Running the Faith

Yesterday I entertained a luxuriously long run. I’ve been slowly working up to longer distances after 6 weeks away from jogging while on my most recent jaunt to Switzerland, and then India. I am happy to be working my way back up to my pre-travel fitness level. I walked as much as I could while away, and did a few exercises – a push-up here, a sit-up there – but now is the time to do a little catch-up.

I find running to be relaxing. I know that not everyone has this experience. But I find that I sometimes enter a Zen-like zone on the trail, something I’ve written about elsewhere. Jogging is pretty much meditation for me. I have a profound sense of God’s presence when I am running. I’m not at all surprised that the apostle uses a running metaphor to describe the spiritual life in 1 Cor. 9, although the idea of running to gain a prize isn’t altogether intriguing for me. Running is the prize, in my experience.

While on my most recent run I started thinking about running a marathon. Once upon a time, I was asked if I would ever do this, and I said no. At that time, I think the idea of the physical and time demand was a bit overwhelming. But now I find that I crave this time on the trail. I get lost in my thoughts, or perhaps my lack of thoughts. The idea of a marathon intrigues me because it will demand of me the sweet discipline of clocking in a significant number of kilometres each week in preparation. And so the idea of running a marathon marries the discipline of training and the experience of spiritual communion. I suppose it becomes, then, a spiritual discipline.

Spiritual disciplines are notoriously hard to define. It is easy to point to prayer, scripture, worship attendance etc. But I like an expansive definition, and readily include art, and conversation with friends, and walking, and baking, and running, etc. A spiritual discipline is an activity that promises a more intense awareness of God’s presence, although sometimes in the modality of a delayed gratification. There are so many ways in which I experience a more acute sense of the presence of God. To think that running has this benefit, as well as the joy of increasing one’s physical, emotion, and mental health too, is an amazing thing. But that is true, too, for other spiritual disciplines.

I am not absolutely certain that I will run a marathon this summer, but a seed has been planted. Perhaps the plant will be a surprise, but that’s the nature of grace, ever giving me joy in new and wonderous ways.

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Eve and Adam

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Eve,
today your
beauty was severe
as you sang the poetry of
trunks and branches runed,
and your face sparkled
with the blush of
first light.

Your breath spirited me
to this marvel of your
possessing me fully.
Here I fall ever
anew into you, into
your sacred site of joy.

I will not slip between
your fingers, but will cling
to you until that moment when
I finally and fully fall into death; and
until that days comes, I will
practice dying by coming
again and again to
the loam I am:
Adam.

Running Like a Fish

It has been an unusually mild winter in our parts – not much snow nor sun. These winters are utterly unlike those I remember as a child. This isn’t altogether surprising since I lived far west and north of my current location: now Southwestern Ontario, and then Central Alberta. I miss the sun but not the cold, although I find the weather feels warmer when there is snow on the ground.

While I haven’t been so fond of the weather, the upside is that it has made running outside quite easy. I have done a number of longer runs over the last little while, all around 10 km. My run starts with a bit of an uphill climb for the first 5 minutes or so. If you were to drive my pathway, you would have no idea that the path is uphill. In fact, when walking I would only attend to the grade for the last 100 metres or so of the first 500 metres. But running, like cycling, makes one intensely aware of grade, and wind, and temperature.

My pathway mostly involves a hiking/running path. It is well protected, which is nice when the predominantly northwest winds are blowing hard. The run is largely uphill on the way to my 5 km turn around. The trip home tends to be downhill, with the wind behind me most days. The trip home seems to be the part of the run where I manage to experience the “runner’s high.” This makes the run doubly rich.

The euphoria of these moments – not experienced with every run – are really quite remarkable, and give a kind of gravitas to the idea that the journey is the destination. The race itself is the prize, it seems. Many times, as I’ve run, I’ve thought about the marvel of being able to move, something I most often take for granted. When I’m in the right head and heart space, it strikes me as an utter marvel that I can slip across physical space like a fish through water. As I do so, I feel badly for people in cars, too often seemingly stressed and sometimes racing to make lights etc. When my lungs and legs are in harmony, my spirit soars and I have no desire to give up that feeling of being alive for the comfort of the car.

Last week I was speaking with a senior friend at church who ran regularly throughout his adult life. He spoke eloquently of the joy of the sport. He, unlike me, ran competitively. I have not run in a race proper since I was a youngster. One day I might try it again, but for now I revel in the experience of knowing that my knees can still sustain my joy, and my heart can yet propel a hope that humanity will find the collective will to ensure that the air for all is fresh.

My friend no longer runs but he remains an avid walker. One day my running days will be over, but as long as I’m able, I keep on the move, thankful for movement in whatever way I can manage – recalling all the while that it in God that we live and move and have our being.

Another Epiphany

This place feels strange, but
still, when I touch the
earth I feel home: this
red soil God bleeding
Adam, this crisp air God
spiriting Eve. The primal
pair is everywhere with
their progeny in tow.
Here I crouch on
the backs of
elders.

Not far from where I trace
You in the dirt, ancestors
watch me, seeing
whether I will
pay respect or not.

I try by God I try to walk in a good way.

I breath, and You come to me:
clothed with hills that pleat round
your sacred sites; Your cheeks now
flush with generosity; Your
locks frame your strength.

