centers. Casper ter Kuile of Harvard Divinity School has noticed how gyms are starting to fill spiritual and social needs for many nonreligious people. With over four million users, the leaders of Crossfit, see themselves tending an orchard not building a skyscraper. “The two most strking things about Crossfitters,” observes ter Kuile, “are their evangelical enthusiasm and the way they hold one another to account.” SoulCycle promotes a shared, transformative experience. Ter Kuile notes, “many participants joke about the cult-like loyalty……which illustrates both the depth of participant commitment and the hope…..to fulfill brand promises like ‘find our soul.'”
What’s going on here? “As institutional affiliation decreases, people have the same age-old desires for connection, relationships, connection to something bigger than themselves,” maintains ter Kuile. “….spaces traditionally meant for exercise have become the locations of shared, transformative experience.” I personally am encouraged by this trend. Many of the assumptions of Crossfit and SoulCycle mirror the wildman journey. I want to point out five.
First, the need for relationship. These “boxes” have the feel of family. Men make connections with others. It is a place of belonging and acceptance. A recent survey of more than 2,ooo Americans conducted by the Harris Poll showed that almost three quarters (72%) of Americans experienced loneliness. “Loneliness is ‘an invisible epidemic’ masked by people’s online personas, which rarely reflects real emotions” observed the report. A Wildman needs a “band of brothers” knowing that “iron sharps iron.” He can’t stand alone.
Second, the need for a safe space. These gyms provide not only physical fitness but mental and spiritual transformation as well. Fitness is a journey into wholeness, recognizing where one is on the path. The gym provides a safe space to talk about the journey of life. A Wildman needs a safe space to talk about the challenges of the spiritual journey. Men learn the “male mode of feeling” with other men in a safe place.
Third. the need of soul care. It is amazing to me that SoulCycle would use the phrase, “find your soul.” There is an organization called “Faith RX’d” which combines CrossFit with Christianity. They believe “God an be glorified when we honor him with best efforts in the gym, and even more when we discuss ways to grow in a relationship with him, share His gospel and serve the needs of others.” While secular language is used, the language mirrors many of the function of religious communities. Above all, a Wildman is a soulful man, knowing he needs soul care.
Fourth, the desire for transformation. It is amazing to me how open these gyms are about change and even transformation. It is no longer just about physical fitness, but of life style change. A Wildman is a work in progress. He is being transformed from the inside out, by the spirit of God. Transformation is God’s work. There is the expectation that God can bring a change.
Fifth, the zeal to promote. One gym owner talked about his passion for his work. “I want people to know that CrossFit truly is for everyone…. I want to put it all on the line and open an affiliate because I believe in every part of CrossFit and I want to share that with people.” We live in a day when the Wildman journey is becoming one of the more viable means of resisting the darkness and spiritual chaos coming upon our nation. Wildmen are learning to stand in their true masculine strength.