The cell phone vibrated its alarm against my hand at 5:15 this morning. I pulled its glowing face from beneath the covers, turned off the alarm, and settled my head back against the pillow–for a few minutes. By 5:18, I was sitting up, pulling on my socks, then sliding my warm-up pants over the running shorts I had slept in to save time. I replaced my t-shirt with a tech shirt to run in. Then shoes (left untied until I reached the gym), winter coat, watch cap fished from the coat pocket to pull over my head and down on my ears. Wallet and phone stuffed into pockets, and key turned in the doors as I stepped into the pre-dawn cold.

By 5:30, stepping into the bright overhead lights and grunting and pounding of feet in one of the cardio rooms at the YMCA. I made my way along the back wall, along the line of treadmills, until I stopped in the middle at one of the newer ones, but not one with a television screen; those were further down. I peeled off the coat and warmups and hat, tied my shoes securely, and stepped onto the thin black plastic of the treadmill track. I joined the others, all of us wordless, running or leaning into one of the elliptical machines or sliding forward and back on the rowing machine in the corner, or silently lifting and lowering the black weights of the Nautilus machines against the front wall.

Some of us moved almost noiselessly, smoothly. Some of us breathed in a methodical, evenly audible way. Regular. Steady. Some of us grunted and gasped, straining  at the ragged edge of our bodies’ limits. Individually or in waves, we finish, wiped down our particular instrument of exertion, and disappear, to be replaced by another member of the community. Disciples, really.

One does not rise before daylight, dress, drive to a gym, put himself or herself through stress and strain, on a whim. These are signs of devotion to someone or something. For some of us, they are the most regular signs of devotion we show, beyond our family life. They are our most visible voluntary commitment. But moving in and out between the dark and the silence, between the cold outside and the lights high in the ceiling of the  cardio room, I couldn’t help thinking of my days with the old devotionals, and I couldn’t help trying to name the nature of my commitment now.


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