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Spirituality & Running

Running as a Pilgrimage?

Okay, so Wednesday my blog was a little on the short side. As I was reflecting on these two chapters I was somewhat struggling with the sacramental running aspect. It just wasn’t clicking for me at first, but after spending some time re-reading and reflecting it became clearer to me and as I put the words in writing I knew I needed to just sit with that and not rush into the next chapter. So today I want to continue with the next part which is running as a pilgrimage.

Running for me has been transformative. It has challenged me physically, mentally and spiritually and has pushed me deeper and harder than I had thought it would. As I read the chapter on running as a pilgrimage I could see the connection, then this morning after our run we talked about it. The best comparison between the two would be those who run a marathon. Training for a marathon takes you away from your daily life more and more as you put more and more hours into training, then most likely you will have to travel someplace for your marathon possibly on your own, the day of you will probably meet many others you have never met before and talk about running. When you go on a pilgrimage you disconnect from your daily life to go someplace – like the holy land, or Rome, or another holy place – you usually go with a group of people, possibly strangers or acquaintances, and you talk about what you see each day. As I read this chapter it took me back to something Matthew Kelly said in his book Resisting Happiness, when they take a group on a pilgrimage they will ask the group members if they are tourists or pilgrims as there is a vast difference. According to Kelly a pilgrim

“looks for signs. If a flight get delayed or canceled, they ask, ‘What is God trying to say to me?’ Pilgrims are not concerned with seeing and doing everything, just the things they feel called to see and do. They are not obsessed with shopping. They are aware of the needs of others. Pilgrims go looking for meaning. Pilgrims count their blessings.” (page 148)

After a pilgrimage, a pilgrim comes back to their daily life – but they have changed, they have been transformed. Four years ago I went to Guatemala for three weeks, when I returned I looked the same yet on the inside I had changed. A year into my running, you can compare pictures of me then and now and see some definite differences, but the biggest difference for me has been interior. I was talking with someone this morning about how running has changed the outside of our bodies in ways we weren’t expecting (my arms are skinnier, my shoulders are more defined, I only have one chin in pictures, etc) but the reality is that we are changing from the inside out. That’s a pilgrimage – a transformation that begins inside of us, which no one sees. When you return from your pilgrimage, your marathon, you look the same as you did when you left, to others you are the same, but now you look at the world through a different lens and eventually that interior change will cause exterior change as well.

How have you been transformed through running or through a pilgrimage of anther kind?

Running as a sacrament?

So the next two chapters are about sacramental running and running as a pilgrimage.

When we consider the word sacrament or sacramental we are talking about “a sacred or holy thing” and “a visible sign of an invisible reality.” So what does this have to do with running? On Friday mornings we have talked a lot about what we see on our runs, how we experience God in the nature around us, the people we encounter, the mantras we use; there are many ways that we experience the holy. I think this chapter is speaking about a deeper experience – maybe even those experiences that we don’t talk about because there are no words to define the holy, the divine experience that we have. There are many aspects of my run that I cannot explain to someone else – there is vulnerability, openness, a childlike experience that breaks down the barriers we put up in our daily life and opens us up to an unfiltered presence of God. Just as the water is poured during Baptism, the oils are absorbed into our flesh at Confirmation, Jesus enters into us at Eucharist – there is a physical reality in running that opens us to something much greater than ourselves. As I run I experience the water droplets of sweat that run down my face and my back, the dry mouth that has absorbed all the moisture and is in want of more, the pain or discomfort that has entered my legs or lungs as I continue to push forward – these physical realities can cause me to break down and want to stop, or can remind me of the cross and point me to Jesus, opening me even more to the holy moment that I am in.

I began this journey almost a year ago to focus on getting healthier. The reality for me today is that my desire to continue running goes way beyond my physical health and weight loss.

I’ll let you chew on this for now, and I’ll respond to the pilgrimage chapter in the morning…

Meditative Running

The most common understanding of meditation is “to muse,” “to ponder,” “to reflect,” or “to consider” and when you look at meditation in this way it’s easy for me to see how running is meditation! When I run I often ponder and reflect. The author mentions a few times how meditation can bring us to spiritual enlightenment.

