Distance: 4.53 miles Time: 41’ 19”
I have written before about my generally solo running career. Mostly this is down to circumstances, but it also because running on my own gives me time and space to think; ‘headspace’ as it is sometimes termed, and this is actually one of the things I most appreciate about running.
In my ‘headspace’ zone this morning, I reflected on the fact of accompaniment, and on the fact that, at least in spiritual terms, running alone is not an option.
When people first start out on the life of faith, it is generally because some faith community shared the faith with them. Either directly, through personal contact, or indirectly through media, books, etc. In either case some presentation is received that has its origin in a particular faith community, either transmitted person to person, or in a crafted and created presentation medium, made to share the faith with others.
Which means that the beginning of a life of faith is never a purely solo affair; it is nearly always instigated by an encounter with a message that is the product and promulgation of a specific faith community.
This creates a great tension, for the reality of what actually happens in order to start us out on the life of faith is an encounter with the Divine; an encounter, which being beyond words, cannot be other than intensely personal and interior.
So our faith is both intensely private and unavoidably communitarian.
As we move on in faith we find that spiritual progress is likewise a communal affair. The Bible knows nothing of lone Christians living out their faith in separation from a faith community, or from the Universal Church.
To be a child of God is to be sibling with every other member of His family. And God expects, desires and demands that His family function as such; as a deeply loving, mutually committed and cohesive unit.
Any attempt to live the life of faith without reference to the family of faith is an act of rebellion against our Father; it is also to place ourselves in a position of fragility and danger, separated from the teaching, training, encouragement and discipline that our spiritual family is meant to provide.
This is possibly one of the key areas in which Western culture most clashes with the Christian ethos. The intense individualism of contemporary Western culture negates and refutes the communitarian nature of the Christian faith.
This idea of responsibility for each other, mutual accountability, is strange and uncomfortable to most contemporary Christians. Sometimes this is because of the negative examples of past abuse of authority in Christian communities, where love has not been felt to be the motivating force at work. But mostly it is because we do not want to have other people having input into one of the most personal areas of our lives, neither do we want the hassle and responsibility of watching over the spiritual lives of others.
In a real sense we all know ourselves to have enough on our plate trying to keep ourselves on track spiritually and we feel no ‘moral authority’ to go poking our noses into other’s people’s struggles and difficulties.
But as Luther famously wrote, the answer to abuse is not non-use but right use.
Given that loving community creates a plausibility structure for the gospel message, our failure to create this will only serve to undermine any attempt we make to reach others for God.
Community is not an option.
We do not run alone, we are not permitted to pretend that we do.
Time 42’ 05” Total Distance 7.3 km (4.54 miles)
Not good today. Woke up, and as soon as my feet hit the deck I pulled on my running gear, a quick stretch and off out.
Sometimes that works.
Sometimes if you hit your system with strenuous exercise before it knows where it is, you just get into a rhythm.
I just felt knackered from the off and all the way ‘round.
I was thinking that my 7th run since re-starting after a long break should have been good. Then I wondered why I made that connection between the number 7 and perfection.
I remembered it is from the Bible, in biblical symbolism 7 represents perfection. This probably originates with the Genesis creation story, where God makes a perfect world in 7 days (well 6 and a rest day!).
From then on 7 came to stand for that which is perfect ideal.
I then remembered the Number of the Beast – 666 – in the book of Revelation – a number which represents all that stands most forcefully against God and against good.
It struck me that we might have expected his number to be 111 and not 666. For surely that represents a greater opposition. Bu then I realised that the closeness of the numbers 6 and 7 is precisely the point.
The greatest danger to mankind are not the religions and philosophies that starkly contradict the Christian faith, they are too obvious, they stand too starkly against all the good and charity that the Christian faith promotes and demands.
No the real danger, the greatest threat are the religions and philosophies that are just a little bit off. Just so slightly deviant in a few crucial areas
- Who was Jesus? Was He God incarnate – fully God and fully man at the same time?
- What did Jesus do? Was His death on Calvary the unique salvific act that opens up to human kind the possibility of forgiveness and reconciliation with God, if we only repent of our sin and turn to Him in faith?).
Just a little off in these crucial areas and, instead of a faith that bring forgiveness of our sins and failures, reconciliation with God and the glorious adventure of working with Him in His unimaginable plans for the redemption of humankind and then who know what adventures in the eternity of His Cosmos, all you get is an ethic, a ritual observance, a philosophy.
The step from 6 to 7 makes all the difference.
Total Distance 8.8km Total Time 50’ 37” (Geologically slow)
Run out to and around Watermeads Country Park again. Going around King Lear Lake I was distracting myself from the pain by going over my sermon for Sunday Morning at St James the Great.
