Category Archives: Book Review

Running as a Sacrament – What?

The Last Supper in Milan (1498), by Leonardo d...
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So far in this series on the spiritual side of running we’ve talked about a lot of issues that are pretty forthright.  The next topic in Running the Sacred Art is a little harder to talk about because it has more theological underpinnings and isn’t as widely acknowledged across religious groups – sacraments.

First, lets look at Warren Kay’s definition of the sacramental thinking which occurs during a “sacramental run.”

An experiential kind of knowing that involves your heart, your emotions, even your instincts and intuition.

Sacramental runs occur when you have an intimate experience of God.  Kay’s definition of sacramental is:

When God is revealed and when we are ready and waiting the sign is received. Experiences like that are called sacramental. They are possible not only because the Divine reaches out to us, but also because we have been given the capacity – the grace, if you will – to respond. (pg 91)

I told you this was a little harder to grasp! The Christian tradition has two major sacraments – baptism and communion or the Lord’s Supper.  The Catholic church has 5 sacraments. Kay quotes St Augustine, a 5th century scholar, who defines sacraments as a “visible sign of an invisible reality.”

So what does this have to do with running? Excellent question. I think what Kay is getting at is that through running when can get a glimpse of the divine presence around us. He talks about the runner’s high and how it is something “magical” that sometimes happens while running.  It can’t be forced but it happens.

One thing he suggests is to ensure that you live a balanced life.  More than just making sure to balance work and family commitments, Kay suggests we seek balance between the spiritual and material – the body and soul.  He believes, and I think it makes sense, that when we are running we are expressing our bodies in a physical way that can open our heart and mind to the spiritual realm.

I feel this is the hardest section for me personally to grasp – what do you think? I’ve been a Christian most of my life, even attending a Christian university and the idea of the sacrament is still not something I completely understand. Let alone the connection to running. Do you have any insights??

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

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Meditation During a Run?

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When I say meditation what comes to mind? Yoga? Monks? Probably not Christianity though.  For whatever reason meditation conjures up negative ideas and feelings for many people.  But Warren Kay is willing to take a deeper look at it in his Running the Sacred Art book.

Kay sees meditation as the next step after prayer or a deeper form of prayer. Wikipedia defines it as “a mental discipline by which one attempts to get beyond the conditioned, “thinking” mind into a deeper state of relaxation or awareness” Kay takes it a step further by including the heart or emotions into your pondering relaxation.  He describes it more of a focusing of the mind and heart on God.

We have all gone for a run during a stressful point in time and come back from that run with stress relieved and if we are lucky – a solution to the problem.  Kay calls this anonymous meditation. We don’t necessarily intend to dwell on something but we focus on it and find clarity.  This is a good component of running and one that many runners identify as a reason for running.

Kay thinks we should take it even further.  Anonymous is good, but we occasionally need to take the time to self-reflect and look deeper inside ourselves. On page 79 he differentiates between meditation and religious meditation:

The aim of meditation is to bring enlightenment and harmony to us as human creatures – a harmony of body, mind, and spirit. . . But for all forms of religious meditation, the aim is to allow God’s presence in and with us to become the reality that gives meaning to everything that we do.

Applications of Meditative Running

One way to listen to the inside is by using Seed Mantras. This appears to be the most basic form of mantra and relies mainly on repetitive sounds. This could be deep breathing, sound of crunching leaves or gravel. Other types of mantras are using a special word or phrase to help concentrate your thoughts. This would be like Yoga where you use different mantras with different body positions and motions. The mantra should be short, easy to repeat, and meaningful to you.  When I lived in New Jersey and worked with an immigrant’s rights organization I picked up the phrase – “Si se Puede.” (wikipedia) You may be more familiar with the more recent use of the English translation – “Yes we Can.” Either way it was rythmnical and easy to repeat.  I didn’t use it a lot but would think about it sometimes while trying to establish a pace.

Meditative running is probably easy for rhythm runners like Ryan Hall, who often talks about worshiping God while running.  Here are a few mantras Kay suggests:

  • Peace to all
  • God will help
  • God is our refuge and strength (Psalm 46:1)

A final form of meditation is using a “divine reading.” This is using a short passage or story to guide your thinking during the run or meditation. It isn’t that you are trying to grasp the actual meaning of the words or story but that you are letting it inform and challenge you.

Obviously Kay suggests that you read something like a passage of Scripture or something from a piece of devotional literature.  He also suggests that you can read a work of philosophy or theology. But more simply you can pick a story out of the local newspaper or a magazine, letting its content soak in.  Ultimately, he says it doesn’t matter what you read, as long as you do so with a spiritual intent.

The Plan

To make it work, Kay suggests three steps for meditative running.  First choosing a mantra or divine reading to focus on during the run.  Actually running, remembering to meditate and enjoy the run.  Finally stretching and relaxing when you return.  He suggests taking some time to transition back into the normal routine through journaling or some other form of reflection.

