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.

Friday, September 25, 2009

Solitude and the Long Distance Runner

Solitude is necessary to the long distance runner. Through many hours the runner moves along the trail through the breezes or the stillness of the day. Over the miles, through the quiet he paces forward accompanied only by his reflections. This is the stuff of distance running; to be alone.

We break this up occasionally with music we’ve brought along or messages to listen to that inspire or teach, but in the end we are left with our thoughts. If you are like me, you cherish these times. These are precious seasons to dwell on the important things, and to dwell on the mundane; to ponder and expand a thought; to thrive in the life of the mind. But there is a limit to these reveries; there is a moment when we have had enough of our own mind and we just want to speak with someone, exchange ideas and have a dialogue with another person.

A few days ago I had scheduled my final long run in preparation for the upcoming TCM marathon. I rose at 4am, biked 5 miles to the Hopkins Depot, ran to the southernmost end-point of the Regional Trail and back – a total distance of 26.2 miles (26.5 with detour), and then biked 5 miles home. The morning was perfect for my run. First the darkness of early morning, and then a light misty rain in the breaking dawn, brief and refreshing; the gradual stirrings of wildlife, the birds and squirrels as the light increased to full daylight, just a wonderful day. Other runners started popping up a little after 6 in the morning, just a few. The numbers of runners, walkers, and bikers increased with the growing light of day. My pictures try and capture some of the visual magic of this run. It was a stunning day to see and smell and savor in so many ways.

My training run was very slow as runs go. It took me almost 6 hours – very slow even for me. But I’m not concerned given that I had compressed a series of workouts into a little over a week’s time to get to my last long run. I think I will be fine by marathon time. The run was so good for so many things not the least of which was my heart. I needed time with God – alone.

Yes, solitude is woven into the life of the long distance runner. But for me this solitude is enjoined with my passion for God, my love of Him and the things He loves. When I run I usually enjoy a solitude from men. But my own restlessness and longings to run are often signals to me that I need to draw near to Him for a quiet season. The long run offers me an extended solitude with God; time to reflect and allow Him to put things in perspective, to listen, to love more deeply than yesterday, to run with steady heart and resolve, setting discomforts aside and reaching for His fellowship, digging deep and learning - once again – to wait on Him, just to wait on Him. Solitude with God on the long run gives me time to be truly alone with Him. I need this time. I need His fellowship.

Oh, the enemy of our souls would work to destroy these precious times, give us hardships and struggles, discouragements. But we must determine to have none of it; to turn our attentions wholly to the purposes at hand. We must determine to press on in the face of tough things and strive to achieve what we have set out to do. For me these are simple things: 1) Spend time with Him and 2) Train to the next level, always watchful not to push too hard and cause injury. We listen to our bodies as we strive to avoid over-training and things. We listen to God as we strive to strengthen our passion for God and reach new heights in our love for Him. Running is a simple thing. I think that loving God is the same.

My friend, let’s both run hard and true. We have no greater purpose than to find Him along these trails. I’ll be looking for the next trailhead, a break in the trees, and a small footpath into the woods. Will you be there? I’m hoping to see you soon. Give a wave, I’ll smile back!

Monday, September 21, 2009

On the Edge of a Molecule

“Would you like pancakes?” my wife asked yesterday as we were driving home from the church. It was early afternoon. “Need to run 8 miles of hill trails first, but you guys go ahead without me.” I had a marathon to run in a couple of weeks, and I was a little lean on training. I knew that a moderate length run with some technical challenge would be good, and I had just the place in mind. I was headed, once again, to Birch Island Park. Though the park is relatively small for distance running, I knew I could accomplish my afternoon goals with a series of repeats through this beautiful forest area. I was running toward Birch Island by 2:15pm on a delightful, sunny afternoon. I ran 8.15 miles over 1:52 hours. Yes! There were many climbs and descents, and twisting trails, rock scree, roots, and wonder. So much wonder beyond my mind for its beauty and majesty. Autumn is coming and the reds and golden colors are beginning to fill the woods. This season is perhaps my favorite time of the year, though each has its unique qualities. I ran easy into these divine displays of glory all abounding.