In my last post I mentioned how repetitive prayer can become a mantra. In this chapter of the book the author talks a great deal about mantras and the use of them while running. He talks about what he calls “seed mantras” which are basic sounds we make that express good feelings - like that groan you make as you stretch as you get out of bed in the morning, or the sigh that you have as you drink that first sip of coffee. These sounds connect us with feelings deep inside and maybe even positive memories. Then we have the mantras that we use to focus. Often when I am using the prayer form of centering prayer I will have a word for phrase that I use when I know that I have let too many thoughts enter into my mind. Some people always use the same phrase, I often choose mine each time based on what is happening in my life. The final type of mantra the author talks about is to customize your mantra – make it something that speaks to you. Is there a phrase from the Bible that speaks to you and you want to carry with you as you run. One of my favorites is “Be still and know that I am God” (Psalm 46:10). But since I’m running I prefer to use that one when I’m meditating. While running I have often thought of “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me” (Phil. 4:13). Mantras are good and help us to keep before us what is important.

In this chapter the author also introduces us to Lectio Divina, which is a beautiful way to pray with Sacred Scripture. What if you were to read a few verses of Scripture before you took off on your run and let that Scripture soak into your being as your ran? What if you let that be your mantra? Not comfortable with Scripture – try a good spiritual book and read a section before you go out. I run in the mornings but I am thinking I need to lay out next to my clothes a piece of paper with the Scripture on it – so I can read it before I go or even carry it with me to read if my foggy morning brain forgets it.

For me this was a beautiful chapter on really letting your run be a spiritual encounter rather than an exercise routine. What a wonderful concept – one worth pursuing!

What mantra or Scripture do you, or would you use, when you go out running?

God bless you on your next run. Be safe and careful in the heat!

**> TOMORROW’s RUN:

Still planning to meet at 5:30am to run as usual. Due to the heat warnings I will have water available should anyone want to carry a bottle with them as we go out! See you in the morning! **

Praying and Running

Sunday morning I went for a run. I shut off the music, I shut off my running app that tells me my mileage and timing, but I did keep my training app on so that I could listen to the directions of walk, jog, run, etc. It was a different kind of run for me. I was much more aware of my breathing and of the sounds of the traffic around me. Even though I didn't listen to music I noticed that the lyrics of some of the songs that have impacted me while running came to me anyway. It was a short run on Sunday (thank goodness with the heat and a later than usual run). Between the heat and the traffic it was a good reminder to me as to why I run so early in the morning! 5:30/6:00am the heat isn't too overwhelming yet and there is much less traffic. Since I know myself pretty well I also spent Sunday morning going a route I never go - so that way I wasn't mentally tallying up how far and guessing my timing - I still did some of that but it was harder since I wasn't as familiar with the distance on this route. This morning I again had a short run in my training, so I did the same - no music, no voice coach, just my trainer telling me when to walk, when to run and when to cool down walk. It was wonderful! I found myself more aware of my body but also more mentally open. It was a wonderful run!

Well, we are up to Chapter five in the book. This was a good chapter for me and I found some great inspiration from it. It is called "Prayerful Running". In the early days my prayer was definitely more of a get-me-through-this, but now my prayer as I run is more of a waiting to see God reveal himself to me through nature, or through people, or through inspiration that I get as I'm running.

The author mentions often that he is not Catholic, yet refers often to those Catholics he knows who use the sign of the cross before they run. Do you do this when you go out running? I'm still working on finding a ritual that works for me to begin my run. The sign of the cross is an amazingly simple prayer, calling upon the Father the Son and the Holy Spirit to be with us, to lead and guide us. My problem truly is that since I run in the morning like I do I'm just happy to be dressed and out the door and I'm probably not fully awake until I've actually been running for awhile.

I love how when I am running I can't be doing anything else. I can't be reading a book or knitting a sweater (although I read an article about a couple of people who did this - so never say never!), I can't be checking and responding to emails, basically when I run, I run. The only thing I can do is think and open myself and my mind to anything. It may be prayer, it may be contemplating a problem I am having, it may be just being open to what the spirit puts there. The thing is what we think about as we run often is, or borders on, prayer.

The author also gave some great ideas for intentionally incorporating prayer into your run.

