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.


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?

 

 


Run no. 22 – Keep breathing

breathing

Distance: 4.53 miles   Time: 40’ 30”

Someone once said that the secret of eternal life is simply;

Breathe in, breathe out, repeat…

Breathing is one of those things that you mostly forget about. It’s an automatic thing, unconscious.

In fact, you only ever start to think about breathing when, for some reason, it becomes a problem.

Such as during exercise, when your ability to take in oxygen is less than your muscles requirement for it.

Or when you get a really bad cold and are ‘bunged’ up, or when you get a chest infection and cannot seem to get a breath.

Or when you are trying to swim a certain distance underwater, or just hold your breath for a certain time, and you feel your bodies raging need for oxygen.

Suddenly, in these particular instances, breathing is not a thoughtless, automatism, but an essential, life-preserving activity.

As I ran breathlessly, around King Lear’s Lake this morning, I found myself thinking how the spiritual life is a little like breathing.

When God first starts to make us aware of Himself and of our need for Him, it is like when we are underwater and our bodies start to crave oxygen. Our first encounter with the divine, is like when our head breaks the surface and we take that first massive gulp of life-giving air.

As we take into our bodies the life-giving air, the pain in our lungs subsides, we feel life and energy rushing through us, and we feel alive.

Our first encounter with God is very much like that. Suddenly God’s love and power overwhelm us, touch every part of our being and we feel, for the very first time, truly alive.

It is not by hazard that the origins story in Genesis contains the sentence;

Then the Lord God formed a man from the dust of the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living being.[1]

It is not by accident that Jesus performed a similar act upon His disciples;

Again Jesus said, “Peace be with you! As the Father has sent me, I am sending you.” And with that he breathed on them and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit.”[2]

The act of the impartation of physical life, and of spiritual life, are both accomplished by the receiving of the divine breath.

Our capacity to receive air is limited by the size of our lungs, we have a world-full of air to breathe in.

Our capacity to receive spiritual life is similarly only limited by ourselves, in God we live and move and have our being, there is more of God than we can ever receive.

It is through our praying, seeking God, meditating on His word that we receive God’s life, that is our spiritual act of breathing.

Breath in, breathe out, repeat…

[1] Genesis 2:7 NIV

[2] John 20:21-22 NIV


Run no. 21 – Who do you run with?

Community

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.


Run no. 20 – First, untie your shoelaces

shoelaces tied together

Distance: 4.53 miles   Time: 40’ 47”

In my running with God this morning, I was musing on the different ways in which people encounter God.

In my life I have met many people who have encountered God in many different ways.

One person, a lady, told me that she encountered God in a moment of intense crisis. Her teenage son was hanging between life and death and she was understandably distraught. Then suddenly she felt a deep peace come over her, which she knew to be God and she just knew, in the deepest part of her being, that her son was going to be all right.

For several days it was still touch and go whether he would survive. After the crisis past there were many long months of painful recovery, but he did finally recover and now lives a fully normal life, with only his scars to remind him of the event.

This experience of God led, several years later, to the lady coming to faith and joining the Church.

Another of my favourite faith stories happened to the Huron warrior Ahatsistcari in the 1600s. This renowned fighter realised one day that his survival, after so many battles and conflicts, was nothing short of miraculous, and that he would have been dead long ago were it not for God’s blessing and protection on his life. He knew that this God who was blessing and protecting him was not one of the gods he already knew from his native religion, but some unknown God. He swore to only worship this unknown God from that moment on. Every morning and every evening he would pray to this God whose name he did not know.

When Jesuit priests came to tell the Huron people about Jesus, Ahatsistcari recognised Jesus as the God whose name he did not know.

The missionaries were somewhat reluctant to baptise him, as his understanding of the faith was still somewhat sketchy. However, he gave such a brilliant defence of his faith in this God whose name he did not know, that they finally relented.

The reality of Ahatsistcari’s faith was soon proven, as he and the other Huron converts started to radically transform their lives and behaviour in line with the values of the gospel message.

Ahatsistcari also faced the ultimate test of his faith when he was captured and cruelly tortured. As he died he prayed not for vengeance but for his captor’s forgiveness[1].

These stories remind us that the Holy Spirit is infinitely creative in the ways in which He speaks into our lives, revealing God to us and drawing us into a relationship with Him.

However, it is also true that the Bible is still God’s primary means of bringing us to an encounter with Himself.

The Old Testament is the record of God’s self-revelation to a people He Himself brought into being, as a locus for His self-revelation to the world.

The New Testament is the record of God’s fullest and final revelation of Himself in the God-Man, Jesus Christ, and of the first years of community of those who believed His message and followed Him.

However, the Bible is more than an historical record; it is also a living breathing, vital thing. The Bible is not a matter of dead letters but of living words.

For the word of God is alive and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart.[2]

As we read the Bible we encounter the Author and in a real and personal way.

So to seek an encounter with God, whilst ignoring the Bible and the community that exists to share the message of the Bible (the Church), is a bit like going for a run with your shoelaces tied together.

Want to run with God? First untie your shoelaces.

