Run no. 43 – Running is Freedom

runningfree

Distance: 4.53 miles  Time: 41’04”   (PB 38’ 28”)

It struck me today how much freedom running gives me.

There is the physical sense of freedom; particularly for those of us lucky enough to be able to run in the countryside. It is great to be able to run through an open landscape, with clear views to the horizon; a real sense of freedom.

There is another freedom running gives me. I don’t listen to music when running. This was something I could never do during the past 14 years when I lived in rural France.

There, running along narrow country roads, you were highly likely to meet farm machinery taking up the whole road and with various spikey and death-dealing implements hanging off it in all directions (sometimes even falling off it!). You had to stay alert with your ears open and be ready to move onto the verge at any moment! So I got out of the habit of listening to music, and actually I now prefer to run in silence. I find it gives me freedom to think. My mind can wander, thoughts can arise, inspiration can come, and solutions can present themselves… all because my mind is free.

There is also the freedom from interruption. The forty or so minutes that I usually run for are completely free from ‘phone calls, texts, social media updates etc. Just an ‘empty’ space in my day. Feels like freedom!

Mobiles ‘phones are great and I like much of what they enable me to do, but they are also an insidious life-controller, unless you can make the technology your servant and not your master.

I remember hearing a man say that if there is any object in your life that you couldn’t give away if God called you to do so, then you don’t own it, it owns you.

I wonder if there isn’t a similar aphorism one could create about mobile ‘phones? The other evening I was watching a film with my wife. Just before the end of the film my mobile beeped. We had had a minor family crisis during the day and a friend was emailing me with some information that might be helpful – information for me to forward to one of my sons.

I didn’t need to forward the email then and there, half an hour wouldn’t have changed anything, I could even have done it the next morning. But I picked up my ‘phone and did it straight away.

I had just finished sending the email as the final credits started to roll. After watching an hour and fifty minutes of the film, I had missed the big ending! I was somewhat mumpy!

It was no-one’s fault but my own. Although I tried hard to blame my wife! The insidious life-controlling mobile had won and had ruined my evening. Two hours I would never get back.

Which is why running, with its enforced absence from ‘phones and other ‘stuff’ is really valuable. Perhaps more so than at any time in human history as we are pushed insidiously to do more and more, without being given the times and space to consider whether it is actually worth doing in the first place.

I am more and more convinced of the spiritual value of running as I see the benefits that it brings to my life.

Keep running. Keep running with God.


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. 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.


Run No. 9 – The ‘How Do?’ reverberation

Ripples in Water ca. 2000

Time 41’ 43”                      Total Distance 7.3 km (4.54 miles)

I try to be a friendly, polite runner, and so as I pass people (or they overtake me!) I throw out a cheery ‘Good morning!’

Birstall, being a friendly place, most of the time I get a response.

Today as I chugged slowly around Watermeads (my times are getting progressively slower, which is most galling) I was stopped short by an old man who replied to my ‘Morning!’ with a ‘How do?’

Those two words brought back the most powerful evocation of my Grandad, who died almost 40 years ago. He was a Black Country boy and ‘How do?’ was how he always greeted people.

Now, if you had asked me that, I wouldn’t have been able to tell you. But just hearing those two words brought that memory back.

In that moment of memory, lots of stuff came flooding back.

I remembered how he smelt. He was an outdoors man. He worked as a track layer for British Rail and when he wasn’t out in all weathers laying track, he was in his large garden and two allotments, growing vegetables. He seemed to keep his whole family and several friends and neighbours in fruit and veg. He always smelt of the earth. He always had dirt under his fingernails. He always smelt of Golden Virginia rolling tobacco. He had a machine that rolled his cigarettes and I would love to sit on his knee and roll them for him.

I remembered the scratchy wool jackets he used to wear and the blue cotton jacket (presumably railway issue!) that he always wore when gardening.

I remembered his voice. The twinkle in his eyes. He was always a little boy inside. His pockets were always full of interesting stuff. Stones that he picked up, bits of metal, pen-knives.

I remembered he was always curious about how things worked. He had a shed where he would take things apart, just to see how they operated. Unfortunately, as a man who laid railway track for a living he was very strong and somewhat ham-fisted! So often he achieved the taking to bits phase, but never managed the putting back together! So his shed was full of dismantled clocks and mechanisms that were in the process of ‘being repaired’!

I remembered his affection for me, his first grandson. I remembered my love for him.

Two words ‘How do?’ brought all that back in an instant. In that moment of time my dear old grandad, Bill Goodman, was as present to me today as he ever was when he was alive.