“Who is like you, O Lord, among the gods? Who is like you, majestic in holiness, awesome in glorious deeds, doing wonders?" [Exodus 15:11 ESV]

As we take to the trails to run the footpaths and breath in the fresh open air, we naturally expose ourselves to the divine; the nature of God as seen in His manifold creation, seemingly infinite varieties and captivating designs, wholly unknown vistas seen on the edge of a molecule or through an early morning droplet of dew clinging to a leaf. These are the things that transport us; cause us to shift our perspective and look with new eyes on things we have seen our whole lives, to see them as the handiwork of God. The trails reveal more than they appear. They are often pathways to apprehending the Lord, doorways to divine wonder. I guess that’s why we run. We run to know ourselves. And for some of us, we run to know Him more clearly. For me, I’m going to continue down these trails. Oh, to run hard and true, and to reach for a growing appreciation of His loveliness and glory. I’ll look for you just down the trail.

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Just He and I Along the Trail

After Bangalore I traveled to Pune India. I did not see any reasonable places to run outside, so decided to continue my running in the hotel on a treadmill. I made two treadmill runs over the next week, and have concluded that treadmills are the extreme of urban trail running. The only trail is by one’s own invention. There is no natural beauty except for perhaps a limited, obscured view from a window. There are no serendipitous adventures or surprise vistas along the way except that which derives from within your own thoughts. And there is that moving mat-thingy at my feet that I must STAY ON, or crash badly somewhere behind me. No, don’t turn around! You will lose your balance and slip off. Stay focused! Oh, how far can I go on one of these? How long can I remain so foot-focused without letting my mind wander? On the trails I often let my mind drift in endless directions, but not here, not today. Focus. Just for the record, I had previously run 8 miles on a treadmill ONCE in some faraway hotel a while back. But on Sunday, 6 September, I ran 20K (12.43 miles). It took me 2:26 hours of intense concentration. The following Wednesday I cross-trained on an elliptical with other activities, and Thursday I ran another 10K (6.21 miles) in 1:09 hours adding some cross-training. But I’ve seen enough of treadmills for a while. I was hungry for real trails – the dirt and sky and sun, natural breezes and sounds of birds and crickets in the air. It was time to return to home.

On Monday, 14 September at 7:57am, I hit the trail near my home with great eagerness. I planned a familiar route weaving a 16.63 mile loop through several neighboring communities. It took me 3:29 hours as I plodded out a 12:36 per mile pace. I could say that I was savoring the moment, but the truth is that I’m just not that interested in being fast. I simply enjoy the running even when it’s hard and long. My watch says there was 2386 feet ascending and 2457 descending. No matter; I was just loving the experience of a real trail. My tunes were not working so I stuffed the ipod and determined to enjoy the natural sounds along the way. It was nice to be hitting the trails again. I could feel my mind wandering. It was a good feeling.

I set out again yesterday, Friday, 18 September at 2:23pm under clear skies and 83F (28C) looking to build on my run earlier in the week. I followed basically the same route as a few days before, yet not taking a construction detour and not looping as I passed through Purgatory Park. By then I was flat-lining and pushing heat exhaustion, so I headed for home. I logged 14.53 miles at a pace of 12:25 per mile. It took me 3:00 hours. Ah, the joys of the run! Pushing our limits, soaking up divine grace along the way, spectators to immeasurable beauty wild loveliness in creation, seeing God’s fingerprints across His handiwork, the trees, the sky, the sounds, the glory, and finding our help as we accept the challenge of running long, going the distance, embracing a solitude with Him. These runs of late have been so good for my heart; my spirit leaps to think of these times with Him along the way. Oh, these particular trails are just good running trails. But they tease me to more. They call me to listen with greater care to His voice, watch with more studied eyes His glories all around me. I know I’ve been missing so much. I can’t wait for my next run to reach a little higher and linger longer with Him. Just He and I along the trail; yes, I love to run long. Maybe we will meet someday and share the things we’ve learned. Until then, my friend, run hard and true. He’s listening.

