Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Running and Prayer

An interesting question was asked of me today. At least it was interesting to me. The question was: "Is running the same as meditation / prayer?" Here is my reply:

My church has lots of runners. This topic has been coming up a lot lately. Although all of us are a little different, most of us have similar conclusions on the relationship between running and prayer.

I think of prayer as something like: “speaking, listening, and responding to God.” I don’t think of running as a replacement or even supplement to prayer, but I do think that running can lead to a heightened prayer experience and thus a closer relationship with God. Personally, many of my best prayer times and many of the times when I am closest to God have come when I am running. I think many reasons exist why running can lead to a heightened prayer experience for me:
  1. It is one of the few times of the day I am alone without a cell phone, kids, an assistant, a computer, etc…Jesus says go into a closet and pray. Running is my closet.
  2. I am generally out in nature when I run. Something about still water, deer, trees, dirt, sun rises, full moons, and fresh snow helps me experience the God who has created such things.
  3. My mind seems to be sharpest when I am running. Maybe it’s the endorphins! Running seems to help me be open to creativity and possibilities.
  4. My heart seems to be most receptive when I am running. Running is a great metaphor for life. Hills, pain, sweat, victory, resurrection, forgiveness, friendship, journey, thirst…you name it.
  5. Running provides a temporary Sanctuary from the world. I think it was Karl Barth who wrote something like “To clasp the hands in prayer is the beginning of an uprising against the disorder of the world.” George Sheehan concludes in his essay, Is Running a Religion?: “Running is not a religion, it is a place…Running is just such a monastery-a retreat, a place to commune with God and yourself, a place for psychological and spiritual renewal.
We all come to prayer differently. Some selfishly and some with compassion. Some with mercy and some with hate. Some with bitterness and some with love that is nearly pure. I have learned that God is so big that He accepts us where we are and God loves us so much that He will not leave us where we are. We don’t have to be full or faith, intellect, purity, or really anything else for that matter. That is what grace is all about. We can live by it and be saved by it. We can pray by it too.

I try not to think about methods or techniques prayer. That seems a bit canned. I even try to avoid definitions, terminology, and arguments for prayer. Prayer is simply about a love relationship between a person and God. You can obviously grow in this relationship without being a runner, but I think many of us who run know that something special can happen when we run.

I remember yesterday morning as I was wandering through the woods at Zorinsky, I was having a conversation with God. It was something special that happened in an ordinary place. I remember a few months ago during a cold and hilly run, Christy and I stopped at the Holy Family Shrine for some water. We ended up in the beautiful, glass chapel. Something special can happen in an extraordinary place. Running provides us places too connect with God.

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