Run no. 19 – You need to suffer to be beautiful

exhausted-runner

Distance: 4.53 miles   Time: 39’ 51” (New PB)

The French proverb says:

« Il faut souffrir pour être belle »

(You must suffer in order to be beautiful.)

Well I was suffering today, although I’m still as ugly as ever. So I’m somewhat doubtful about the veracity of this particular proverb.

But it did start me on a reflective path regarding suffering and beauty.

Why does beauty require suffering?

In the origins story in the Bible it says over and over again, that everything God made, he proclaimed good.

One must assume that the central characters, Adam and Eve, were therefore beautiful.

Indeed the first recorded human words in that story are a love poem to the praise of Eve’s beauty.

Adam awakes and sees this exquisite creature and bursts into poetic adoration – some emotions are so weighty that only poetry is strong enough to carry them.

Ugliness only appears after the Fall; when the human beings rebel, go their own way, doubt God’s goodness and wisdom, and the result is that ugliness creeps in to the world.

It is from this point on that beauty involves suffering, striving against nature and against the effects of time; a battle that we all finally lose.

Happily that is not the end of the story. For the Good News that Jesus Christ came to proclaim and obtain, is that God offers us another possible ending.

An ending in which we are raised from death, given new, everlasting bodies. These will be of a different nature, unencumbered by the ugliness and weakness that we used to know.

In actual fact none of us have ever seen a ‘real’ human being – one undamaged and unlimited by the effects of our fallen state. If we ever did, I imagine we would be lost in wonder.

C.S. Lewis once wrote about a pregnant woman imprisoned in a cell without windows. She gives birth to a son and tries to explain to him the world outside. She draws in the dust with her finger the outline of a tree and tries to explain what it is.

Lewis said the boy’s appreciation of a tree is somewhat like our appreciation of heaven. We have marks scratched in the ground, outlines, images but the reality will so far surpass our imagination, as the reality of a living, majestic tree, leaves blowing in the wind, surpasses the boy’s appreciation of a few scratches in the dirt.

Our new bodies will be amazing and they will surely be beautiful.

To turn around the proverb, Jesus suffered to make us beautiful.

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Run no. 18 – Reluctant running

love hate running

Distance: 4.53 miles   Time: 40’ 51”

I don’t know if it just me that experiences this. But some mornings I open my eyes and the sun is shining, I feel full of energy and I just can’t wait to pull on my running shoes and get out there.

It feels natural, it feels right, it feels like an expression of my core identity, it is what I really, really want to do.

Some days it is not like that.

I lie in bed and feel twinges in my body and manage to convince myself that running would likely cause a serious injury. I feel tired and tell myself that running now would leave me exhausted for the rest of the day. Everything in me is saying “No! Don’t do this!”

So I cajole myself, I force myself, I shame myself in whatever way I can, to motivate myself into getting up and going out; for it feels like the very last thing I want to do.

I do this because I understand that though my feelings towards running change radically, the benefits that running brings me don’t.

Running is always good for me – psychologically, physically and even spiritually – whether I feel good about it or not.

And when I do make it across the doorstep, I know it will be fine; I may even enjoy it. Once I’m actually running, my feelings about running may well change and become a lot more positive.

In a similar vein, I remember seeing some scientific research a few years ago that said that if you pretend to be friendly to someone towards whom you do not feel friendly feelings, you will actually start to feel friendlier towards them.

Pretending leads to becoming.

I have to force myself to pretend to like running when I’m not feeling it. And this act of pretence may well even help me to genuinely feel those positive feelings towards running again.

There are many areas of life where pretending things that we’re not feeling is the absolutely right thing to do.

In any long-term relationship the romantic feelings come and go. Tiredness, illness, stress etc. can all have a detrimental effect on the warm loving feelings we feel towards our partner. However, we know that saying “I love you” even when you don’t feel it is vitally important. Love is a commitment and if any relationship is to survive long-term it is commitment that must be its foundation, not transitory feelings.

As a parent, I comfort my children in their distress whether I feel like it or not. I well remember one night when in the wee small hours our infant son threw up over me as I picked him up out of his cot. I remember the sinking feeling as I knew I had an hour’s clear up, bed-making and showering before me, and the prospect of work in only a few hours. But I also knew that whatever I felt, I must act in accordance with parental love – a love I wasn’t feeling too strongly at that moment!

In the spiritual life, pretending is also a key activity.

Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience.[1]

for all of you who were baptised into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ.[2]

But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness,  gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law. Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires.[3]

In the mystery of walking with God, our transformation into what we should be is both effected by our active participation and God’s divine Spirit at work in us.

We know that we do not yet feel continuously loving, joyful, peaceful, forbearing, kind, good, faithful, gentle and self-controlled; but we are required to pretend; to act as if we did. In some mysterious way this act of will, in cooperation with the Spirit of God in us, leads to our genuine transformation.