I was preaching so well, so erudite, so interesting, so spiritually dynamic (at least in my own imagination!) that I missed the turn off and ended up doing a second circuit of the lake.
This somewhat damped the warm spiritual feelings I had been having up to this point.
Next time I may leave a trail of lentils…
So you can judge for yourselves the quality (or otherwise!) of my sermon, here is the text;
Shaped by God Sermon:
(Texts: Genesis 1:1-12, 1 Peter 2:1-12, Matthew 13:31-32)
The Christian message is, at its heart, a tale of trees.
The creation story we read culminates its description of the world that God had made for humankind to live in with trees. Trees that will bear fruit for people to eat. All that God makes is good, all that God makes is fruitful, all that God makes brings Him glory.
The next chapter of genesis brings into the story two other trees, supernatural strange trees. In the middle of the garden are the tree of the knowledge of good and evil – which is forbidden to humankind – and the other the tree of life – which is not forbidden.
As we know Adam and Eve make the wrong choice. They disobey God, they rebel against Him, they refuse to believe He has their best interests at heart and they eat from the wrong tree.
In that act of disobedience they break the relationship they enjoyed with God, they also break the relationship between themselves and they also break their relationship to the created world.
Access to the tree of life is dependent upon a right relationship to God, in fact as Jesus will say later, eternal life flows from a right relationship with God;
Now this is eternal life: that they know you, the only true God,
and Jesus Christ, whom you have sent. (John 17:3 NIVUK)
Under the metaphor of the garden, in their new state of brokenness God forbids humankind to eat of the tree of life.
The rest of the whole story of the Bible is about God working to restore the broken relationship between Himself and humankind.
The culmination of this happens on a tree, when God Himself is crucified to open up the possibility for us to be reconciled to our Heavenly Father, each other and the created world.
The last page of the Bible describes what happens when the relationship of harmony (shalom) between humankind, God and the creation is fully restored.
“Then the angel showed me the river of the water of life, as clear as crystal,
flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb down the middle of the great street of the city.
On each side of the river stood the tree of life,
bearing twelve crops of fruit, yielding its fruit every month.
And the leaves of the tree are for the healing of the nations.
No longer will there be any curse.” (Revelation 22:1-3 NIVUK)
That tree of life – which was forbidden to humankind because of sin and rebellion, is now made available through the death of Christ on the tree of Calvary.
The Christian story – it’s all a tale about trees.
In our gospel reading Jesus is telling his disciples about another tree – the gospel tree, the tree of the kingdom.
In between Christ’s death on the tree of Calvary and our full and final access to the tree of life in glory, stands this gospel tree.
As the gospel seed takes root in hearts and lives it creates a community of people that should be like this tree.
It is through the ministry of this tree that people get to hear the good news about what Jesus has done on the tree of Calvary.
It is through the ministry of this tree that they learn how Jesus’ death opens up the possibility for the broken relationship between us and God to be restored; a process which then works in our lives to restore the broken relationships we have with each other and with the created world.
All of which finds its ultimate, unimaginably glorious expression when we will join God in His eternal Kingdom fed of the fruit of the tree of life, healed by its leaves of all our ills and freed from every curse!
Each Christian community is called to be a gospel tree where this can happen.
The gospel tree is a place where the spiritually sick can find healing. As we read in the Revelation texts, leaves are a symbol of healing in the Bible – many of the herbal remedies of the ancient world were made from leaves. If we are truly a gospel tree the spiritually sick will find healing in our midst.
The gospel tree is a place where the spiritually hungry can find sustenance. Trees in the Bible are nearly always fruiting trees – figs, olives, dates etc. We read in Revelation that the tree of life bears 12 kind of fruit one each month of the year. If we are truly a gospel tree the spiritually hungry will find sustenance in our midst that satisfies their hunger.
The gospel tree should also be a place where people can find a welcome and a place they can make their spiritual home. If we are truly a gospel tree people will find a welcome amongst us, they will experience integration into the fellowship and feel accepted.
Today is “Shaped by God” Sunday, as you know this is a diocesan initiative designed to help each congregation, perhaps each ministry within each parish, take a long hard look at ourselves and ask what kind of a gospel tree are we?
This is a great image isn’t it? It’s a great tree. Who wouldn’t want a tree like that in their garden?! And those birds!
But sadly we can sometimes be a very different kind of tree.
This is a picture of a tree I saw in Leicester last Sunday evening. And I just felt God prompted me to take a photo of it and to show it to you.
This tree has been pollarded; all the ends of the branches have been cut off. There are no leaves on this tree, no fruit and there are certainly no birds nesting in it.
Sadly, our churches can sometimes be this kind of tree.
