I’m sure you’ve heard the old saying, “There are no atheists in foxholes.” (wikipedia) It is kind of a funny things to say, but the point is that under enemy fire even atheists are praying to a higher power. Continunig to go through Warren Kay’s Spirituality of Running book, the next chapter is Prayerful Running.
What is prayer?
Wikipedia says prayer is “the act of attempting to communicate with a deity or spirit.” That is a pretty straightforward way to say it. I believe Kay would agree with that defeinition, but to make sure we are all on the same page here is how he describes it (pg 64):
Prayer, is an essential part of spirituality. It is perhaps the most important part, because we are not just thinking about God, we are not just seeing or experiencing God in some abstract or detached sense. In prayer we are in conscious communication – or as some would say, communion – with God. (emphasis original)
Prayer can be done in a plethora of different forms – quietly in your head, prostrate on ground, facing East, standing, kneeling, and on and on. It is safe to say that praying while running is best done with your eyes open! But it can be done quietly or out loud. You may recall a friend encouraged me to pray at every mile marker during my marathon for one of my African friends. These prayers (when I did them) were silent in my head.
Just as there are different ways to pray, there are a lot of different reasons to. Kay mentions a few:
– to establish a connection to things and people that are seperate
– to bring wholeness to the one praying
– to see the world as a whole.
I would add that sometimes prayer provides you a different perspective on the thing you are praying about.
Kay compares prayer to thinking. Thinking isn’t prayer but can be close if it is a thinking “in the presence of God, or informed by our awareness of the Holy.” But it is still thinking. How can thinking be prayer?? By including all of your emotions into your thoughts, not just simply using the analytical thoughts that scramble through. Feeling about more than yourself through compassionate thinking – thinking and feeling about others. Thinking about your responsibility in the situation and being responsible with what God has given you. A final way that thinking approaches prayer is through thankful thinking. Being thankful for what you have.
Praying while running can be as easy as consciously letting your mind flow and thinking through the situations and people in your life. This is similar to any other part of your day. If a sick friend pops into my head, I say a quick prayer for them.
But what if you want to make a concerted effort to pray while running? Kay has some interesting ideas:
- T-shirts – when you pass a runner look at their shirt and pray for the charity or cause (if you can tell) that the shirt is from.
- Buildings you pass – similar to the first if you pass a non-profit organization, church, hospital, etc. pray for it.
- Bumper Stickers – same as the first two! You get the idea!
- Write something on your shirt during a race, when someone cheers for you, say a prayer.
- Use something like prayer beads/knots. This could be rosary beads or one of your own making. Kay suggests having a list of things to pray about, number them and use a string with the same number of knots or beads. As you run and pray move your hand down the beads saying a prayer each time.
- Pace band – especially in the marathon many runners wear a pace band to compare their splits at each mile. Kay suggest making a prayer band with an item to pray for at each mile. This could be on a separate band or make notations on your pace band.
- Talk – this may get some weird looks but Kay suggests talking during your run as if God were running next to you and you were chit chatting about life.
Kay’s research for the book discovered that there are (oddly?) no patron saints for running, despite several references to running in the Bible. Nevertheless, he did find this prayer in Day by Day: The Notre Dame Prayerbook for Students:
Run by my side – live in my heartbeat; give strength to my steps.
As the cold confronts me, as the wind pushes me, I know you surround me.
As the sun warms me, as the rain cleanses me, I know you are touching me, challenging me, loving me.
And so I give you this run; thank you for matching my stride. Amen