  1. One thing he talked about was "prayer flags" which are common in the Buddhist tradition. He then shared how any of us could do this also. A prayer flag is just that, a piece of cloth with a prayer written on it - when you see it you pray for the intention. Well, when you are a race or even when you are out running in a park or a trail you see other people with t-shirts on that might be from previous races/runs that they did. Many of those shirts probably promote a charity. Pray for that charity. Then there's the idea to make your own. Write your prayer intention on your shirt so that when you put it on, or when others see it, it is a call to prayer.
  2. Another idea the author gives, and again remember he is not Catholic, is to carry prayer beads. I have carried a rosary - which I have not found to be the most easy thing to do, but it can be used to help you focus your prayer and the repetition of your prayer becomes a mantra as you run. This can be helpful. I have at times, when my run gets hard, focused on saying the Hail Mary or Glory Be and counting on my fingers as a way to distract myself from the difficulty and put my focus elsewhere. I have a one decade rosary that I think I'll try one of these days also!
  3. And a final suggestion the author gives in this chapter has to do with those who wear a "pace band" when running a marathon. The pace band helps you during the marathon to know if you are on pace mile to mile. The author suggests that next to each mile you not only have your time, but a person that you will pray for during that mile. I like this idea. Maybe someday I'll run a few more miles at one time, but for now I can get my 1-3 people prayed for during my morning runs! Hoping to reach 4 miles on a run soon! Not looking for any miracles, but a little more distance and a little more speed is my hope these days! And with each mile I can pray for another person/intention!

My question for you today - how do you incorporate prayer into your run? Do you have a starting ritual that invites God into the activity? Do you have people that you pray for when you run? Do you pray while you run - or are you like me and some days your run is filled with nothing concrete in your mind, yet ends up being very mentally and spiritually satisfying and renewing? Share your running and praying!

Running as Ritual… as Sanctuary… ?

Chapter four of the book Running: the Sacred Art made me really stop to think.

The author tells a story about Henri Nouwen, a Catholic priest well known for his writing, who wanted some time away from the pressures of life to renew himself. Nouwen went to a monastery to live for seven months. During that time he was able to do the things he needed to in order to renew himself – pray, meditate, etc. At the end of his seven months Nouwen was set to leave the monastery and realized that the pressures of life haven’t changed because of his time in the monastery. What he came to realize, and what we all need to realize, is that we must go to the monastery within our daily life; we need to find ways to renew ourselves and feed ourselves within daily life, not only when we go on retreat. I know have encountered similar feelings when I have gone on 7-day silent retreats the last few years. They are renewing and rewarding in many ways – it never ceases to amaze me how much I am challenged and changed in that time – but then I return to the same life I left a week ago, the same pressures, stresses and joys. The challenge becomes how to bring that retreat experience of God more intentionally into my daily life. I still want my week away to go deeper, but finding ways and places to renew myself daily is just as necessary to healthy living. Running is like the monastery – it is a place that we can go to every day or a couple times a week, where we can be renewed in body, mind and soul!

This morning after our run the group was sharing. The author talks in this chapter about the difference between routines (getting up, showering, brushing my teeth, etc as I get ready for the day), traditions (yearly birthday celebrations, anniversaries, watching the Olympics or the super bowl, etc) and rituals (intentional things we do to bring meaning, significance or identify what we are doing as holy). It was a great topic of conversation – many of us have routines and patterns that we follow, but ritual was tougher to identify. Many of us pray during our runs. We talked about the people we run into, or the paths we take which allow us to think about things other than “where-am-I” so that we can open ourselves to deeper ponderings in our heart and mind. Ritual is harder to recognize, it’s something intentional and practiced until it becomes second nature – like making the sign of the cross is second nature to most of us and we do it without even thinking. My routine is to roll out of bed, get dressed, start any app’s I need for that day, and head out the door, it’s after I start running (and wake up completely!) that God and I begin talking with one another. Both last week and this week the group prayed together before taking off for the park, it’s a beautiful prayer for before a run! This is an area I need to be more intentional in.

This topic really had me thinking this morning. On my walk back to work I had crossed First Street and someone waved at me from their car. I waved back, and it hit me as I looked at the drivers in the cars all looking ahead, getting their day started – could I pray for those I encounter on my run? So I started to pray for those people as they headed into their day and wherever their day may take them. Being intentional about bringing God into our run is how we make running a place of sanctuary, a place where we can meet God more deeply than the rest of our day as we run from meeting to meeting or commitment to commitment.

