And the day God breathed upon your still life, stirring into being the green leaf and the flower, bud upon the branch and light
upon your soul. Here you felt the earth’s air on your petals and your leaves, and squinted into sunlight, gazing high for heaven
until you felt the gardener’s hand gently turning soil and soul, and nurturing you, bud in radiant sun.
Cascading rain absorbed in warm earth turning, heaven of fragrance. What is that sound in the wind and dazzling light?
Oh, the sweet sound of your delight in God. Sometimes it is like the sound of running laughter.

Monday, July 20, 2009

And We are Left Without Words

Sometimes in the course of our daily wanderings we stumble onto unexpected. Sometimes the radical, extravagant glories of the Lord just push out into our lives and shove other lesser things aside, and our very hearts tremble at His mercies to us in these startling times. We can have these illuminating moments in our hearts and minds, but I love it especially when it happens in His creation, in His physical world when He shakes us up with our eyes and we see extraordinary things. It was that way for me on Saturday as I laid down a 25K run in the Parque Natural Y Reserva Ecologica Costanera. After discovering the entry gate a few days before, I was fixed on getting a good run in among trees and brush instead of buildings and narrow streets. So there I was, a little after 8am in the morning ready to go. The park reserve maps posted on the signs gave me a feel for the layout of the place, and that was all I needed to slog on down the trail.

This park reserve is a vast, natural haven in the middle of a bustling Buenos Aires. It is a peaceful spot amid the rush of daily life and pressures. And so I plodded along soaking in the peaceful atmosphere, the smell of nature, the sound of water and birds, the trees and wild brush to my right and the vast waters of the Río de la Plata to my left. On my earlier trips to this city, I was cautioned not to proceed into this area of the city. But I realize now that those cautions apply after dark. During daylight hours, this park is a beautiful place to enjoy a special piece of God’s world. As I was running along I suddenly spotted a familiar sight – an agate! I bent down and kicked it out of the dirt. It was about 2 by 1.5 by .5 inches in size. Gosh, I thought, that’s cool! Well, I pocketed this little treasure as a souvenir and continued on my way. It wasn’t long before I was bending over again, and again, and again. Soon I realized that I could not pick up every agate that I saw, there were just too many. They were everywhere. This is so like God and His glories. Once our eyes are opened, we see His workings in everything, we see his glories abounding; we cannot possibility pick up every glory that He has left along our way. His wonders are too many for us. He overwhelms us with His manifold greatness and intricate beauties, and we are left without words; His glories scattered everywhere at our feet.

Amid these casual glories at my feet I ran for 3:31 hours and covered 15.42 miles (.08 short of 25K) for a not-so-blazing pace of 13.43 minutes per mile. To be honest, I was going along at a markedly easy pace knowing that I was going a little long for my current conditioning. I moved along easy for the joy of it. I’m not sure on the temperature, but it is winter in Argentina and it felt like the low 60s F. The sky was partly cloudy with an occasional misting and then a little sun. I have included pictures of the park, views and sights to give you some idea of God’s greatness. On these trails we run, we would miss so much of the beauty and wonder if we hurried; if we rushed and just squeezed it into our crammed calendars. It is a good thing to savor a place, to take our time and run at an easy pace, to see the stones at our feet. We need enough time to see God and His wonders as they display in a never-ending visual before us. Next time you’re out on the trails glance down and see if there are agates scattered at your feet; gems along the way to remind you of His glories and His wonder in world. Until then, run hard and true. Run for His glory. You may find that you are running in His glories, dancing along on a sea of beautiful things.