We will not ever become perfect in this, this side of eternity. But the more we pretend to things we do not fell, the close we shall become.

Pretending is the way to make it real.

[1] Colossians 3:12 NIV

[2] Galatians 3:27 NIVUK

[3] Galatians 5 :22-24 NIVUK


Run no. 17 – Fragrant runners

chanel no5

Distance: 4.53 miles   Time: 41’ 12”

One thing that has rarely occurred to me to consider in my 40 year running career, is how I smell.

Perhaps if you meet someone after a run and before you hit the shower, it might momentarily cross my mind.

When I lived in France and the normal greeting when you met a female you knew, was a kiss on each cheek, I always desisted when I was all sweaty – and I saw the relief in their eyes, when I did this!

But I’m not sure even then I was troubled by how I smelt.

Out running today and a lady runner ran past me running in the other direction, and for the next few metres I was running in a drift of the most wonderful perfume. It was absolutely gorgeous. Now I’m no expert on such things – although I have managed to buy my wife new perfumes that she has liked – but I couldn’t say what the perfume was, or even identify it if I smelled it again. But in that moment; the wonderful and unexpected surprise of this delicious perfume was fantastic – a little unforeseen blessing in an ordinary day.

This started me thinking of the importance of smell and aroma in the spiritual life.

Of course the most obvious of these is the use of incense, both to create a sacred space, a space set apart for an encounter with God, a mark of setting things aside for God’s service; and also as a symbolic representation of our prayers which rise to God like the smoke of incense rises towards the heavens.

However, there is a deeper sense in which the spiritual life is all about aroma, about us becoming a divine aroma in the nostrils of those we meet;

But thanks be to God, who always leads us as captives in Christ’s triumphal procession and uses us to spread the aroma of the knowledge of him everywhere.

For we are to God the pleasing aroma of Christ among those who are being saved and those who are perishing.

To the one we are an aroma that brings death; to the other, an aroma that brings life. And who is equal to such a task?[1]

It is interesting to see that the aroma of Christ which we transmit by sharing the story and the meaning of the life of Jesus Christ, and in loving service to the world, finds quite different receptions.

For some it is the aroma of death, for others the aroma of life. It will be rejected, or accepted, with massive consequences either way.

Which makes this task an awesome undertaking, that makes us feel inadequate and unprepared.

But this is our honour, our duty, and our calling; to be the fragrance of Christ in the world.

I rarely think about how I smell when running, I know I need to think a lot more seriously about how I transmit Christ’s fragrance to those around me.

God wants fragrant runners.

[1] 2 Corinthians 2:14-16 NIV


Run no. 16 – Running against the grain

against the grain

Distance: 4.53 miles   Time: 40’ 46”

Out for a run, slightly later this morning, around 0800 when I left and the sun was already out and it felt quite warm.

As I trundled around the lake I noticed that I don’t overtake many runners – not surprising in and of itself! But neither am I overtaken by many. This is mostly because everyone else seems to run around the lake in the opposite direction. I run counter clockwise whilst nearly everyone else runs clockwise.

I wondered as to why that might be?

Is it because after 14 years living in France and driving on the right hand side of the road, that I naturally tend to veer right at any junction?

Is it because my running gait has a tendency to throw me off to one side?

Or is it because I am just contrary and out of step with the world?! Am I just someone running against the grain?

There are many ways in which running goes against the grain for me.

I used to be tall and skinny – as a young man I was painfully thin and with long legs I was morphologically suited to long distance running. I would accidently find myself running as a young man. It was effortless.

Now I am still 6 foot tall, but the skinny adjective no longer applies! I’m therefore less well suited to running than I was. Running is less a natural expression of my youthful vitality and more something that goes against the grain.

Another way in which running goes against the grain is the fact that I don’t often enjoy running that much when I’m doing it – usually the pleasure only kicks in once I have stopped!

This pleasure is mostly linked to a sense of achievement that I have done it, that I’m still doing sport; that I am still trying to maintain a certain level of fitness and I am positive about the health benefits and sense of well-being that running supports. I know that exercise is no guarantee that I won’t get some awful disease or die young. But at least I know that I am helping my chances statistically; I am putting myself on the side of the angels.

In my spiritual life I also find myself required to do things that go against the grain.

The world tells me that happiness comes from outside of myself – people, possessions, money, and power.

Whereas the spiritual truth of the matter is that happiness comes from a restored relationship with God, at the deepest core of my being;

…you have made us for yourself, and our heart is restless until it rests in you[1]

The process of being reconciled to God is only made possible because of the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, God the Son;

Jesus answered, ‘I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.’[2]

Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life, but whoever rejects the Son will not see life, for God’s wrath remains on them[3]

We must hope that the way(s) in which people can access this reconciliation that only Christ makes possible are as varied as possible. However, the only specific model we have is from Christ Himself and is presented in the nature of a choice freely made to trust in Him, to believe in Him.