My challenge for the next week: I like running in the mornings, it gets my day started on the right foot. It always makes me feel recharged and ready to face the demands and stressors of the day. As I pondered this chapter and the discussion this morning I reflected back on some thoughts I had during my run earlier in the week – I have my set area that I typically run in, and I don’t really deviate from there and that brings comfort, that brings ease to my running, but could it also be limiting me? Am I holding myself back by staying where I am comfortable? Do I need to expand my “path” and run in a place unfamiliar with no “coach” (or app) telling me how fast or slow I am going? What would happen if I completely stepped out of my comfort zone and just ran? That’s what I am pondering today – I’m going to give it a try and I’ll let you know how it goes!

What about you –

  • What are some rituals you have to bring God into your day?
  • What routines, traditions or rituals do you have surrounding your run?

Let's go for a run!

Tomorrow is our second Friday in July – that means I’ll see you here at 5:30am!

Meet in the parking lot by the west doors (just outside room 9/kitchen area).

5:30am – short meet, greet, and pray

5:35am – go for a run! (see photo above for map) –

  • up Bel-Aire, over on 5th to NE Crestmoor PL. (.75 miles)
  • around crestbruck park (.61 miles) – lap as many or as few a times as you would like for the time frame!
  • Come back the way we went up – or come out at Innsbruck, then over on 5th to Trilein, down to First. (.77 miles)

6:10-6:15am – Return to OLIH

6:15-6:45am – Room 9/or outside the west doors (depending on weather!)

  • enjoy a simple breakfast: I’ll have steel cut oats, soaked in almond milk overnight, Fruit, Yogurt, Protein bars, Chocolate milk
  • (feel free to bring something else if you would like – this is my typical breakfast after I run)
    • Conversation about the blog, running and spirituality. Basically let’s share our experiences!

6:45am – head home to shower and get ready for the day!

What do you see?

In chapter three the author focuses on what you SEE. While running I have seen some beautiful things – rainbows, wildlife, people out walking, - but is that all that I SEE? The author challenges us to look beyond what we physically SEE in order to SEE the sacred.

If you look at the above picture – what do you see? Do you see a duck or do you see a rabbit? Our eyes and brain probably honed in on one of those images, and maybe it was able to readily see the second image as well. We are exposed to and SEE things through the lens of our life experience, through the lens of our attitude or mood, through the lens of our perspective on life. If it was Easter time you might have seen the rabbit first, if you’re a duck hunter you might have seen the duck first, but in the end it doesn’t matter what we saw first, it matters that we realize that there is more there than what we initially saw.

When I get up in the morning one of the first things I do before I run or after my shower is put on my glasses. My glasses allow me to see the details in things I would not otherwise see. We all put on glasses – the lenses that we look through. Are your lenses rose-colored? Are your lenses dark? Do you have lots of smudges and hurts that you look through? Are you looking through a lens of faith?

When we run we should always be aware of our surrounding – the hazards that are in our way, the people we encounter, the homes that pass – we are aware of where we are and where we are heading. As we run we look around us. I’ve heard of people watching for certain things – trees or fire hydrants or dogs, counting them as they go. I’ve watched others walking or running and set my pace to theirs, or tried to quicken my pace to pass them. We watch, we look, we see, we respond… but what is it that we do not see?

As I run I contemplate, I chew on things. As I run I think about things outside of my physical body. As I run I see God. I see God in my physical ability to do something that one year ago I would not have been able to do! One year ago I would not have been able to run for 40 minutes straight, I would have given up or laughed at you for suggesting that I try it. Today, I can run for 40 minutes and it feels good! The same is true in my prayer life. Years ago if you would have told me to sit in silence for an hour and listen for God I would have not been able to do it. Today, I can and it feels good! As I run and as I contemplate God during my run I open myself up to seeing things that I would not have seen before. I mentioned in an earlier blog that I have not only lost pounds, but emotional baggage too. As I run I have seen God working in me, molding me, chiseling away at what isn’t of Him in my life. When I return from running I don’t want to eat junk food, I also find myself looking less and less towards my vices that keep me trapped away from growing closer to God. I’ve found that I’m not running away from an old way of living, but instead I have been running towards a better way of living and loving myself and ridding myself of baggage that has held me away from God.

When I look in the mirror I don’t see me, I see a child of God!

For contemplation:

  • What do you see when you go for your run?
  • How do you see God in your life today?
  • How are you different from a year ago?

