Run no. 78 – Shall I call the ambulance now?

health_heart

Distance: 4.53 miles (7.3 km) Time: 42’ 54” (PB 38’ 38”)

The cheek of some people!

As I was running around Watermeads Country Park on my usual run; in reply to my cheery, “Good afternoon. God bless you!” some cheeky beggar shouted out to me,

“Shall I call the ambulance now?”

Which made me realise that I do not have the running equivalent of a ‘poker face’.

Some people have a running gait that looks effortless – even when they’re pushing hard.

Some have a beatific facial expression that belies all effort.

Not so me!

It is very obvious that every ounce of pain and effort is writ large on my face and shown in my belaboured running gait.

I guess this is true in the spiritual life too.

For some people the spiritual life looks easy. They exemplify certain verses in the Bible that seem to indicate this is how things should be;

“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened,

and I will give you rest.

Take my yoke upon you and learn from me,

for I am gentle and humble in heart,

and you will find rest for your souls.

For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”[1]

For others the spiritual life doesn’t look like that at all. Rather it is more like some other scriptural verses. I think of St Paul’s use of metaphors from the boxing ring and the gym;

Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one gets the prize?

Run in such a way as to get the prize.

Everyone who competes in the games goes into strict training.

They do it to get a crown that will not last, but we do it to get a crown that will last forever.

Therefore I do not run like someone running aimlessly;

I do not fight like a boxer beating the air.

No, I strike a blow to my body and make it my slave so that after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified for the prize.[2]

So which of these is the truth about the spiritual life?

I guess the classic answer is both/and.

There are times when things go easy, God seems close, blessings are abundant and we can very well agree with Brother Lawrence that;

Our business is simply to love and be happy in God.[3]

At other times God will seem remote, blessings none existant, the demands of the spiritual life burdensome, and the rewards absent.

It is at times like these that the mental toughness developed by running can help.

We run even when it isn’t fun, because we know it is good.

Likewise we love and centre our lives on God, regardless of the payoff. It is simply the right way to ‘be’. And our perspective is the long game; not the close horizon of our earthly existence, but the far horizon of an eternity with God enjoying Him and all the good He has planned for us.

From the perspective of eternity our pains will be our pride;

they will be the inerasable evidence of our love for, and commitment to, God.

 

[1] Matthew 11 :28-30 NIV

[2] 1 Corinthian 9:24-27 NIV

[3] The Practice of the presence of God, 2nd conversation.

Advertisements

A 400 year old conversation

 

brotherlawrence

Run No. 70         Distance: 4.53 miles (7.3 km) Time: 44’14” (PB 38’ 38”)

As I ran today I was reflecting on what I have been studying recently.

It is a small booklet of 12 pages of notes that were taken of a series of four conversations between two Frenchmen between 3rd August 1666 and 25th November 1667.

The one man was a Catholic priest, the other was a lay brother who worked in the kitchens of a monastery.

One man sought the spiritual advice of the other.

Counter-intuitively it was the priest who sought spiritual guidance from the kitchen-worker.

After the death of the kitchen-worker, the notes of this conversation were quickly put into print, at first by the Protestant Huguenot community, then later by the Catholic press.

They have become known as a classic work of spirituality by both communities and are still immensely popular today.

The kitchen-worker was born Nicholas Herman in Lorraine, Eastern France in 1611. He had a basic education but was forced to go into the army at 18 as no other career prospects opened up.

He was very quickly wounded when Swedish forces raided a neighbouring village. His injuries left him lame and in chronic pain for the rest of his life.

He was unable to continue in the army and got employment as a footman – a domestic servant – to a rich man. His duties were waiting at table and receiving visitors. But unfortunately he was naturally clumsy and his lameness only made this worse. His employer described him as;

‘A big clumsy fellow who smashed everything.’[1]

Somewhere around this time he had an experience during which he noticed a tree in winter, stripped of its leaves. He reflected that in a short while it would have new leaves, then flowers, and then fruit. This so impressed him as an example of how God provides for us, that it became a spiritual turning point in his life.

He entered a monastery, taking the name Brother Lawrence of the Resurrection. He expected that his clumsiness and failings would be punished and that this would be something he could offer to God, but instead he found nothing but contentment. He would often say to God that he had duped him!

In the monastery his basic education meant he was only fit for menial work, so he was put in the kitchens, peeling vegetables and cooking meals. Cooking was something for which he had a natural aversion, but he decided to do it for the love of God and continued in it for the next 30 years of his life.

What makes his story so interesting was that he had the insight that his menial work could be just as pleasing to God and an act of spiritual worship as anything else; that he could do – and should do – everything that he did for the love of God.

‘He was happy if he could pick up a straw from the ground for the love of God, seeking Him alone, nothing else, not even His gifts.’[2]

His spirituality is full of self-knowledge, humanity and gentleness with himself and others;

“When I see that I am at fault I admit it and say: ‘That is just like me; I can do nothing right by myself’; when I do not fail, I acknowledge that it is God’s doing and give thanks to Him.”[3]

It is such a healthy and life-affirming spirituality. His simple method was to live his life in the presence of God, having a life-long communion and conversation with God.

‘That we ought to act very simply towards God, speaking frankly to Him, and asking His help in things as they occurred; in his experience, God never failed to give it.’ [4]

‘That with him the time of prayer was not different from any other; he had set times for it, which the Father Prior had appointed, but he neither wanted nor asked for them, for the most absorbing work did not divert him from God.’ [5]

His simplicity of life brought Brother Lawrence both peace and contentment;

 ‘That he gave thought neither to death nor to his sins, neither to Heaven nor to Hell, but only to the doing of small things for the love of God – small things because he as incapable of big ones. He need trouble no further, for whatever came after would be according to God’s will.’[6]

He came to find that his menial work actually brought him closer to God than the formal times of prayer;

‘That he was more united to God during his ordinary activities than in religious exercises, in which he was generally afflicted with spiritual dryness.’[7]

What makes his approach to the spiritual life so great is that it is attainable for everyone;

‘That neither skill nor knowledge is required to enable us to go to God, but just a heart determined to turn to Him only, to beat for Him only, and to love Him only.’[8]

‘That our sanctification did not depend upon doing certain works, but upon doing for God that which we ordinarily did for ourselves.’[9]

‘That we ought not to get tired of doing little things for the love of God, because He looks at the love rather than the work. And we need not be surprised at our frequent failures at first; the time will come when we shall make our acts naturally and with gladness.’[10]

This spiritual approach sets the goal of our lives;

‘…to become as good worshippers of God as we possibly can, as we hope to be His perfect worshippers for all eternity.’[11]

I reflected how complicated we often make the spiritual life, when it really can be so simple; not easy, but simple.

As I ran I found myself again giving thanks to God for Brother Lawrence and offering my run to God as worship and an act of love.

 

[1] Donald ATTWATER (translator), The Practice of the Presence of God, London: Burns & Oates, 1926 (1693), p1

[2] ibid. p3

[3] ibid. p7

[4] ibid p5

[5] ibid.

[6] ibid. p7

[7] ibid. p9

[8] ibid.

[9] ibid. p10

[10] ibid. p11

[11] ibid.