Friday, July 17, 2009

The 10K Run and Long-Haul Truckers

It was late morning yesterday about 11:20am in Buenos Aires, and I was determined to go for a run. I had made my way through some administrative junk for work and now my schedule was wide open. I thought to make it an easy 10K (6.2 mile) run. A casual pace in a beautiful city seemed like a nice way to get back my running legs. I had been traveling hard and not running for over a week, and was not interested in developing another over-use injury. I wanted to run, not think about running. I pulled my gear together, stepped out from my hotel, and off I went along the narrow street of Moreno down the hill toward the Atlantic Ocean. I knew generally where I was going. I thought I’d head for the Puerto Madero, a large revitalized walking plaza along the old shipping docks where I had run on previous trips. And from there perhaps identify where I might go in the next several days for longer runs. After some dashing and careful stepping along the sidewalks and numerous small intersections, I was near the docks in less than a mile, and began to enjoy the atmosphere of the day. I had an idea how my run would go today, and this was beginning just as I planned. I could feel the excitement and could feel my legs and body adapting nicely to the pace. This would be a good run.

When I asked my students about places to run, they suggested either the Parque Palermo (“like Central Park”, they said) or the Parque Natural Y Reserva Ecologica Costanera (“you are staying right down there by the reserve… you should run there”). I found an entrance for the Reserva Ecologica, but it looked like a service entrance. Then I noticed a broad plaza running along a natural marshy area, so I followed it hoping things would make sense. After some distance I found the main entrance to the reserve, but it was nearly time for me to head back to the hotel. I took note of visual references so that I could come back in a day or so for a long run. Shortly after heading back I discovered a grassy boulevard with a single track that obviously was a runners trail. I saw a runner just getting out of his car and heading over, and I passed a few other runners. It seemed that this grassy section was paralleling the original plaza that I had run along. Nice. This dirt path was kinder to my legs than the hard tiles of the plaza, and I decided to follow this as far as I could until I needed to turn and head back up the hill.

The trails that God maps for us are not usually what we have mapped for ourselves. I was gleefully dashing along my grassy boulevard when suddenly I found myself in a sea of long-haul trucks and truckers. It seems that I had wandered into an area where they queue up and park waiting their turn to be filled or emptied. The truckers looked at me curiously. They seemed nice enough, but I was definitely in the wrong place. Well, I just kept plodding along and shifted my enthusiastic pace to the “this is going to take a while” pace. And I kept looking for where I had missed my turn. After about 4 miles of running, I found my mistake. Thankfully, at that point, I headed in the clear, unequivocal direction of my hotel up the hill. Surprisingly, the final quarter mile or so I was blessed with a rush of energy and was able to finish very strong – and without injury. My planned 10K had expanded to an almost 17K (10.46 mile) and had taken me 2:03 hours. This trail had 2362 ascending and 2071 descending, which was mostly the hill to and from the water.

We all have our plans, and we should. God expects us to plan, to count the cost, to use our abilities to make wise decisions. But in the end, He decides. In the end, He remains our Sovereign Lord, and we would have it no other way. We serve Him in our wholeness, in the completeness of our being we apply our minds and hearts to serve Him. But He orders our steps. David said, "The steps of a man are established by the Lord, when he delights in his way..." [Psalm 37:23] So, it looks like we have a role in this – to delight in His way! I need to remember this the next time I find myself lost in a sea of long-haul truckers, or some other unexpected twist in my trails. I need to remember His faithfulness to me, not focus on my circumstance, and delight in Him and His way.

“In this the love of God was made manifest among us, that God sent his only Son into the world, so that we might live through him. In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins. Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another.” [1 John 4:9-11 ESV]

God has our trails in His hands. Our job is to run. Friend, we are running His trails. I want to be found in Him. Run with me today. Run hard and run true, and not be satisfied with lesser things. Let us seek the far country and the love of God. His trails are sure and His ways are perfect. He is altogether our delight. So now, again, run hard and true.