What “Stage” of a runner are you?

The author of the book talks about five stages of running:

“The Beginner” – this stage can be a struggle. Just like any good habits we need to take time and energy to make it a habit. It’s easy to find yourself distracted or find excuses to not get out there. As I talked about on Monday our world looks for the “fast-food” experience and so beginning to run is hard, so when you’re not seeing your desired results right away it’s frustrating and you want to give up. What got me through this phase was that each week I looked at my calendar and planned out which 3 days would be run days, and then I would figure out what time I would run on those days. Some days that meant going for a long lunch so that I could run during my lunch, I put it into my schedule for the day to make it work. I also found some support through my sister who knew I was doing this (not many people did since I wanted to make sure I was going to stick with it before I told too many people!). I would text her and tell her that I ran, a simple “good job” goes a long way when you are feeling like you’re not seeing results. Once I felt I was developing the habit I shared some on social media – where I got lots of support, advice and feedback that helped me to be okay with the little results I saw and hold out hope that bigger results were on the way!

“The Jogger” – In this phase Kay says that a person is more at home with, more comfortable with running. They are enjoying it more and even seeing the psychological, as well as the physical, benefits of running. I am pretty sure this is the phase that I am in now. I enjoy running and don’t want to miss a day! I have started to be more regular in my cross-training and strength training to help improve my running and overall health.

“The Competitor” – Competition drives this person, sometimes to the point that the value of a daily run isn’t so important; it’s seen just as a step towards a better race time. This phase of running can be good as many lessons will be learned, both in running and in life. Pushing oneself can help us to know ourselves better – know our limits, but also see what we can push ourselves to. I see little bits of this phase in me. I want to push harder to get better, but I am also still good with just a nice run day. I have little to no desire to compete in races, but want to keep improving my time and distance. As I write on this one it takes me back to one of my earlier posts where I talked about how I need to keep reminding myself that “I am enough.” I want to do better and more, but how far can I push myself? Can I push myself harder? Am I okay being who I am and accepting my own limits and abilities? This is a constant struggle for me.

“The Athlete” – This stage is more of how a person sees themselves. Competition is not the key here, but getting out there and running well is what matters.

“The Runner” – This final stage is a combination, a balance, of the other stages. Running has become for this person so much more than a physical competition, but a personal enjoyment, a time of solitude and peacefulness.

Each of these stages offers an opportunity to grow spiritually. As a beginner I tried to avoid distractions during a run by calling upon God to help me, to give me the strength to keep moving forward. If a beginner can push away the distractions, they can find God in the midst of the pain, the fatigue, and the struggle. For me, in the jogger stage, I would say finding God here is easy. I go out and enjoy the run; I have found myself able to be open to the beauty that surrounds me in nature. A jogger enjoys the run and sees things beyond the physical aspect of running. A couple weeks ago I was running and saw that beautiful double rainbow, I thought of God’s promises to be with us if we trust in Him, I thanked him for the beautiful reminder of my need to trust Him in all ways as I continued to run. A competitor is going to have a lot more struggle in finding the spiritual especially if they are only relying on themselves to win races and get better times. The competitor stage can steer a person away from spiritual running and only focus on the rewards. The athlete and the runner both are running for a higher purpose so finding spirituality in their running can be a part of any run for them!

  • Look at your running – what stage of a runner do you see yourself as?
  • Where do you find God in your running?
  • If you are past the "beginner" stage - what would your advice be to those who are in the beginner, jogger, or competitor stages?
  • What helped you to grow as a runner? What about running helped you to grow spiritually?**

No "Fast-Food" Spirituality

In the picture above you see 2 photos of me - one from a year ago and one from last week. I look at myself everyday and I know that my body has changed slowly over the last 9 months, but when you compare side by side and see the changes it's amazing to me! This change was only possible because I put in the hours of running each week, because I would reconfigure my schedule each week to figure out when and how I would get my running in. When I look at those pictures though, to me they represent so much more than just the physical transformation that I have made in the last year; for me I see the pounds of emotional baggage that I have let go of as well as the spritiual strength training that made it all possible!

