Foundations of a Spiritual Runner

For the next few weeks I’m going to take an in depth look at a book I stumbled upon while on a “Barnes and Nobles date” with my wife. Running – the Sacred Art written by Warren Kay looked like an intriguing book that would capture my Christian spirituality and passion for running. Now looking back on the book some of it is easier to apply than others, but I am glad I read the book.

Some posts are pretty long (like this one) but to me it was important to set a foundation for the rest of the posts.  I hope you enjoy this series and I look forward to your feedback.

The Foreword, Introduction, and Chapter 1 really lay the groundwork for what is ahead throughout the rest of the book. I think the author, Warren Kay, makes it clear that he is writing from a specific religious focus, Christian, but that many of his thoughts and insights can be applied across the “spiritual realm.”

The Foreword is written by Kristin Armstrong, of Runner’s World fame and a Christian. I really enjoyed this quote:

People of faith talk a lot about the journey, about what it means to “walk with God.” We are all sojourners together on a path, regardless of how we regard our itinerary. This way of thinking is perfectly exemplified to me whether it is the start line of a race, the act of lining up on the track, or the gathering of girl-friends pre-dawn, stretching and waiting to begin. We are all on this journey together and if we can draw deeper meaning from our miles, we will find that we are well trained in every capacity for whatever lies ahead.

Armstrong talks about running as being part of the freedom that we enjoy in our lives. She claims that freedom comes from being understood and understanding and from a relationship with an “unseen Source.” In her words, this book will help us find that freedom.

Moving into the Introduction we begin exploring “spiritual running” (emphasis original). I think every runner can easily resonate with this quote from pg 3 “Running… helps us deal with life; it helps us cope with problems and celebrate triumphs.”

Kay dedicates a section to comparing yoga and running. Yoga can be somewhat controversial in Christian circles because of its ancient religious ties, while many say that it is a secular or non-religious exercise. One of Wikipedia’s definitions says “Outside India, yoga is mostly associated with the practice of asanas (postures) of Hatha Yogaor as a form of exercise.” The section ends saying that

Running does, indeed, provide an efficient way to burn calories for weight loss; it helps tone muscle and is great for cardiovascular health. But recently, men and women across the country have recognized that, like yoga, running can also be a spiritual exercise – a means to spiritual enlightenment or spiritual fulfillment. (pg 4)

Continuing to understand where Kay is coming from I’ll highlight the three aspects of healthy spirituality that he see as most important and are impacted by running:

  1. Right relationship with ourselves
  2. Good relationships with others
  3. Fostering good/healthy relationships with the Divine or sacred reality (which he and I both refer to as the God of the Bible).

An interesting suggestion that he makes is to incorporate your running journal into your prayer/spiritual journal or vice-versa.  Many committed to a spiritual belief keep a journal of their thoughts, experiences, and revelations throughout their daily life. Almost all of us runners keep some type of running log  – most of which contain a section for notes or comments.   It would be easy to start tracking information from the spiritual realm in those notes. I’m going to try it and see what happens.  Hold me accountable by tracking my log online.

The final point I’d like to pull from his introduction is that running is another form of spiritual discipline.  Christians and others have disciplines which draw us closer to God, help us live out His commands and draw us into a closer relationship with Him.  Those can include prayer, tithing, reading Scripture, fasting, attending church, going on retreats, and many more. I would agree that with the proper approach to running it can be an act of worship to God and can become a part of one’s spiritual discipline.

I would second Warren Kay’s thought process that as a Christian my thoughts, comments, and reactions will be based on that belief system – to which I hold dearly – but many of these can be applied to any form of spiritual practice. My purpose in doing an in depth look at this book is to present mine and Kay’s thoughts but to also stimulate discussion about the spiritual.

Chapter 1: Let’s Get a Few Things Straight fills in some important background details from the running world – talking about Jim Fixx and the running boom and motivations for running.  Kay makes it clear that this book is “different than the organized institutional religion that has developed in this coun

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Image via Wikipedia

try; it harkens back to a more basic way of being spiritual” (p. 15).

Running meets the three criteria laid out for spirituality – experiencing ourselves for who we really are, being part of a community, and the opportunity to think about our relationship with “the ultimate reality of the universe.”  Running is also one of the most natural things that a human being can do – children run and enjoy it; even making games out of running.  It isn’t until later in life that people begin to see running as a chore or punishment. There is a great quote on p 19:

… running is one of the most natural and spontaneous activities we engage in…

As a form of play running can produce feelings of “transcendence”  or the runner’s high.  Kay quotes from Roger Bannister‘s autobiography about the feeling he got as a child running and the joy he gets from running.  Kay would argue that this feeling and sense of joy comes from God and is part of the running experience.  I had never thought about the runner’s high being a gift from God but could see the connection.  Taking pure pleasure in an activity can be a form of worship and I think that is where the connection is the strongest.

This first chapter continues by examining Jeff Galloway’s 5 stages of a runner: Beginner, Jogger, Competitor, Athlete, and Runner. I won’t go into all the specifics but I think I am somewhere between the athlete and runner stages – the athlete is focused on competition  but judges running based on effort not times (like the competitor) while the runner has a balanced approach to life and running is one of many parts.  I still very much need a race to train for and find it hard to be motivated just for the sake of running at times.  Kay states that “spirituality can be experienced on all levels, but certain stages may be more conducive to spirituality than others” (pg 24).   Each stage has its own unique challenges to truly experience the spiritual realm whether it is the self-consciousness of the beginner or the ultra-competitive drive of the competitor and athlete.  Kay makes it clear that the opportunity does exist for every runner to experience the spiritual while running if the focus is correct.

I’ll end with this quote which is also serves as a segue into the next chapter:

Spirituality can mean as little as an appreciation of the beauty of God’s creation or the enjoyment of the gift of friendship.  Spirituality can also mean much more – and the activity of running can make a big contribution to that experience, but this leads me to the next chapter. (pg 25)

[tags] Sacred Art, Running, Spiritual, Warren Kay [/tags]

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4 thoughts on “Foundations of a Spiritual Runner

  1. Pingback: November Highlights | Team Cross Runs

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