Saturday, July 11, 2009

To Watch and Wait

Upon my return home from India, my daughter dangled an easy run in front of me. “I’m going for a run. You wanna come?” At first I hesitated, but then I thought of Birch Island Park, a gentle trail run and an opportunity to share with her this recent running pleasure. She was more than ready, so off we went. Into the woods we ran, covering 2.6 miles in 33 minutes; a tease of a run, just enjoying the glory of the woodland. I’d been thinking how fun it would be to share these trails with her, and now we were doing it. We skirted the retreat center and made our way to the woods beyond the tracks. Down the trail a bit, we climbed the hill to the highest point, breathed in a broad and distant perspective, ran along the western ridge dropping to the lowest point, climbed again and ducked into the bush along a secondary trail and ran along the eastern ridge overlooking the central trail far below – hidden at this time of year in heavy undergrowth, and made the rapid descent to the central trail. We got a rich taste of the special place that these trails can be to a ready heart; just enough to make us hungry for more and excite us to return another day. Sometimes the Lord paints a vivid picture in our hearts that we can carry with us like a photograph of someone we love with much passion; a picture vivid and rich enough to sustain us in bleaker times, to carry us through dark and lonely hours. Yes, I’m sure that we will be back. I have the picture in my heart, the color is overwhelming.

I left in a day or so for Peru, and any thoughts of future runs in Birch Island Park would have to wait. The memory I will keep is secure. I would find that many things would have to wait. On my arrival into Lima, Peru and my hotel, I went for a walk in the remaining afternoon light. The air was clear with a steady breeze, and the Pacific Ocean lay broad and magnificent beneath the afternoon sun, waves crashing in the distance. I was standing atop a plaza that overlooked a beach and cliffs and the rhythm of the surf. The view was stunning beyond my words. I was inspired with the seeing, but I was tired from my trip and decided not to run that day. I was there to teach for three days beginning the next morning and wanted to start out fresh.

I went down to breakfast the first morning and sat looking out the windows at the continuing view of God’s extravagance – the vast Pacific, the wild sky above the surf as it pounded, as it has pounded for all time, in steady wave on wave of praise and glory to its maker. I was looking out over the plaza below where I had been standing the previous afternoon. It was first light. And, look, runners! There were many, many runners going this way and that along the walk overlooking the ocean. The views would be breathtaking from that walkway, yet I would not have attempted a predawn run in an unknown city. So there were runners, but they were starting about the time I had to eat and run to my assignment. Oh well. Maybe tonight, I thought. But when I returned that night from work, night was falling fast. OK, no running along the ocean tonight either. I resigned myself to watching the other runners and waiting for another time and place. Sometimes we are left to wait. But I will keep Lima, Peru as it is for me – a beautiful picture in my heart. For the record, it was a magnificent city. If I have the opportunity to return, I’ll try and plan time for adventure and running, and I hear they have awesome trails too. Maybe my wife could come along and we won’t have to wait, but we will run and laugh and enjoy. And the picture in my heart will grow more intense and deep with time.

We need to hold onto things in our hearts to keep us true. And if you are running the trails with me, then you know this is important. We need to focus on our goal. For me, I’ve been writing lately about the far country, setting my eyes on the distant object of my life’s sojourn. I must set my heart on my Lord and His kingdom. After all of the trails and journeys, this is the object of my life. After all of the miles and struggles, this is the purpose and the overwhelming passion of my soul – to be with Jesus forever; to be found in Him. As Paul says,

But whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ. Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith - that I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, that by any means possible I may attain the resurrection from the dead. [Phillipians 3:7-11]

As we run these trails together we share each others burdens and joys. For me, I share a few pictures today of beautiful places and stories of waiting. But these are small things in the context of eternity and the Kingdom of God. These are small things as we make our way along together today. Like so many of the trails we run, we face the challenges for the joy that is set before us.

Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God. [Hebrews 12:1-2]

Let’s run full-hearted with the eyes of our souls fixed on the joy that is set before us. Run on, my friend. Run hard and true. I will look for you down the trail.