In chapter 1 of the book the author talks of how families used to spend hours cooking and making meals but in today’s world there are many people who will do fast-food or a restaurant for a majority of their meals, still being nourished by food, but missing out on some of the wonderful blessings that come with the preparation and cleanup. I remember growing up and working in the kitchen with my parents or my sisters to make meals and to do the dishes afterwards. In our house going out to eat was a real treat, and although not having to do the work of preparing a meal or cleaning up afterwards, there was something lacking in those meals.

In today’s world we have often found that people want to do “fast-food” for everything – let’s get it done and move on. One thing I have learned about running is that reading about it, watching videos about it, or talking about it – all good things and ways to learn and grow – will not make me faster or go for longer distances. The only thing that will make me faster or increase my endurance is to go out and run the miles. This is the same with spirituality. The only way for me to grow in my relationship with God is to spend time in relationship with God. In both running and spirituality there are no short-cuts, there are not “fast-food” solutions, in order to grow you must put in the time and energy.

Let’s look at our three aspects of spirituality – our relationship with our self, others and God. What work do you need to put into these areas?

First we want to be in right relationship with our self. One thing I have learned in the last year through both running and my Spiritual Direction program is that we must be honest with our self. In order to grow in running and to grow in spirituality there is no hiding the truth or covering up I must be vulnerable and open, I must be honest about who I am and in regards to all my strengths and weaknesses. When I run it’s me – there are no fancy clothes or make-up to hide behind. The other day I took a fall in front of a gentleman who was out walking with his cup of coffee, as I got up we both were able to laugh about the ‘hazards’ of running. There was no hiding my stumble, it was what it was and there was nothing I could do but roll with it! When we are with God it’s the same – there is no place to hide. Adam and Eve tried the whole hiding thing in the garden, it didn’t work for them either.

Second we want to be in right relationship with others. Next time you are out running look around you. Look at those out there with you. We are all vulnerable as we get out there! We are a community that either lifts one another up or tears one another down. The gentleman with his coffee is part of my morning run – LOL – I see him most mornings. I could not tell you his name, but I look forward to seeing him and being reminded of my need to remain humble in all things. How do you encounter people you see on your run? What gift do you bring to them? Do you encourage or discourage?

Third we want to be in right relationship with God. When we run, it’s our time to be one with nature, with God, to let go of the distractions of the day and just be. We still need to know our surroundings, but we can be with God in a whole new way. A couple months ago I was running at a campground and was a little more hyper-vigilant that usual and as I ran around a curve in the road movement caught my eye and I stopped. In the next 30 seconds I witnessed 7 or 8 deer all moving slowly in the wooded area. I just stood there and took in the beauty of the moment, and then I thanked God for sharing that with me and moved along. It was a wonderful moment that reminded me of the beauty of creation and how interconnected we all are!

For your journal:

What is the main thing standing in the way of having a good relationship with yourself? With others? With God? What caused the obstacle? What can you begin to do to dismantle or overcome that obstacle? Before you go for your next run, review what you’ve written so you can ponder it as you run and perhaps discover what you can do to remedy your situation. (Page 17 of Running – the Sacred Art)

In the last year I have not only started running, but a week later I also started a Spiritual Direction program. For me these two “programs” have carried over to one another and crisscrossed all year! So when I stumbled across the book, Running – the Sacred Art by Warren Kay I felt a stirring within me to do something with it.

In the forward of the book Kristin Armstrong says, “I read someplace that it was possible to enter a state of meditation by monotonous movement. This is my sacred space when I run alone, this is my ritual, this is my sanctuary! I find God here, waiting for me, matching my pace. As my breath gets less jagged and my stride settles into my unique patter of effort, I find inner stillness cradled in outer motion. Through that stillness I have found a great deal of peace. After a lifetime of panting I finally caught my breath.”

As I read this I recognized my journey – just in reverse. This person was saying that they struggled with meditation and eventually found it in her running, whereas I would say I was searching for the “outer motion” that would cradle my inner stillness.

