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?

 

 

Advertisements

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.

 

 

 

 


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.


Run no. 69 – A six-thirty mile pace – really?

stopwatch

 

Run No. 69         Distance: 4.53 miles (7.3 km) Time: 43’41” (PB 38’ 38”)

A sunny but frosty and cold day today, so I was running with full hat and gloves.

As I was approaching the half-way point of my run a passing cyclist called out,

Your doing a six-thirty mile pace, brilliant!

My first reaction was “That’s not right!” It seemed inconceivable to me that only my second run in after a five month break I would be doing that kind of pace.

I am also well aware that cycle speedometers are notoriously inaccurate and depend on the wheel measurement that the user enters; they can also be affected by tyre pressure changes.

A six-thirty mile pace would have led to a split time of 14’ 42”. My actual split time was 20’ 21”! That’s quite a margin of error on his speedometer!

I started to muse about how this poor cyclist probably thought he was a lot faster than he really was. Which led to a spiritual reflection; that the standard against which we measure ourselves is vitally important.

Like me you have probably heard rather unpleasant people boast that they are all right as they have never murdered anyone.

Well if the measure of a successful human life is not to murder someone, then they are doing fine. But what if the measure with which our lives are evaluated by God is completely different? If so then they are living with a completely false sense of security.

We know from the Bible that God’s command for humankind is to

Be holy as I am holy.

What this means in concrete terms is spelled out in the 10 commandments –

have no other gods, have no idols, honour God’s name, keep one day a week as a day to focus on God, honour your parents, do not murder, do not steal, do not lie, do not commit adultery (elsewhere extrapolated to all sexual activity outside of marriage), do not envy what others have[1].

Jesus resumed all these positively into two commandments;

Love God with all your heart, soul and strength.

Love your neighbour as yourself[2].

Which reminds us that it is the love relationship that God wants – the commandments are just examples of ways in which our conduct can impair that relationship.

If that relationship is healthy then we will naturally shy away from things that we know displease God.

It is also a tall order, an impossible standard. Which is why the Christian religion is a religion founded upon grace – God’s unmerited favour.

We bring our broken, rather shabby lives before God and we say we are truly sorry for the times where we have missed the mark (the literal meaning of the word ‘sin’). We ask his forgiveness and we receive it – we are reset on the right path, the slate is wiped clean, we begin again.

But you can only access this grace, mercy and forgiveness if we know we need it; which is why the measure we use to assess our lives is vitally important.

Make sure your measure is true and reach for God’s grace when you fall short.

 

 

[1] Exodus 20 :1-17

[2] Matthew 22 :37-40


Run no. 68 – The Way Out is Through

 

running-in-puddles

Run No. 66         Distance: 4.53 miles (7.3 km) Time: 41’20” (PB 38’ 38”)

Run No. 67          Distance: 4.53 miles (7.3 km) Time: 43’39” (PB 38’ 38”)

Run No. 68         Distance: 4.53 miles (7.3 km) Time: 47’32” (PB 38’ 38”)

I’ve done that running-hiatus thing again. I haven’t been for a run for about 5 months. There are lots of reasons, but they are mostly to do with the cowardly avoidance of discomfort. But hey, I’m back and at it again.

You know, of course, that the first run after such a long break is going to be tough.

The first 20 minutes were fine but then the body started to feel the effort and complain.

I was expecting that, I was ready for that, I could handle that.

What I wasn’t expecting or ready for was that my usual route was flooded.

We have had wet weather for a few weeks now and the past 24 hours have been constant heavy rain. The already waterlogged ground has not been able to cope with this rain and the rivers are now bursting their banks.

As I began my loop of King Lear Lake in Watermeads Country Park I found myself running through sections of the path that were under water.

The first sections were short areas of flooding and the water was only a few centimetres deep, so that didn’t unduly concern me.

However as things progressed the sections of flooding lengthened to hundreds of metres and the water depth rose considerably.

The water was freezing cold, dirty and the depth of it forced me to high-step to avoid tripping. The extra effort required, by a body that was already suffering, was not inconsiderable!

Everything in me said stop; turn around; find another way; go home!

But I’m a runner.

Runners don’t do that.

So I did what runners do, I found a way to convince myself to carry on.

I told myself –

“I’m wet already.”