[1] Read Ahatsistcari’s amazing story for yourself in Thwaites R.G. (ed.) The Jesuit Relations and Allied Documents – Travels and Explorations Of The Jesuit Missionaries in New France 1610-1791, Vol. XXIII 1642-1643, CLEVELAND: The Burrows Brothers Company, 1818, p25ff accessible online at http://archive.org/download/jesuits23jesuuoft/jesuits23jesuuoft.pdf

[2] Hebrews 4:12 NIV


Run no. 19 – You need to suffer to be beautiful

exhausted-runner

Distance: 4.53 miles   Time: 39’ 51” (New PB)

The French proverb says:

« Il faut souffrir pour être belle »

(You must suffer in order to be beautiful.)

Well I was suffering today, although I’m still as ugly as ever. So I’m somewhat doubtful about the veracity of this particular proverb.

But it did start me on a reflective path regarding suffering and beauty.

Why does beauty require suffering?

In the origins story in the Bible it says over and over again, that everything God made, he proclaimed good.

One must assume that the central characters, Adam and Eve, were therefore beautiful.

Indeed the first recorded human words in that story are a love poem to the praise of Eve’s beauty.

Adam awakes and sees this exquisite creature and bursts into poetic adoration – some emotions are so weighty that only poetry is strong enough to carry them.

Ugliness only appears after the Fall; when the human beings rebel, go their own way, doubt God’s goodness and wisdom, and the result is that ugliness creeps in to the world.

It is from this point on that beauty involves suffering, striving against nature and against the effects of time; a battle that we all finally lose.

Happily that is not the end of the story. For the Good News that Jesus Christ came to proclaim and obtain, is that God offers us another possible ending.

An ending in which we are raised from death, given new, everlasting bodies. These will be of a different nature, unencumbered by the ugliness and weakness that we used to know.

In actual fact none of us have ever seen a ‘real’ human being – one undamaged and unlimited by the effects of our fallen state. If we ever did, I imagine we would be lost in wonder.

C.S. Lewis once wrote about a pregnant woman imprisoned in a cell without windows. She gives birth to a son and tries to explain to him the world outside. She draws in the dust with her finger the outline of a tree and tries to explain what it is.

Lewis said the boy’s appreciation of a tree is somewhat like our appreciation of heaven. We have marks scratched in the ground, outlines, images but the reality will so far surpass our imagination, as the reality of a living, majestic tree, leaves blowing in the wind, surpasses the boy’s appreciation of a few scratches in the dirt.

Our new bodies will be amazing and they will surely be beautiful.

To turn around the proverb, Jesus suffered to make us beautiful.


Run no. 18 – Reluctant running

love hate running

Distance: 4.53 miles   Time: 40’ 51”

I don’t know if it just me that experiences this. But some mornings I open my eyes and the sun is shining, I feel full of energy and I just can’t wait to pull on my running shoes and get out there.

It feels natural, it feels right, it feels like an expression of my core identity, it is what I really, really want to do.

Some days it is not like that.

I lie in bed and feel twinges in my body and manage to convince myself that running would likely cause a serious injury. I feel tired and tell myself that running now would leave me exhausted for the rest of the day. Everything in me is saying “No! Don’t do this!”

So I cajole myself, I force myself, I shame myself in whatever way I can, to motivate myself into getting up and going out; for it feels like the very last thing I want to do.

I do this because I understand that though my feelings towards running change radically, the benefits that running brings me don’t.

Running is always good for me – psychologically, physically and even spiritually – whether I feel good about it or not.

And when I do make it across the doorstep, I know it will be fine; I may even enjoy it. Once I’m actually running, my feelings about running may well change and become a lot more positive.

In a similar vein, I remember seeing some scientific research a few years ago that said that if you pretend to be friendly to someone towards whom you do not feel friendly feelings, you will actually start to feel friendlier towards them.

Pretending leads to becoming.

I have to force myself to pretend to like running when I’m not feeling it. And this act of pretence may well even help me to genuinely feel those positive feelings towards running again.

There are many areas of life where pretending things that we’re not feeling is the absolutely right thing to do.

In any long-term relationship the romantic feelings come and go. Tiredness, illness, stress etc. can all have a detrimental effect on the warm loving feelings we feel towards our partner. However, we know that saying “I love you” even when you don’t feel it is vitally important. Love is a commitment and if any relationship is to survive long-term it is commitment that must be its foundation, not transitory feelings.

As a parent, I comfort my children in their distress whether I feel like it or not. I well remember one night when in the wee small hours our infant son threw up over me as I picked him up out of his cot. I remember the sinking feeling as I knew I had an hour’s clear up, bed-making and showering before me, and the prospect of work in only a few hours. But I also knew that whatever I felt, I must act in accordance with parental love – a love I wasn’t feeling too strongly at that moment!

In the spiritual life, pretending is also a key activity.

Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience.[1]

for all of you who were baptised into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ.[2]

But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness,  gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law. Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires.[3]

In the mystery of walking with God, our transformation into what we should be is both effected by our active participation and God’s divine Spirit at work in us.

We know that we do not yet feel continuously loving, joyful, peaceful, forbearing, kind, good, faithful, gentle and self-controlled; but we are required to pretend; to act as if we did. In some mysterious way this act of will, in cooperation with the Spirit of God in us, leads to our genuine transformation.

We will not ever become perfect in this, this side of eternity. But the more we pretend to things we do not fell, the close we shall become.

Pretending is the way to make it real.

[1] Colossians 3:12 NIV

[2] Galatians 3:27 NIVUK

[3] Galatians 5 :22-24 NIVUK