I’ve heard stories for years of runners who pray during their runs. I know someone who told me that was when she did her rosary every day was during her daily run. My husband and I have done some biking in the past and often when I encountered a hill I didn’t think I could get up I would pray the rosary or a mantra of some sort to put my focus someplace other than the seeming insurmountable hill. I learned that praying through those physical challenges, just like praying during any crisis in life, is a wonderful way of surrendering to a power greater than you! So, when I started running I knew that I wanted my mind to be focused on God. Don’t laugh, but in the beginning – those first few runs – my “music” was the Divine Mercy Chaplet – a great mantra to focus on during those first few weeks. I eventually moved on to iHeart Radio and one of their Christian stations. But for me keeping God centered in my run was an important, even necessary, part of running. The days when I get to an easy comfortable stride I feel the presence of God flowing through me to where I feel I like I don’t want to stop! In his book Kay focuses on the spirituality of running – how running is a spiritual practice. In the Introduction Kay identifies three main aspects of spirituality and spiritual health:

  • Establishing a right relationship with oneself: Basically what the author wants you to consider here is how do you feel about you? Are you happy with your life, or do you often look for what you don’t have that others do have? Do you see yourself as ‘enough’ or do you more often see yourself as missing something? This is something that I struggle with at times – especially when it comes to being physically active. I’m learning a new mantra when I want to give up because I am too slow or not as fast as others – “I am enough.” It’s often easier to see the areas I am lacking in rather than to be okay with who I am and what I am capable of. “I am enough
  • Good relationships with other people: Here the author suggests that we look at our relationships with others and evaluate the quality of those relationships. Do you have relationships based only on what the other can do for you? Look at some of your close relationships – identify the give and take. Part of my Spiritual Direction “homework” is to take time to process some of my conversations and one piece of that process is to determine what gift did I bring to the conversation and which gift did I gain from the conversation. Try this: after you have an encounter with a colleague, a friend or family member, take a moment to consider: what gift did I bring, what gift did I receive?
  • Good relationship with God: Throughout this book/this month of July, we will spend time exploring this third aspect of spirituality. For now I want you to start at the basics – who is God to you? Who is Jesus? Who is the Holy Spirit? How do you relate to God? How do you wish to relate to God?

I don’t often journal, but with my running I’ve been considering it more. Kay suggests that we journal as a way to grow as a runner, but also to help us to grow spiritually. By daily journaling we can keep track of any basic information that can help us in our running – what we ate, where we ran, what the weather was like, etc, etc – whatever you feel can be helpful as you look back to see patterns in your behavior. The second benefit to journaling is to jot down your spiritual experience on your run. I don’t know about you but sometimes when I run my brain works through problems or frustrations and it is during my run that I gain insight or a sense of peacefulness. There are times when I am running and something that I haven’t thought about for awhile comes racing to my mind, and as I run I spend time with it and it’s good. Consciously recognizing any of this is helpful. At times things you write into your journal may not be things you are consciously thinking about, and so through journaling you may find the more concrete understanding of what God was revealing to you on your run. Journaling can also be motivation for your next run.

Whether you journal or not, throughout this blog I’ll be adding in some of the journaling questions that the author suggests. I encourage whether you use written format or not that you take some time to reflect and consider the questions. So here is your first: Looking at the three aspects of spiritual health:

  • Right relationship with oneself
  • Right relationship with others
  • Right relationship with God

Name 3 things in each area that you are not happy with that you know can be improved. Then name 3 things in each area that you are very happy with. Consider these lists as you go out to run over the next several weeks. As you allow yourself to run with these positives and negatives begin to listen with your heart as you run!

I’ve been playing around with a “journal” page to help me keep track of things – feel free to check out what I have done or start our own.

A year ago I was not a runner. I was not a huge walker. I was not very active. A year ago a friend of mine was running across Iowa in the MS Run the US. He ran a total of 325 miles. All I could think while I was cheering him on through social media was how amazing he was for doing this and how there was no way I could ever do that. That was when I found the app called “Charity Miles” – you go on and choose the charity, then walk or run, and it logs your mileage and gives to your charity based on your miles. So I told him that I would never run for MS, but I would do what I could and walk! Ha, little did I know God’s plan for me in the next year!

My running story is just an ordinary story, ordinary training, ordinary person – but it’s been filled with joy, hope and a presence of God I never imagined possible!

At the end of August I went to the doctor where I was told that my cholesterol was still out of control and the only way to change the numbers was to do some serious exercise or add medication. Walking wasn’t going to cut it, I needed something more. I felt defeated. As the weekend approached and we got ready to go camping, my husband looked at me and said “are you taking your bike or are you starting to run?” I didn’t believe in myself – he told me “if your sister and I can do it, you can do it!” Well, that’s the opposite of what I’ve been told my whole life when it comes to anything athletic. So I downloaded a couch-to-5K app as I walked out the door to go camping for Labor Day weekend. Little did I realize how much that one last minute download as I walked out the door would change my life!

