Tag Archives: Christianity

Running for Pilgrimage

Tibetans on a pilgrimage to Lhasa; they are ko...
Tibetans on Pilgrimage to Lhasa; they are kow-towing every few steps.
Image via Wikipedia

I think pretty much every major religion requires some type of sacrifice. We are familiar with some of them – giving our time in service or our money as alms or charity. But for most of us I bet the sacrifice of a pilgrimage is a little more extreme or even unheard of.  For many Christians and Jews a trip to Jerusalem or a holy site in Europe is a pilgrimage, Muslims are required to visit Mecca during their life (or at least try) and many Eastern religions have holy sites as well.

Again you ask, how does this apply to running? I’ve never taken a pilgrimage and I don’t think it would be safe for me to run around any of the sacred sites I mentioned above. But combining all we have talked about so far – prayer, sanctuary, meditation, etc – pilgrimage is a major step, think of it as a spiritual quest.

As I was reading the background on pilgrimage in Running the Sacred Art, my mind started drifting to the marathon.  Yes, Warren Kay agrees with me on that and links the two!

To ensure we are all the same page, Kay defines a pilgrimage as a journey made to a sacred shrine for spiritual purposes, such as healing, blessing, prestige, camaraderie, and a source of faith.  He sees three major steps to a pilgrimage – separation from the routine, being at the shrine, and the journey home.  The following quote about pilgrimage really hit me as being similar to many of my running experiences:

You find yourself among like-minded people who are making a similar quest, and through the journey, you recognize and respond to the humanity in them. You are likely to open up easily, talk to strangers and engage them as people, even as friends. This realization of community can become so profound that you may also experience a compassion for the whole of humanity.

Does that sound familiar to you? Let me quickly highlight the comparison of a marathon (or other run) to a pilgrimage.

  1. For many the marathon is a “holy grail” to obtain.  They have a specific location they want to race it at with a purpose behind it.
  2. You go through a long process of training, sacrificing and separating yourself from others to accomplish it.
  3. You often travel to a different city for a race, meeting and interacting with other runners at the expo and pasta dinners.
  4. The level of excitement and community grows as you jam into the starting corrals.
  5. You become separated from the mere mortals (aka spectators) as you run the course.
  6. Everyone running beside you has the goal of accomplishing this 26.2 mile quest and often will help you make it if you stumble.
  7. Crossing the finish line brings ecstatic joy, even as you collapse into the waiting arms of medical personnel.
  8. You become transformed by calling yourself a marathoner.

I want to make sure I don’t take too lightly the idea of a pilgrimage because I have heard from others that it can be a profound experience.  I know in accomplishing the marathon my perspective on running and life has changed even if just a little.  Previously we talked about running as sanctuary, but sanctuary and pilgrimage are different.

Kay describes the difference simply.  A sanctuary run is like going to church – you go regularly because it is convenient.  It can be powerful but is also part of the routine.  A pilgrimage run is something more unique like visiting the tomb were Jesus was buried.  It is unique and not part of the routine. A pilgrimage run could be going back to your old stomping grounds and running an old trail or cross country course from your past, like I did over Christmas.  It was a time of remembering and reflecting, even though I didn’t necessarily intend that at the start.

Have you ever gone on a pilgrimage run?  Could your first marathon experience equate to a pilgrimage?

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

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Meditation During a Run?

A large statue in Bangalore depicting Shiva me...
Image via Wikipedia

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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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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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

:Image:Religious syms.png bitmap traced (and h...

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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The World Vision Experience

One of my best friends from high school has the amazing job of touring the country working for World Vision.  He started out traveling with musicians who promote World Vision during their concerts.  His role was to setup the table and help interested people sign up to be child sponsors (World Vision’s main form of assistance goes to support individual children, their families, and villages).  He now travels with the World Vision Experience.

The World Vision Experience is an interactive exhibit that combines stirring audio and captivating photography, transporting you into the heart of Africa.

You’ll see, hear, and experience stories of tragedy and triumph lived out by real children in AIDS-affected communities.

I’ve not been able to go experience – The Experience, simply because it hasn’t made it to a city near me yet.  But I have experienced AIDS-affected communities first-hand during my trip to South Africa.

It is not fun to meet children who have no parents. Or children who are dying because of the mistakes of their parents.

The Facts:

About 2.5 million CHILDREN worldwide are infected with HIV.  15 million children are missing one or both parent’s due to AIDS.  Everyday 6,000 children become orphans as a result of AIDS.  Those number sound huge and daunting.  And they kind of are.  But the good news is that World Vision (and other organizations) have been actively working in Africa and around the world to prevent further spreading of HIV/AIDS while at the same time offering compassion and hope to those who are currently affected by the deadly disease.  Remember the Caregiver Kits I talked about last week?  They are one form of World Vision’s work in this area.

You can help! A donation to World Vision on my behalf can assist their efforts in Africa and around the world to care for those who are suffering.  If you want to take a different step and not spend money you can contact your members of Congress using this easy form.

Finally, you can attend The World Vision Experience if it comes to a town near you.  The fall tour schedule is posted and they are criss-crossing the nation.  They will actually be in the Twin Cities at the end of October.

Here is a trailer about the experience:

Team World Vision

Team World Vision is a fund raising arm of the organization which uses ordinary people like me, to get ordinary people like you involved in ending poverty and injustice across the world. I have decided to commit the 26.2 miles of my first marathon to the memory of and in honor of the children I have met during my international travels. I can’t remember all of their names, but I have many pictures and stories.

On the right side of my blog there is a widget that will allow you to support me during this race or you can visit this secure page. I have set a goal of raising $2,000 which will help children have a chance at living to become adults across Africa.

[tags]  World Vision, Team World Vision, AIDS, World Vision Experience [/tags]

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