Thursday, July 31, 2008

work up a sweat to 'praise the Lord'

Fires were burning in the abdominal muscles of a dozen women as they slowly raised and lowered their legs and praised the Lord in a church hall near Washington, while an uplifting gospel recording sang of how awesome God is. "We almost done, y'all praise God,"gospel aerobics instructor Melanie Kelly shouted over the music to the group of African-American women as they struggled to control the trembling legs they were lowering to the floor for the umpteenth time. Gospel aerobics blends spirituality and sport, adulation and adductors, praise and press-ups. It takes an arduous workout out of the gym and lifts it to a higher plane. "Gospel aerobics is where we come together and exercise to present our bodies as temples to God,"said Dawn Harvey, pastor at the church and founder of Embrace your Greatness, which aims to empower women. "Our bodies house the Holy Spirit, so we want to take very good care of our temples so we can live long, prosperous and healthy lives,"she said, citing from Paul's first letter to the Corinthians. Kelly has been leading the weekly gospel aerobics class in the carpeted meeting room with deep maroon walls at the Dawn Harvey Ministries church just outside Washington since April, when she said she acted on a vision she had been sent from on high. After a 10-minute warm-up, Kelly and her charges moved on to arm exercises as a CD-player in the corner belted out the lyrics: "Ever since the day you claimed me, I've never been the same." "Grab yourself back from the devil,"Kelly exhorted the women as they snatched at the air with outstretched hands and moved from side to side. "Lift him up, higher, higher,"the lithe instructor bellowed, as the music shifted to "My God is an awesome God"and the class began doing press-ups. Flagging bi- and triceps were buoyed by words of encouragement from others and by the music. "When we push ourselves, having music that actually fulfills the spirit and doesn't just move the body, helps,"said Harvey, who has dropped a dress size since she started taking the hour-long class. "No harm will come to these vessels... no pain... we ask you to remove it in the name of Jesus,"Kelly said, drawing approving 'Amens' from the sweaty class. And unlike the local gym, which one of the women described as a "meat market"where scantily clad men ogle just as scantily clad women, gospel aerobics classes are held in an environment where the only one watching is the instructor - and, of course, God

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