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.

Dance me a Prayer

Yesterday I spent my Sunday morning at Trinity Lutheran, New Hamburg. The good folk there invited me to speak on the topic of “evil” in the adult education hour, after the Anchor service at 9:30 am. It was a delightful morning. Pastor André spoke winsomely of the passion narrative, making reference to the Greek text in order to reframe the story for us and thereby giving occasion for my heart to be strangely warmed. Pastor Anne presided at Holy Communion. It is always a treat to hear again her voice. I closed my eyes and experienced transport of a sort as she chanted me into a different place, a different time. We sang one of my favourite Lenten hymns: Go to Dark Gethsemane. The journey had just begun.

With coffee in hand I moved over to the education room, where I had opportunity to chat with 30 or 40 people on the topic of evil. It was a rich experience, indeed, as I heard the stories that sustain people, as well as the questions that plague them. We spoke for a time on the topic of evil, and its character as both a philosophical quagmire and an existential pit. We spoke of evil’s irrational character, which seems to preclude making sense of it.

People asked me probing questions, and together we endeavored to imagine a Christian response to evil – looking to lament and a struggle against injustice to assist us in such times and places. People spoke so openly of their trials – it was really very moving. One elderly woman spoke of her strategy for dealing with the dark days that descend upon her from time to time. She told me, she told us all that when a heavy, claustrophobic cloud descends upon her, she pulls out her favourite dancing music and dances – all by herself in her room – despite the fact that she can hardly walk. She can dance herself out of the darkness in vexing moments. It was beautiful to hear her talk of her strategy and the hope she embodies in dancing. It struck me that her dance is her prayer of lament, of faith, of life.

On this, the beginning of Holy Week, we could do worse than imagine ways to dance together through the multifarious modes of darkness that descend upon us here and there, now and then. This elderly dancer spoke to us of the relief that comes as we allow our body to speak what our heart feels. I don’t know about the others, but I came away a little richer yesterday as I was afforded that curious opportunity to be a co-learner as well as a co-teacher.

My prayer for us, Lenten pilgrims all, is that we may take advantage of this week to discern how to dance a prayer through the darkness: from dark Gethsemane to the darker cross and tomb, and then at the last into the glorious splendor of life.