For my first “run” I was out for 28½ minutes – 5 minutes of walking to warm up, and then one minute of running followed by 1½ minutes of walking (x8), then a 5 minute cool down. Each of those one minute runs I thought I might die, but I didn’t and I kept moving forward. Then during week 8 of my training I was to run for 28 minutes straight. I started crying halfway through my first run that week because I remembered that first day in September when I wasn’t sure that I would make it through 28 minutes with only 8 of those minutes running, and on this day I was running 28 minutes straight through! In that moment I realized just how far I had come! That was not the first, nor the last moment of grace I have experienced in this journey!

Since that first “run” in September I have logged many miles. For me running has become the answer to a prayer that I have had on my heart for years. Over the last several years I have watched my weight go up as I have become more inactive and as a result I have felt distance between me and God. My body was made to be a temple; I am to be the feet and hands of Christ on this earth. My body and inactivity held me back from being the person God made me to be. When I would reflect on the 10 Commandments with the youth in classes in Marshalltown, or in my own examination of conscience, I would pause on #5 thou shall not kill. I wasn’t caring for my body in the way God intended, so was I slowly killing myself through inactivity and an attitude of indifference? I felt I had my mind and heart in the right place with God, my study and prayer life were good, but there was something missing and I found that missing link when I started to run. Truly there is a body, mind and heart connection and they all needed to be in sync!

I went back to the doctor for a cholesterol check in March and was terrified. If my numbers did not come back improved enough I was afraid I would feel defeated again and give up on running. But, my numbers all looked great! YAY!

I ran my first 5K on April 1. For me that was huge. I went to pick up my race bag the night before and was suddenly faced with the old voices in my head that told me I wasn’t an athlete, I would humiliate myself, etc, etc. I considered not going. Two things made me go: One, a friend who knew I was doing this volunteered at the 5K – so as they say, when you partner up and you know someone is expecting you you’re more likely to follow through, and second I was on Facebook that night and an ad for running pants showed up on my feed. The pants had a picture of a turtle and the saying “I Run, I may be slower than a herd of turtles stampeding through peanut butter, but I RUN.” It made me laugh and reminded me that running isn’t about anyone but me, me and God. So I ran my first (and so far only) 5K and survived!

Now, I run about three times a week and on my non-run days I have a variety of other workouts I do. I just started a new app, a 5K-to-10K, just to keep pushing me harder to grow in endurance and speed. I listen to Christian music when I run and often have interesting conversations with God as a result. Like one day I was miserable and hadn’t gone far, so I decided instead of running my usual I would turn around at the next corner and head home. Suddenly there is a line in the song that tells me not to turn around but to keep moving forward. I laughed, thanked God for the inspiration and encouragement, and ran my usual run. Recently, I was running my best time in a long time and fell. I got up, dusted myself off and thought ‘hey, I could still make it my best time’ so I started running again, and the music reminded me that sometimes we fall, but we get back up and keep going. When I run it’s about me, me and God. He runs with me!

One of the reason’s this book “Running – a Sacred Art” caught my attention is that since I began this journey just 9 months ago, I have found many parallels between running and spirituality. Although I do a lot with my mind and heart to grow in faith and love, I’m coming to see the body as another wonderful way to grow in faith and love! So excited to have you on this journey with me during the month of July! Follow the blog as I log about the book and share pieces of my story as we go!

So, I’ve told you my initial story, I’d love to hear yours… When did you start running/walking? What was your inspiration to begin? How is God a part of your running/walking?

I've encountered a wonderful book called: Running - the Sacred Art: Preparing to Practice by Dr Warren A Kay. During the month of July I will be reading and blogging about this book and my experience as a new runner. I invite any of you who are runners, joggers, and even the avid walker - to join me on Friday mornings. We will gather at 5:30am at OLIH to say a prayer, then follow our path to Crestmoor park (about 3/4 of a mile to, just over a half-mile around, and then back) - each person moving along at his/her pace for 30-40 minutes. Then we will return to OLIH and gather in room 9 for a light breakfast and some conversation about our experience of growing both as a runner and growing in faith as a part of our running!

I'll start blogging more regularly the week of June 26 in anticipation of our Friday runs!