“This extra effort I’m being forced to do will pay dividends in fitness.”

“Don’t be a wimp!”

And so on…

And it worked. I made it all the way around. At times the water was just below my knees and I was forced to wade rather than run. But I never stopped.

I felt pretty heroic. The odd random dog-walker shouted their surprise at my bravery/stupidity! It felt pretty good.

I’m almost certain that I will be the only person to run around King Lear Lake today and I am good with that. It is a kind of victory.

Reflecting on this I was reminded that the greatest prisons that exist are the ones inside our own heads. When we are faced with an unexpected challenge – like unforeseen flooding – the greatest factor on whether or not we succeed is whether can imagine ourselves succeeding.

Without a positive mental attitude that can envisage success being possible, we will not even try to face the challenge; we are already defeated in our own heads.

In life most of our greatest challenges are the ones that we cannot foresee – unemployment, bereavement, relationship breakdown, serious illness or accidents.

It is in these moments that our mental approach is crucial. Can we see a way through? Can we imagine a life of joy and hope on the other side of this trauma?

It is here that a person of faith has a great advantage. We believe that God controls the course of our lives and that whatever we have to face, God has allowed it.

All the days planned for me were written in your book before I was one day old.[1]

If God has allowed it then he must know we can get through it and he must know that something good can come of it, as I don’t believe that God allows pointless suffering. Whether that god is something being transformed in us, or some benefit for others – sometimes it is not easy to identify the good. But I cannot conceive how God can be true to the nature he reveals in the Bible if he allows suffering that has no point.

The other great advantage a person of faith has is that we believe that when we open our lives to God we do not walk alone.

Even if I walk through a very dark valley, I will not be afraid because you are with me. Your rod and your shepherd’s staff comfort me.[2]

Often the only way out is through – running teaches us that. Life teaches us that. How good to know that you go through it with the God who knows the way through who knows that you have the capability to get through, and who will accomplish something worthwhile in the process.

Keep on running.

 

[1] Psalm 139 :16 ICB

[2] Psalm 23 :4 ICB


Runémon GO

pokemon-go

Run No. 59 Distance: 4.53 miles (7.3 km) Time: 42’05” (PB 38’ 28”)
Run No. 60 Distance: 4.53 miles (7.3 km) Time: 43’00” (PB 38’ 28”)
Run No. 61 Distance: 4.53 miles (7.3 km) Time: 41’23” (PB 38’ 38”)
Run No. 62 Distance: 4.53 miles (7.3 km) Time: 43’20” (PB 38’ 38”)
Run No. 63 Distance: 4.53 miles (7.3 km) Time: 42’01” (PB 38’ 38”)
Run No. 64 Distance: 4.53 miles (7.3 km) Time: 45’15” (PB 38’ 38”)
Run No. 65 Distance: 4.53 miles (7.3 km) Time: 45’08” (PB 38’ 38”)

I find myself bemused by the current craze that is taking the nation by storm – Pokémon GO.

When I’m out running I see people holding their smartphones at arms length. It looks a  bit like Dr Spock holding his Tricorder analysing an unknown planet.

All these young people, who used to sit at home in front of the PC, or glued to their smartphones, are now outside walking around in the fresh air.

Part of can’t but welcome that as a healthy and positive thing.

However, there is a part of my mind that can’t help but see there is a degree of irony here.

People who were once cut off from the outside world are now out in it but only engaging with a world that isn’t there, whilst possibly/probably ignoring the real world that is.

In a very real sense they are only virtually present in the real world.

Games are by their very nature immersive, the best ones take you into another world. Smartphones are more engaging than books as they involve more of the senses – not only sight but also sound and touch.

I am aware that a counter argument can be made. People are often playing PokémonGO in social groups, I see a lot of lads and dads out Pokémon hunting together. So you could make the case that this is a healthier alternative to indoor, solo gaming.

One thing I am sure about is that when I run I do want to engage with the real world.

As a spiritual act I greet and speak God’s blessing on everyone I pass.

As I see things around me, whether they be good or bad, I try to respond to them in prayer.

I pray blessing on all that is good and give thanks for it.

I ask for forgiveness for all that is bad and pray that attitudes may be challenged/changed and that reparation might be made.

For me this is spiritual running in the real world.