Ironically it can be quite a pleasant experience being this kind of a gospel tree.
No change, no cost, no discomfort, no effort, no messy new people who don’t know how to speak, how to dress, how to behave in church etc.
But sadly, this tree is totally useless – it serves no purpose, it is just using up the ground – there are no leaves to provide healing for the spiritually sick, there is no fruit to feed the spiritually hungry, there is no place for anyone to find a spiritual home. It would be best to chop it down and use it for firewood.
Most gospel trees, most church communities are somewhere between these two extremes. Shaped by God is a challenge, a gauntlet thrown down by the diocese;
The diocese has identified nine marks of mission that we can use to evaluate how well we are doing, celebrate our successes, re-think areas where we are not so good.
What kind of tree are we?
What kind of tree do we want to be?
Are we willing to work, to pray, to give, to strive that our church community might be a place that brings healing to the spiritual sick – if so how will we do that?
Are we willing to work, to pray, to give, to strive that our church community might be a place that feeds the spiritually hungry – if so how will we do that?
Are we willing to work, to pray, to give, to strive that our church community might be a place that offers people a welcome, and is a safe place for them to make their spiritual home – if so how will we do that?
May God grant us His Spirit’s anointing and the enthusiasm to embark on a new adventure with God in St James and Our Lady and St Nicholas.
May God grant that we become a flourishing gospel tree, a tree full of leaves that minister healing to the spiritually sick and full of fruit that satisfies the spiritually hungry, and may we be a gospel tree where people can find a welcome and make their home.
Total time : 48’ 50” Total distance : Farther than I intended
Run out to Watermead Country Park and around King Lear Lake.
Having left the house at 0650, the place was very quiet. The sun was shining. I was running as an act of worship and gratitude before my God.
Glad to be alive, glad to be the wrong side of 50 and yet still blessed with health and strength to run for 50 minutes without stopping, glad to live in staggering distance of such a beautiful place to enjoy.
In a word, I was feeling ‘chipper’.
As I ran around King Lear Lake my mood was darkened somewhat as I recognized a place as one I had already ran past once. Yes, I had accidently embarked on a second loop of the lake. The lake being not inconsequential in size this was somewhat perturbing. However I am not a man who easily turns back having put his hand to the plough, so to speak.
So I dug in and continued my second periple.
By this point I was totally confused about where I had originally started my circuit of the lake and in my discombobulated state ended up following the first signpost I saw that indicated Birstall. This brought me, by a somewhat circuitous route, back home.
People sometimes think that when I describe my running state as one in which I am on the knife-edge of sheer physical collapse that I am exaggerating for comedic effect. This is plainly not the case. In its oxygen starved state my brain can only support basic vital functions, higher level processing such as orientation remains at only a vestigial level.
Fitness 2, Direction Nil
And the morale of this tale? Well in the humdrum, merry-go-round of life we can be so busy just putting one foot in front of the other, that sometimes we lose all sense of direction. Sometimes we may think we’re advancing, but in actual fact we are just going around in circles.
In the grand scheme of life it is not the distance run, but the distance travelled that counts. And that requires not only movement but direction.
In the run of life it times when we stand back, look at where we are, think about where we want to be, these times are vitally important. But they don’t happen by themselves, or by accident.
These times of spiritual self-assessment are vital for a successful run of life.
To run well, sometimes you need to stand still.
It is on!
After a break from running for about a year – don’t know why, other than my wife and I had started to walk more, so running seemed a bit superfluous. Oh and the fact that it hurts and takes effort!
Having stopped for so long, starting again was really hard.
I thought about it for weeks, even months.
I convinced myself that I should.
I spoke to friends saying I thought I was going to.
I imagined running again.
But actually going out on that first run was hard.
All sorts of fears, questions, dread were raised in my mind.
All of which speaks strongly about the power of rhythm in a human life.
Just doing something on a regular basis, builds momentum, which really helps you to keep going.
Stopping. Or even just encountering a climb, pausing to cross the road; all of these break the rhythm and make restarting 10 times harder.
I’m pretty convinced that this applies in the spiritual realm too.
Spiritual practices – prayer, meditation, going to church etc. all benefit from the power of rhythm, all of them are so much harder to re-connect with after a break.
But today was my first run for about a year.
26’22” out to Watermeads docks and back.
It was less painful than I had feared it might be.
Although, tomorrow may be a different story!
But it shows that re-engagement is possible.
And as in the physical, so in the spiritual. At least that’s what I believe.
Dare yourself to do it!
As a life-long runner I have discovered that the act of running can be conducive to a spiritual encounter with God.
On this site I offer some insights about spiritual life and faith that arose from my regular running program.