All of which made me realise how unutterable false and stupid is our cultural notion that the past is passed and gone. It is never gone.

The Christian faith denies the notion of time.

When a person turns from their rebellion against God and accepts the free gift of reconciliation made available through Christ’s death on the cross, time no longer exists for them.

And this is eternal life, that they know you the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent (John 17:3 NUVUK)

To be united to God is to be outside of time.

In a nutshell, God will not allow Himself to be separated from His beloved children, the ones who have been bought by His own precious blood. He will not allow His children to die.

For the child of God, such petty things as time and geography no longer apply.

In the letter to the Hebrews the author used the image of the Roman games as a metaphor for the Christian life. He pictures those Christians currently living as the athletes competing, and the saints in glory as the crowd cheering them on to victory.

Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us (Hebrews 12:1 NIVUK)

Heaven and earth are not separated, but vitally interlinked, we are one with;

… thousands upon thousands of angels in joyful assembly, to the church of the firstborn, whose names are written in heaven. You have come to God, the Judge of all, to the spirits of the righteous made perfect

And those who go to God before us are completely absorbed in us and in our struggles, for it was their struggle too.

I saw under the altar the souls of those who had been slain because of the word of God and the testimony they had maintained.  They called out in a loud voice, ‘How long, Sovereign Lord, holy and true, until you judge the inhabitants of the earth and avenge our blood?’

One of the earliest symbols in Christian iconography was the skull and crossbones. It originated out of the necessity to remove Christian graves. As the hope of the resurrection of the body is a central aspect of Christian belief, it was wondered, how much of a person physical remains does God need to be able to bring them back? After theological debate it was agreed that, God being God, probably He didn’t need any physical remains – given that He made us out of nothing originally! But, just to be on the safe side, whenever a Christian grave was loved the two long bones and the skull would be kept together.

The tomb of every Christian should be inscribed with the skull and crossbones, it is a sign of our hope of the resurrection.

When my time comes, place on my tombstone the skull and crossbones, and carve these words:

‘By the unstoppable power of the Risen Christ,

By the impossibility that God should lie,

I’m coming back baby.

All is grace’


Run No. 8 – The comforting delusion of the lonely runner

Time 41’ 17”                      Total Distance 7.3 km (4.54 miles)

99.9999% of my runs throughout my life have been on my own.

Partly that is due to circumstances, but mostly it’s due to the fact that I like being alone when I run.

I like being alone with my thoughts, time to think, no distractions.

Of course the other great advantage is that you can happily believe that you are running quite fast.

As recounted in a previous instalment, an encounter with a be-lycra-ed septuagenarian, somewhat dented that particular myth.

However, I have now been back running for a few weeks and I was quite prepared to believe that I had improved.

However, as I toiled around King Lear Lake I heard a soft, gazelle-like footfall behind me.

I was soon overtaken by a guy. He was probably two decades younger than me (see how I’m building in diminishing factors already), and certainly 10 kg lighter.

His relative advantages were somewhat undermined by his carrying in his right hand a 1.5 litre bottle of water. As any serious runner will tell you, carrying a heavy weight in one hand is not conducive to good running. One should use a camel pack, or at least a gourd carried on a belt, as these will improve weight distribution and not prevent your arms from the natural swinging that is important in running.

Yet, in spite of his clear ignorance of good running practice, he nonetheless sped past me with soul-sucking swiftness.

As I watched him (rapidly) disappear, I noted that actually he wasn’t running that quickly. Which could only mean that my own speed was malacological.

I noticed that I was mid-sole striking – more of a joggers footfall- as opposed to the heel-striking of the proper runner. I tried lengthening my stride and for a few hundred metres I was able to at least slow the rate at which my nemesis disappeared.

This provoked the reflection that the lack of comparison is a great weakness in almost every human endeavour. Without rubbing up against those who are better, more committed, more knowledgeable than ourselves, we can easily believe we are better than we are.

Which I guess is one of the reasons why the Christian faith is specifically stated as incapable of solo execution. It can only ever be lived as a communal reality.

An intrinsic part of the Christian faith is the messy, challenging, frustrating, inspiring, encouraging, faith-building interaction with others. Together – with our varied gifts, life-experience, learning, broken-ness, healing – we are capable of helping each other go deeper, understand better, live more fully, our relationship with God and, improve our service in His kingdom.

Alone we can fool ourselves. Together we see the truth. Sometimes that will be an encouragement. Much of the time that will be a spur.


Run No. 7 – Not quite perfect

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.

Not today!

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.