Thursday, September 3, 2009

To Will and to Work His Good Pleasure

I was in Bangalore to teach a three day class. Each day as the car took me to my assignment I passed the Assaye Ganj, a small urban lake very near my hotel with a walking path around much of it. I thought each day how pleasant it would be on the day after my classes to make multiple circuits around this lake and enjoy the lovely path and the beautiful flowers. I was truly looking forward to this. So with my class behind me I ventured from my room about 10:30am on Thursday, stopping at the front desk to confirm directions, and then out to the street and a short walk to the lake. As I arrived lakeside, I was greeted with an iron fence of perhaps 9 feet in height. Ok, I thought, I’ll follow this around and go in at the nearest entrance. And so I began. I found numerous padlocked gates, but no passage through to the path within. Eventually, I gave up on the notion of enjoying the path and its urban reveries, and determined to simply circuit the lake outside the gate until I had run 10K (6.2 miles). In 2:09 hours I made seven circuits of the lake covering 16.6K (10.3 miles) for a pace of 12.32 minutes per mile. This 10 mile run was a hard push for me, but I’m not really sure why. I suspect it was the air quality and warm sun. The temperature was about 24C (75F) with humidity in the low 80%. But the sun was hot. Also, my revised route placed me along streets running against on-coming traffic much of the time. If you have ever been to India, you can easily imagine that just running in traffic at all would be an exhausting experience – and it was. But I felt good when I completed my run. I had pushed out beyond obstacles and achieved what I needed to.

I went into yesterday’s run with an idea of where it would take me and the experiences I would have. Earlier in the week I carried vivid images of what my trail would look like. But circumstances prevented my dreams from seeing the light of reality. I was forced along a trail I had not planned for, one that I had not picked, and one that I did not much enjoy. But in the end, I began to see things differently. I saw the fabric of our lives and the breath of our days on earth. We don’t get to pick our trail. God does this with divine eyes and purpose. We may not altogether enjoy the trail our lives are winding along, but it is one given by the Lord in His infinite wisdom. As we pour ourselves into what He has planned, our lives yield fruit to His glory. As we move along His trails we get to be a part of His workings here. Oh, to do the things that He desires with a full and ready heart.

Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, so now, not only as in my presence but much more in my absence, work
out your own salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure. [Phillipians 2:12-13]

As I ran along I saw much of Indian life alive all around me: workers digging along the road with simple tools, men and women carrying heavy burdens of crushed rock, kids fishing crabs from a nearby stream, a vendor with a cart of potatoes, onions, tomatoes, and ginger root, and others carrying colorful displays – all teeming with sound and life. There was the smellof garbage and sewage around the lake, as well. This was initially a distraction, but I set my focus on the intensity of the moment and quickly was able to overlook the hanging odors.

The trails before us each day frequently take us in directions we are not inclined to go. It is up to us to embrace these changes and difficulties, just as we would embrace any challenge encountered on our many physical runs. And behind these things is the wonder and majesty of God’s own hands, the Eternal Potter at His wheel, doing His good pleasure, building His work.

For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them. [Ephesians 2:10]

My run in Bangalore around the lake was like so many difficult things. But I found the Lord along that urban trail as I ran the edges of wild, on-coming traffic amid much noise and horns blowing. He gave me strength and energy and a will to finish. I pray that I would embrace these realities as I run the spiritual trails that often leave me perplexed and weary. Oh friend, it is good to be in the hands of the Divine Potter and to know that His will is finding expression in every nuance of our lives; every step. May we surrender these fleeting moments to His rich sovereignty with joyful confidence; and may we run ever hard and true. I’ll be looking for you down the trail. I might be singing.