For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him. Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because they have not believed in the name of God’s one and only Son.[4]

As we believe in Christ, we receive as a free gift, forgiveness, reconciliation, the indwelling Spirit of God, adoption into God’s family, and new life, which is unquenchable and eternal.

This then leads to a turning away from a life characterised by rebellion against God and from all that is displeasing to Him, and positively we turn ourselves towards God and orient our lives to pleasing Him, doing His will.

All of this goes against the grain. It requires a person to win that greatest of all battles -the battle against themselves.

[1] St Augustine (Trans. E. M. Blaiklock), The Confessions of Saint Augustine, London: Hodder & Stoughton, 1983, p15

[2] John 14:6 NIV

[3] John 3:36 NIV

[4] John 3:16-18 NIV


Run no. 15 – Running signposts

onewaysignpost

Distance: 4.53 miles   Time: 40’ 33”

As I ran around Watermeads Country Park today, I was passed by a cyclist.

This is not an usual occurrence. What was unusual was that after he passed me he did not immediately disappear into the distance, but I seemed to be keeping pace with him.

The momentary fancy that perhaps I was running faster, was son shattered as he stopped and turned to address me.

We were at a fork in the path and he asked me, “Is this the way to Thurmaston?”

I answered in the affirmative; we exchanged momentary pleasantries about how easy it is to lose one’s way on these twisty pathways – I have form in this! He then thanked me and cycled off, quickly disappearing into the distance.

It struck me that I had actually served as a ‘running signpost’ for that cyclist.

As I reflected further, it occurred to me that we also act as ‘running signposts’ to each other in the spiritual realm.

We are all on a spiritual path, heading in a chosen direction, with a specific appreciation and understanding of the terrain, where we have come from and a fair idea of where we are heading.

As we bump into each other we can serve as running signposts, pointing each other to the way we believe to be the right one.

There are only two kinds of people who really make use of signposts:

The first group is those who know themselves to be lost. They have no idea where they are, they have no idea what road to take, and they are searching desperately for a signpost that will point them in the right direction.

The second group is those who think that they are on the right road, but who are starting to have doubts, second thoughts, to experience confusion; these people need a signpost to affirm them, to reassure them, to let them know that all is well.

I understand this second circumstance particularly well, as I lived in France for many years and have first-hand experience of the dreaded French ‘déviation’. In France when road works require the closure of a road – which happens a lot in narrow country roads – a big friendly sign will show you the direction of the ‘déviation’ – the way around the blockage.

Sadly, after that first indication, there is normally no other signpost placed along the alternative route. They are not so much a system of guide posts to take drivers around the closed road, as an initial indication to local people of the best direction to start from in their circuitous route based upon their own local knowledge.

Any ‘out-of-towners’ who follow the deviation signpost, will find themselves barrelling down a French country lane for several kilometres until gradually it dawns upon them that no further signposts have been placed, and that, almost certainly, they should have turned right or left several minutes ago.

In the UK ‘deviations’ tend to be marked from start to finish, with signposts placed at regular intervals in order to reassure people that they are still on the right route around the blockage.

As we act as running signposts to each other on our spiritual journey we need to be ready to point out what we believe to be the right direction.

Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect[1]

As we meet with people who are searching for direction, we can, as running signposts, only share with people the story of our ‘road so far’. Our personal knowledge of where we have come from, how we began our journey, why we chose this particular path, and where we believe the journey will end.

For those who are starting to doubt whether they are on the right road there are two things to say. Firstly, that wondering, worrying, reflecting are not negative but positive. It is better to be thinking about, and attentive to, the path you are on, than simply blindly, unthinkingly, crashing forward. Progress is only progress when you are headed in the right direction and we can all lose our way from time to time (me more than most!).

But we can also confirm that we believe this to be the right road, to share those experiences, insights, encounters that have given us confidence in our chosen route.

Therefore encourage one another and build each other up, just as in fact you are doing.[2]

Keep running, keep pointing to the way.

[1] 1 Peter 3 :15 NIV

[2] 1 Thessalonians 5:11 NIV


Run no. 13 and 14 – Running without footprints

Running-feet

(Run 13 – Distance: 4.53 miles Time: 41’04” Passed without thought or incident – lucky for some?!)

Distance: 4.53 miles   Time: 41’43”

It was a good run. First one for over a week as I was away on holiday. During which time I enjoyed fine wine, good food, and even some top single malts. The bathroom scales gave an indication of a certain degree of damage done.

