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Spirituality, Unexpectedly

August 24, 2010
by Mawi Patten

Church isn’t the only place where the holy happens. Sacred moments can occur at any moment, any place, and to anybody. Watching something get born. Making love. A high-school graduation. Somebody coming to see you when you’re sick. A meal with people you love. Looking into a stranger’s eyes and finding out he’s not a stranger. If we weren’t blind as bats, we might see that life itself is sacred. — Frederick Buechner

A few Sundays ago, the pastor of my church  spoke about “the habits of Jesus”, also known as spiritual disciplines, spiritual pathways, soul-training exercises, or, to make it as simple as possible, “anything that helps you to receive God’s love and to share it with others.” A few spiritual disciplines that are familiar to most Christians: corporate worship, prayer, reading the Bible. But for some reason, in the past 3 years or so, the “disciplines” that have been the most “spiritual” for me, or that have been most effective/compelling/captivating in allowing me to receive God’s love and share it with others, have been somewhat… unexpected.
Last Sunday I got to experience God through two different spiritual pathways. One was obvious (I went to church). The second, less obvious, less orthodox, but just as powerful for me: I ran a half-marathon.
It was my second half-marathon (of many more to come, I hope), and I say that not to brag, but rather because I love running like I love a dear friend that you want all your other friends to meet. Running brings me joy. Running brings me closer to God.
A few reasons why I love running, and how I experience God through it:
1. Running brings me joy, genuine and uncomplicated. It brings me joy to be outside, it brings me joy to move. Running gives me time to be alone and to be silent.  Running brings me blissful rest from the hustle and bustle of my thoughts. It forces me to live in the present moment. It gives me time to take notice of my surroundings, and God’s presence in them. It gives me opportunities to people watch, and to say “good morning” to strangers. It gives me time to talk to God, to hear from God. Running invites me to express my joy unabashedly, to run with my arms wide open, smiling from ear to ear. … Yes, I have actually done this before.
2. When I run, I feel glorious. I can’t think of any other time during my day when I actually feel glorious. And not in a proud or pompous sort of way. I’m not that fast, and I’m not that graceful. I feel glorious because I get to experience the innate potential of the body God has given me. Growing up as a kid and a teenager, I was no athlete, and certainly no runner. I never even attempted a sport, the idea seem so far-fetched and far removed from my identity. I was smart, i was academic, my mind my greatest asset. My physical body never felt like anything glorious; I never felt like it could DO anything. But somehow by God’s grace, I found running, and in it I found a reason to value my physical body. When I run, I become aware that God created our bodies for activity. Our bodies are art, science, and machinery all rolled into one, and it is amazing the things our bodies will do if we dare to ask them. When I run, I feel like the glorious creation I am, an intricate web of biology and physiology and poetry.
3. Racing with others is worshiping with others. I love race day. The whole day, start to finish, is this dynamic mix of emotions (anticipation, excitement, focus, determination, exhaustion). But the race itself is one of the most powerful corporate worship experiences I’ve ever gotten to share with perfect strangers. My favorite memories of races are of running alongside strangers, pacing together for a half-mile or more, not knowing their names or anything about them, but needing them desperately to keep me company, to feed me the courage to keep going.  These people whom I know only by their silhouettes, the color of their t-shirts, helped me to finish the race, and I hope I helped them. There is something so beautiful to think of all those eternal souls, disguised as strangers, running together, pressing forward to the same goal, each of us offering the person next to us the strength to continue on.
Running has taught me so many lessons about my limitations, or lack thereof; about pain and perseverance; about discipline and its rewards; about the joy of living in the present. It may not be a spiritual discipline that Jesus modeled for us in the gospels, but it is one of the surest ways I have of encountering God.
But enough of me carrying on… what about you? Do you have any unexpected spiritual pathways? If you don’t, may I invite you to go looking for one?
One Comment leave one →
  1. August 27, 2010 12:59 AM

    I am a people watcher. I can and have spent hours of the day just watching the people around me come and go interact with each other, or not interact with each other. I feel as if God uses these times to stop and remind me of the diversity of the people He has placed around me. When I am beginning to slip deep into my own bubble and zone of familiarity, He shows me the people around me and reminds me what this culture is really like, and how it is so desperately thirsty for Him.

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