Friday, July 3, 2009

Just Glimpse the Far Country

This three week passage through India has become a picture of the passage my days, of our days. It is a trail of the heart. Our steps weaving a pattern in the dust of each passing hour; this signature telling our narrative of a Godward life or a life set on lesser gods. And now I am heading home. I feel the longing, an almost tangible pull of feeling toward home. It is like that with heaven, too. A few days ago I wrote in my journal:

Lord, my body and emotions seem great weights to me this morning. But I choose to look beyond my frail limitations and the boundaries set in flesh and the world. My Lord has given me eyes to gaze on the far hills and sing to my Lord out of my aching heart. It is His glory that I see afar, He is my hope and all. These weights are lost amid His wonders and I find renewed strength to the day. Oh soul, rise up and take the trail, walk this Calvary road today with a heart set on heaven and home.

And then today I wrote:

On the trail today what wonders will abound? What treasures of my far country will I see? What dreams of God will arrest my heart and drive me to utter holy prayers and mount the watchtower of intercession. It begins by heading down the trail. Yes, running hard and true; the heart set to love God; heading down the trail pursuing God. Along the way I will discover things to catch the radiance of His name or the profound wonder of His glory.

This calling of the far country, this song on the wind as our hearts pick up the melodies of heaven – this is what calls us to the trails we run. Whether we set out today to follow a forest path and measure out our steps in hours and miles, or whether our steps involve a thousand small words and uncounted quiet smiles to encourage others on the way, these are most certainly trails traced out by the finger of God. As our trail gives challenge, let us give heart; as our way clouds with doubt and despair, may we choose to run on knowing these times and places and great adventures are to His purpose and glory. This divine root should cause each of us to rise up full to the day, to run on in spite of some passing doubt or despair. Such little things do pass away and we are left to gaze upon the unfailing provisions of God, the faithfulness of the Lord, the one who does not pass away but is forever Lord of All.

At times this does not come easy to me. Some days are teeming with a thousand distractions or come at me with an overwhelming sense of darkness and gloom. Some days I feel the ache of body or heart, and can’t seem to rise above the weight of it. I feel almost helpless. There were days like this during my few weeks in India. At such times I speak to myself, “Put the trail shoes on!” I say, “Read your Bible and journal!” I say, “Henry, run hard and true. That is all, just run!” And then I just do it. I set aside the indictments of the enemy, the doubts in mind and fury of heart; and I let the simple faithfulness of God take hold of my way. I run His trail along the road, through a forest, or in my heart. And so, recently, this was a passage through India.

Throughout the remaining trip I kept a fairly regular schedule of workouts in hotels resulting in one interrupted 5K (Fr 26 June) when the power failed in the machine and two completed 5K treadmill runs (Sa 27 June -32:58, Su 28 June -35:17) along with a compliment of other cross-training activities. The workouts provided a healthy recharge to the exhaustion of teaching and travel.

But my trail through India involved far more than dirt trails or treadmills. My trail was made of small exchanges and conversations, shared meals, and shared life stories, little words of hope spoken, light in dark places. I do not know the fullness of these things, and I cannot grasp the impact. It is too big for me. But in every place I was reminded of the ancient Christian, Francis of Assisi who said, “Preach the Gospel every day; if (absolutely) necessary, use words.” Yes, we preach the Gospel every day in our smiles and prayers and serving. And words from time-to-time are spoken, but this is not the essential thing. It is the trail of our hearts. For me, the trail through India was like a divine string of pearls, of heavenly encounters with other travelers along the way, ones He had chosen. And for me – well, I had the joy of running the trail, of being there as a light-bearer, of listening to the tales and burdens that others told, and whispering prayers along the way; a way – though difficult and hard – surely adorned with the glory of Christ and a fragrance of redemption. Whether our passage takes us through India or the neighborhood, we are tellers of the tale that God has given us, light-bearers in dark places, runners and trail-seekers and lovers with hearts fixed on heaven. Yes, I’ll hit the dirt trails again very soon, and I’m dizzy with the expectation. But the trails of the heart – these are the things of heaven. Oh, friend, come along. I hope to see you down the trail as we set our hearts to run hard and true. From this point, if we look with firm expectation, we can just glimpse the far country. Oh, friend, run on!