Run no. 74 – One Man’s Meat

2017-05-17 15.08.14crop

Distance: 4.53 miles (7.3 km) Time: 46’ 05” (PB 38’ 38”)

It has been raining solidly all day; which, for me, is fantastic running weather. I love running in the rain.

I know that other people hate it. There are many who only enjoy running under a balmy blue sky, feeling the sun’s warmth on their backs. But not me; I love running in the rain.

For me any temperature above 20°C is too hot for running and I find it deeply uncomfortable.

No, it’s cold and rain for me, every time. Perhaps I’m a masochist, perhaps it’s just because I first started running in Scotland, a place known for its ‘rigorous’ climate. But for whatever reason that’s my preference.

It struck me that in our spiritual growth preference plays a large part too. What suits one person down to the ground as a way of expressing their faith, what helps them move forward in their relationship with God, won’t necessarily be helpful for someone else. Our individual personality, preferences, life-situation, age etc. all play a part in how we respond to the many different ways there are of expressing and exploring faith.

I have had the great privilege in my life to spend significant periods of time within many different spiritualities – Evangelical Protestant, Charismatic Baptist, Roman Catholic, and Anglican. I’ve also had the opportunity to encounter Orthodox, Methodist, and Pentecostal spiritualities, and I could probably list many more.

My experience has been that each of these has enriched me in some way.

The Evangelical Protestants taught me about how incredible the Bible is and how scholars through their books and sermons can really help me encounter God trough His Word. The Charismatics taught me how to encounter God in worship, His presence amongst us as we glorify Him. The Orthodox taught me how the senses can help us in worship and how glorious sounds, sights, and smells can help us move into the presence of God. The Catholics taught me how to encounter Jesus in the Mass. The Anglicans taught me how important unity within the Christian family is – however difficult it may be to achieve and maintain, and that perhaps preserving a difficult and fractious unity is the greatest act of worship we can give to God.

In fact all my experiences have encouraged me to see the differences in how Christians express their faith as riches we can share, rather than reasons to divide.

All of this means that if ever you are struggling spiritually and your current form of Christian spirituality is not doing it for you, then there are a whole range of different ways for you to try, one of which may be just what you need at this moment.

Try reading a book written by someone from a different Christian tradition, try watching a sermon on YouTube by a teacher from a different church, go and experience worship in another church, or go to a conference organised by a different denomination.

It’s like a child’s paint box. You might have your favourite colour – and that’s fine – but another colour might be just what you need at this moment. And if you tried something different, from a different spiritual tradition to your own and found that helpful, wouldn’t that make you appreciate your brothers and sisters in Christ just a little bit more, and wouldn’t that be a good thing?

 

 

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Run no. 73 – Transformation

pound coin flaws

Distance: 4.53 miles (7.3 km) Time: unrecorded (PB 38’ 38”)

Second run out after a 4 month lay off.

My return to running was sparked by a few things – my conscience telling me I should be doing regular exercise; the unpleasant feeling of unfitness during heavy exertion; the fact that I stood on the bathroom scales and they indicated 92 kg.

I guess the latter was the final straw. My ideal weight would probably be around 84 kg, so I’m 10 % overweight – that’s a lot.

And so I begin the slow and painful process of self-transformation. I’m trying to eat better – less food, less often. I’m trying to avoid the late evening wine, crisps and sweets that are my nemesis. I’m also back to running.

The hope is that these together will make a gradual difference. But I’m under no illusions as to the difficulty and the time this will take.

I was thinking how that analogy fits very well with the process of spiritual transformation.

The human person is a paradox. On the one hand we are ‘created in the image of God’[1], that is to say there are aspects of God’s nature in us, we are capable of God-like love, kindness, self-sacrifice, mercy, justice, beauty etc. On the other hand we have to recognise that this image is flawed and broken.

all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God[2]

The recent debacle over the flawed pound coins is an apt illustration. The image of the queen is marred and broken. It is still recognisably her, but not what it should be.

The Christians life is the process of transformation of self into what we should always have been; our truest and best self, our God-like self; a self that is only actualised as the result of being in relationship with God. Only God can restore Godlikeness in us.

The first step in the process starts only when we recognise our estrangement from God. The Christian faith holds that God Himself, in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus, has made it possible for us to be reconnected with God.

Jesus answered, ‘I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.[3]

Once that divine-human relationship is re-established then God Himself in the person of the Holy Spirit comes to indwell us, and it is His energy working in us that enables the transformation of self.

We all show the Lord’s glory, and we are being changed to be like him. This change in us brings more and more glory. And it comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit.[4]

This is a long, slow, and costly process. It requires devotion and discipline – but it is possible.

We are what we are, but what we become is a choice.

[1] Genesis 1 :27

[2] Romans 3 :23

[3] John 14 :6

[4] 2 Corinthians 3 :18


Run no. 72 – You won’t think that later

endorphin high

Distance: 4.53 miles (7.3 km) Time: unrecorded (PB 38’ 38”)

Today was my first run for 4 months.

I knew it was going to be hard and to hurt.

I didn’t time myself, as the objective was to see if I could still run 4.53 miles without stopping – I could, but only with great difficulty.

In my running loop I passed a lady walking her dog and gave my usual greeting “Good morning, God bless”. As I passed her again on the return part she shouted out an encouragement, “You’re nearly there!”

I replied “This is my first run for 4 months; stupid idea!”

She shouted back, “You won’t think that later!”

Which made me think.

Of course she was right.

You finish your run and the endorphin kick hits you – your body’s self-reward mechanism for your having done exercise.

You also experience the warm glow of satisfaction that you can still run, when many of your friends of the same age can’t.

You get the sense of righteousness that in that doing exercise you are protecting your body against 30 different types of cancer.

That helped me – lungs afire, heavy-legged, and uncomfortably hot. That reminder of the good that was to come got me through the final third of my run.

This reminded me that the spiritual ‘race’ is no different.

St Paul described his approach in the following way:

Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize of God’s heavenly calling in Christ Jesus. (Philippians 3:13-14)

None of the things which foster our spiritual life – prayer, engagement with the Bible, attendance at a worshipping community, serving others and sharing with them, the de-centring of my own wants and needs, giving God control of my life – are easy. They never become easy. They are always costly and challenging and go against our nature.

The only reason that we will embrace them is the hope of where they lead, to goal to which they can take us.

What s that goal? Well God is His own reward – He has nothing better to offer us than Himself. The more we embrace the disciplines of the spiritual life, the more God will reveal Himself to us and in us.

Recently I have had a powerful reminder of the latter.

A man I know has recently become a monk. He still lives in the same village, he still carries out a full-time job, but he lives according to the monastic rule of life and he lives to serve God and his community.

He rises at 3:45 to spend 3 hours in prayer and meditation. He stops every three hours during the working day to pray the monastic offices.

The change I have seen in him over the past year has been dramatic. There is a presence in him, a peace, and an authority. Just to be with him is to experience God.

Obviously we are not all called to be monks, but we are all called to be in relationship with God, and we are all capable of it.

All it takes is discipline.

All that will sustain it as we experience the pain and challenge is the knowledge of where this leads us – to a deeper encounter with that being who is all good, all wise, all love, all power, all majesty.

I think that this should motivate me more.