I appreciate his reassuring point that if you choose to do meditative runs, don’t be disappointed if occasionally they are dull or boring.  This is part of life!

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

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Running Prayers

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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.

Why pray?

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:

  1. 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.
  2. Buildings you pass – similar to the first if you pass a non-profit organization, church, hospital, etc. pray for it.
  3. Bumper Stickers – same as the first two!  You get the idea!
  4. Write something on your shirt during a race, when someone cheers for you, say a prayer.
  5. 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.
  6. 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.
  7. 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

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Why do you Run?

Sanctuary of Oropa from Flickr

We all have different reasons for our running, but many of us run to get away from life for a short moment.  Maybe it is the routines of our life that we are trying to get away from.  When you run maybe you become a different person, soaring above the ground as a super hero or something…  Maybe when you run you can’t stop, Forest Gump style! What do all of these have in common?


Keep reading, what was the first thing that popped into your mind? Most likely it was the image of a church sanctuary or maybe a wildlife sanctuary.  What is a sanctuary? Webster gives it several definitions, but the ones I like and are the most relevant are a consecrated place or a place of refuge.

Continuing with my reading of Running – the Sacred Art, Warren Kay shares the story of Henri Nouwen, a Roman Catholic Priest and spiritual writer.  Nouwen took some time away from work deadlines to find rest at a monastery.  As his time there was ending he realized that nothing would have changed when he left so he talked to the head monk about it.  Their solution was that Nouwen needed to spend time in prayer every day (a lot of time actually, 90 minutes).  This would allow him to “create his own sanctuary in the midst of his everyday life” (pg 52).

Warren shares this story because well-known runner and author George Sheehan uses this story as an example of how running can be like finding your own sanctuary amidst the crowds and the hustle and bustle of daily life.  Running…

… is a place

… takes you out of the often mind-numbing cycle of everyday routine

… is a place you can go to regardless of where you are

… can be your sanctuary.

Kay says that “our runs can also be our sanctuary if we intentionally incorporate ritual into our routine” (pg 56). He suggests taking one run a week and making it a “sanctuary run”, do something a little different and truly focus on getting away.  He suggest making it a ritual and including these elements:

  • A special time
  • A special place
  • Music (before, during, or after)
  • Other activities (such as reading scripture, praying, or meditating)
  • Reading your journal
  • Finding a good pace (I’d call it a cruising pace)
  • Focus (on a poem, song, scripture, etc)
  • Write (after the run take some time to reflect)

That is a lot of elements to include in any given workout but I like the idea of trying to create a focused time to get away.  The biggest draw back that I see is that this might become just another routine or rut that you’ll fall into.  Running is a great form of sanctuary, but for me it is more important to occasionally shake things up and not run with my mp3 player or watch and just relax and enjoy it.

Some of my best “sanctuary runs” were unplanned and just kind of happened.  I don’t think Kay would say there is anything wrong with that but he is just offering some tips to make it easier or more likely to happen.

What do you think about “sanctuary runs”?  Or running for sanctuary??

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

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Contemplating While Running

So you are out for your daily run and “bam” God decides to run alongside you.  What would you talk about? Or you are running along and you see God cross the trail in front of you?  While I don’t think that would happen in a literal sense, I do think that you can see God all around you – not in the pantheistic sense, but in the sense that God created everything and therefore a part of Him is in that creation (similar to an artist).

Continuing the look at Running – the Sacred Art – the next chapter is titled “Seeing God While Running.” Warren Kay alludes to God as an artist who leaves their mark on every painting (creation) which is easily identified by someone who knows about God.  Kay describes two types of seeing, with our eyes and with our brains.  On a normal run or throughout the course of the day we may see thousands if not millions of images and details.  Most of them we pay no attention to, how often do you see and comprehend the same buildings during your daily run or commute? Kay says that we often see things, but don’t let our brains interpret them.  Using the example of an optical allusion, two people may see two different things – a rabbit or a duck – depending on their perspectives.

Go for a run with a watch and mp3 player, now run the same route without either.  Did you see anything different? I think most of us do.  What we see is shaded by who we are: pessimist, atheist, analytical thinker, etc. Do you ever take time to think about God or your spiritual being during a run? I like this quote from page 46:

We can’t see God directly in the trees, mountains, lakes, buildings, and cars. But if we know how to look, we can see God in them, because God is present in them. Just about everything has the potential to become a means for seeing God.

Kay encourages us to multitask while we run. Not in the podcast/music listening way, but in a contemplative way.  His three tasks to “practice the spirituality of running” are 1) following commonsense running advice, 2) looking at the surroundings, and 3) contemplating the notion of the Sacred.  These combined form what he has called contemplative running.

Combining his definitions contemplative running would be: running while self-consciously living in the presence of God.  This type of running gives you the opportunity to “see and experience God’s good creation, which includes your own body.”

What do you think about this type of running?

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