I look up to the rocks and
see You seeing me now
through these eyes, now
through those.

And I breath again and then
remember this: we all share
Your breathing us and
that is Joy.

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Takk for Alt

Christmas is upon us, a time of great joy for some and of some darkness for others. While this person celebrates, that person mourns. Most of us, I suspect experience a bit of both, thinking on those whose presences have graced our tables in times past but do so no more. I find myself thinking of my parents at Christmas. They are now gone but still present in important ways. Strangely, this last little while I have found myself thinking about my father’s mother, my Norwegian farmor. I never knew her, her having died some years before my birth. But I have heard bits and pieces about her, too few.

She was raised in Norway and came to the USA for a marriage that produced one son. Her first husband died in an accident, I was told, and she came to Canada to take up a business opportunity at Milk River in Alberta, where she met my grandfather – my farfar – who was homesteading a piece of land. They went through hard times, raising a family of 8 through the depression of the mid-20th century, losing a child and scratching out a living with little luxury. She died in her early 70s, I’ve heard. When I was visiting a cousin in Newfoundland, I ate at her table and was glad for that experience. That cousin has memories of farmor. I have none.

And so, I wonder why she is on my mind these days. How can someone I never knew take up residence in the “kingdom of memory,” a phrase used by Elie Wiesel? How is it that farmor commands my attention? I really have no answer for this question but am glad for her presence in absence.

Christians speak sometimes of the experience of presence in absence, feeling God acutely in those moments when we feel most godforsaken. Many of us see that evidenced in the life of Jesus, especially on the cross, where he quotes the first verse of Psalm 22, “My God, My God why have you forsaken me?” Scholars remind us that sometimes the first verse of a psalm was a kind of aide de memoire, invoking the whole of the psalm. In the case of Psalm 22, then, we are reminded that the same person who laments at the beginning of the psalm also said in verse 24: “For God did not despise or abhor the affliction of the afflicted; God did not hide the divine face from me, but heard when I cried to God.”

There is something right-headed about the fact that the psalmist both laments and praises God’s absence and presence in the same psalm, I think. From one psalm comes both praise and lament. In like fashion, from one heart comes both lament and praise, both doubt and faith. And from all of us comes an ache for a wholeness that is all-inclusive. Maybe that is why I’ve been thinking on farmor these days. Deep in my bones is the desire to be whole, and whole includes holding the hands of all who have suffered for my well-being, for my little successes, and for my great joys. My blood pulses with a desire to say thank-you, and this desire has taken shape in a thought, a thinking on a woman I never knew but whom I know to be a part of me. And so, on this Christmas time, I say to farmor “Takk, farmor, takk for alt.” And to all of my readers, I say thanks for journeying with me in 2018. You will hear from me again in the month of Janus, the wolf who stands at the door of the New Year.

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Limping toward You

And then You come to me
again, and again, and again,
slipping Your words into the silence
of my speech. You right and write
my wrongs in strophes of
reconciliation, allowing
my ears to be hallowed
by Your cries; my
eyes to be sanctified by
the sight of Your tears
now made mine.

You are not
content to see
me face to face
but embrace me
from the inside out:
Your presence now my joy,
Your absence now my hope,
my words now my tongue
limping toward
You.

My Week with Loons

My social media feeds today include images of people winding their way down the 400, Ontario’s cottage country parking lot. My wife and I travelled down it on Saturday without a hitch, before folk began their trek back to Toronto after the long-weekend in Algonquin and environs.

We spent just shy of a week in Ontario’s near north heaven: three days with dear friends at their family cottage and then three days of canoe camping. The former was simply a joy, and the latter a marvel. Summer is certainly the time to set aside some projects in order to rejuvenate the soul and see again the wonder of God’s creation.

We canoe camped on three different lakes (Raven, Linda, and Owl), and were entertained at each by loons. Canadians love loons so much that we have put them on our one-dollar coin. But to see a loon and to hear a loon are two different things. I learned, many years ago, how to make a loon call but it really seems to hold no truck with loons. The real thing, or things, is a marvel with their varying calls with meanings that I can only guess at. I recently learned that smaller lakes usually host only one pair of loons. Raven and Owl were quite small, while Linda was a bit larger. When we would paddle about on all three lakes, they would often be in our vicinity. Every now and then one would dive down, and re-appear a few minutes later: popping up out of the water a dozen metres or so from the canoe. We were utterly transfixed by them.

I also learned recently, that loons eat some small rocks along with their diet of small fish, frogs, salamanders and other aquatic foodstuff. The rocks apparently help digestion, breaking down exoskeletons of certain dishes. I’m fairly certain that much could be done with this, metaphor-wise, but I think I want to sit with this for a bit. I do know, however, that the seeing and hearing of loons piqued my interest in them anew, and my fascination with the wonders of creation.

Luther was something of a creation theologian, speaking of the divine converse between nature and its Creator. In his estimation, we are not the sole inheritors of God’s interest, a point too easily forgotten in too many iterations of Christianity, and perhaps other religious traditions afflicted with modern obsessions with the self. But the simple loon reminded me again that the community of well-being that God imagines is so much bigger than me and mine. It includes all of creation, which functions as so much more than a stage for the divine drama. The loon and the lake, as much as the human enjoying them, are players in God’s playbook, and we ignore what my Indigenous friends call “all of my relations” at our loss and peril both.