So today on with the running shoes and let’s try and push that needle backwards. It was ideal running conditions for me today; fine drizzle, sufficient to cool me down and to disguise the copious torrents of sweat falling down my empurpled face.

As I ran around Watermeads Country Park I took a deliberate pleasure in the lakes and trees. It struck me that I have been very lucky in that throughout my running life I have lived in places where I could run in the countryside. Every home I have lived in has been within a few minutes run of open country, or a country park. I haven’t had to run in an urban context, dodging pedestrians and being stared at by strangers. Today I was struck by just how lucky I have been in this.

I think the appreciation of the countryside, the fact of being surrounded by trees, plants and animals, does something very profound to human beings. I think we instinctively feel a desire for harmony with the earth. We respect those nomadic cultures who ‘walk softly on the earth’, who after centuries of living in a land have not scarred it or damaged it, but preserved it. They run their earthly course leaving no footprints behind.

Yesterday at evensong we read from the book of Job and this idea of harmony with the earth was magnificently evoked. In talking about God’s blessing on a person it says,

For you shall be in league with the stones of the field

and the wild animals will be at pace with you[1]

This verse expresses one of the ways in which God’s blessing is experienced – through being in harmony with the created order – both animate and inanimate.

In effect this is a re-establishment of the edenic harmony of the origins story. A story that could be paraphrased,

In the beginning God created two nudist vegans and put them in an garden

In this paradise they were fed with the fruit of the trees of the garden. Their work of developing and nurturing the garden was not an essential chore in order to provide food, but a joyful expression of their God-given creativity.

Sadly they rebelled against God and in that moment their relationship with God was broken,

Then the man and his wife heard the sound of the LORD God as he was walking in the garden in the cool of the day, and they hid from the LORD God among the trees of the garden.[2]

Their relationship to each other was broken,

Your desire will be for your husband, and he will rule over you.[3]

Their relationship to the created world was broken,

Cursed is the ground because of you; through painful toil you will eat food from it all the days of your life.[4]

What human beings long for is merely a restoration of what was meant to be. We long for harmony with each other, we long for harmony with the Earth and we long for harmony with God (although we often don’t know how to name this deep longing within us).

It is interesting to see that those who walk closest to God often experience this harmony with the created world. In the bible we read that Daniel was unharmed when thrown into a lion pit and Elijah was fed by ravens (Blog). In hagiographic writings we read of saints that had unusually deep relationships with animals – Saint Kentigern was led to the site for a future monastery by a boar (Blog).

My enjoyment of running surrounded by nature is a shadowy reaching towards the ultimate harmony with the creation that I shall enjoy in glory – a foretaste, a hint, a glimpse of the glory that will be.

[1] Job 5 :23

[2] Genesis 3 :8 NIV

[3] Genesis 3:16b NIV

[4] Genesis 3 :17b NIV


Run No. 12 You just had to be there

Run no. 12     Distance :  4.53 miles Time :  (forgot my watch, no really!)

Up at 0630 out at 0650 as it has been hot the past few days.

 

Somewhat hesitant to run as my heels (Achilles tendons) have been a bit tender. Ironically this is not a running injury, but from a long walk in uncushioned shoes.

I have been treating with an ice pack and it seems on the mend. But having had big problems in the past, I am somewhat nervous.

 

As I got into my rhythm my mood was not improved by seeing my reflection in a shop window. Mirror, mirror on the wall, who is the …. In the name of the wee man ! (As they expostulate in Glasgow).

 

The rather portly old gentleman, stared back at me mercilessly.

 

A friend of mine describes attractive young people as ‘those whose containment field is still intact’. On the evidence my own containment field is well and truly blown, and almost certainly beyond repair!

 

As I recovered from this sledgehammer blow to my self-esteem, I reflected on the fact that at least I was out in the fresh air, still recognisably running on a sunny morning in a lovely spot. It was being there that was the important thing.

 

This started a thought about how wonderful the past day has been. All my three sons and one of their girlfriends are visiting. So far we haven’t done anything, not visited anywhere, not seen any sites, not been out for medals; we have just enjoyed, delighted even, the simple fact of being together. This happens only once or twice a year now, so these times are increasingly precious.

 

This reminded me that Christian prayer should be understood in this way.

What is important is not what we say, but who we are with.

 

I have not met any VIPs in a one to one setting, and I have no desire to do so. But should that ever occur, I am sure my friends will not be very interested in what I said, but rather, what did they say, what were they like, what was being with them like?

 

In prayer we meet with the nec plus ultra of VIPs. Hence, our words, our thoughts, our contributions are of far lesser importance than what He says to us, what we pick up from simply being in His presence.

 

As a loving father I simply delight in my boys being with me. I’m pretty sure God feels the same way. Prayer is primarily about presence, being with God.

 

Prayer – you just have to be there.