Saturday, September 05, 2009

The Spirituality of the Long Distance Runner

I have recently been enjoying the "What is Spiritual Practice" blog series by Christine Sine and associates over in Seattle these last few months. Exploring how every day experiences can be part of our devotion to God has always interested me, and this series of thoughts has been quite refreshing and eye opening about unexpected ways of encountering God.

Thanks to my recent health problems I have had to make some major changes to my diet and start a proper exercise regime. For me, proper exercise means running – it was a passion for much of my twenties and early thirties, but somehow marriage and fatherhood squeezed the time for such practices – until I realised it was one of the only ways I could lose weight and help bring my diabetes under control.

So, I dusted off my old running shoes, bought some running shorts, and fished my worn out running socks from the back of my drawers, and started to pound the pavements whenever I could. I started taking my running gear to work and running the streets of Borough in my lunch hour (I briefly tried to run the route between the Millennium Footbridge and Tower Bridge on both sides of the Thames, but the volume of tourists made this hazardous, and a gashed arm caused by a distracted individual idly forcing me into some railings made me give up on that idea!!).

I started working out longer routes around my neighbourhood – streets that I knew by car, and then back routes and down through woodland and waste ground that I had never even been aware of before. At work I discovered side streets with hidden parks and those wonderful London squares with shared gardens in the centre tucked away behind the utilitarian facades of Borough High Street and London Bridge. I have found that you learn much more about a place pacing it out on foot than you do in a car or on a bus.

But it is the discovery of things inside myself that caught me by surprise. That my body actually craves exercise, and that years of being sedentary had not only harmed my health but had affected my spirit – my body wants to run, and denying it that had left me feeling something was missing. Suddenly it was more than the endorphin high of a good run, it was a sense that my body was doing something it was designed for and designed to do well. I am a runner by nature, and on the road I have found that "sweet spot" – the place where my body works at its best. The challenge of a new hill, a harder circuit, a longer route, a better time, all making me stretch my body to do more of this, and my body responds with joy. I have lost over two and a half stone (around thirty pounds if you are American, around fifteen kilos if you are European), and around eight inches off my waist. But it is more the sense of having energy and stamina and feeling young again that has struck me. It's like the years have fallen off, and I have my old self back again.

And as I find this new/old sense of self, I am also finding God with me on my runs. Granted I usually run listening to a podcast of films reviews, news or other matters of interest to me, but even with that I find myself aware that I am not running alone. I am not sure why God made me good at this – I am never going to be good enough to compete (nor do I want to), and it is an intensely solitary pursuit for me, (although I enjoy running with a partner from time to time). Yet I sense that in finding this one area where I am fitted, I am opening myself up to God to use me in other ways that He has suited me to.

We all have a place where we fit, a role or a skill that is uniquely ours. Finding that "sweet spot" is the road to joy, peace and fulfilment. Not necessarily the road to comfort, prosperity and material security, as some of the American prosperity heresies would have it, mind. In fact quite the opposite. Running takes hard work, discipline and commitment, self-sacrifice. Serving God in whatever way takes no less focus and commitment. So I have found that while running is a good in itself for me, I have found it more as a reminder that God has good works prepared for me in whatever role or walk of life that I am in. That is the challenge we all face – and sometimes we find it by the most unexpected route.


JMarkSchwanz said...

Will respond with a concerted effort to find my sweet spot in kind.

Dale Fletcher said...

Hi Steve,

Thanks for your article about how you've been connecting with God during your runs.

I have been running for almost 40 years. Thought that you would enjoy reading a post I made a few weeks ago on running and faith.

Have a great day!

Paul C said...

hey buddy, just read your blog, well done on the weight loss you look great (lol typo-ed greta first!!)sorry to hear about diabetes tho. need to find where my sweet spot lies too, hmmm, swimming maybe wish it was free, can't run for toffee, Mmmm toffee, l8rs :)
PS love to all from all

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