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.

Saturday, January 30, 2010

Dance Along Eternity’s Glimmering Edge

Sometimes when I run I discover a new world, an enchanted place for dreaming where my imagination drifts high into the heavens and seems to brush the divine. Almost as an afterthought, I skirt the edges of eternity and run past a thousand sacred moments in my pursuit of lesser things. How do I miss the holy moments so easily, and casually overlook the deepest considerations? Friday morning, 29 January 2010, at 8:32am I was standing on the trail’s edge anxious to get moving. I had lingered a half hour longer than planned enjoying a second cup of coffee. But now I faced my next challenge and was itching to go. It was a quiet morning in Saint Edwards State Park near Seattle, hazy without direct sunlight, subdued, still; a canvas as yet unpainted. I was planning an intense workout, and that is just what I got. I ran three circuits - each including a steep descent down the North Trail, running along Lake Washington, a steep climb up the South Trail, returning down the South Trail descending hard, along the water again, and pounding up the North Trail. Three of these circuits measured a total of 10.6 miles in 3:01 hours ascending 4314 feet and descending 4348. This was a lot of up and down in the space of 10 miles over 3 hours – at least for me. And I felt fabulous after the run. This certainly was one of my strongest workouts to date.

But the forest gave me much to think about, and the thoughts have lingered on in my mind. As I moved along the trails, the old growth forests hung heavy with time and age, the massive trunks of standing pines, the ancient fern beds and ivy cover, and ever present moss gathering at the whisper of any moist, northern exposure. I could feel the near timelessness of the place. And in it all I felt as if the forest itself was hung as a rich curtain of opulent colors and fragrance, draped in time and mystery and a thousand stories of love and sorrow – and I was running through it unaware of the magnitude of the moment or the place; running on the edge of many other lives. Each step a sound, an echo, a ripple back to other moments and adventures. At times the trail was nothing but a blur, at other times I took in its great detail. I passed numerous shelters that wildlife had used, hollowed trunks and burrows. I wondered about the shelter I have found in the Word of God and in His faithfulness. As I crashed down a steep descent I felt His courage rise within me. As I began a steep climb with no energy left within me, I found His strength sufficient to each step. And as I ran, as I pushed beyond the limits I had known it seemed in some measure that I needed to set myself aside, to die to my efforts –again and again, casting myself on Him, on His sure faithfulness. With each moment I needed to die to me so that I could live to Him.

The great curtain of forest hangs before us all with every trail we run. This wonderland of beauty carries us away with its loveliness and seems to press us into another world beyond. The trails we run are not the simple trails of creatures earthbound and common. Rather, these trails – they are pathways to the heart, trails to truer things. These trails let us dance and weave along eternity’s glimmering edge. We play in this timeless majesty. We are hearing the sounds of heaven in the small gurgling brooks, catching the fragrance of His glory in the ancient aroma of the woodlands, and feeling the wing of an angel on the edge of a passing breeze. Step high, my friend, along these trails that we run together. Oh, may we run hard and true. Step high for we encounter things more sacred and pure than ever we would have thought. We hear the voice of God as He whispers to our hearts for we have seen Him painting a canvas with every trail we have ever run.

video

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Deep Fragrance, Mud, and Wonder

A little over a week ago I left my home at 1:18 in the afternoon and headed for Birch Island Park. I worked some of my favorite hills, crossing the crusty ice and snow, and finding my rhythm along the afternoon trails - feeling the edge of winter in the cold air, the freeing, fresh atmosphere of the day. Covering 6.40 miles in 1:41 hours, I ascended 1059 feet and descended 1055. The moment seemed sacred and my heart was drawn to consider this mystery. Are these places so rich with His glory that they are holy places? I wonder.

One thing have I asked of the Lord, that will I seek after:
that I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life,
to gaze upon the beauty of the Lord and to inquire in his temple. [Psalm 27:4]


A few days later I hit the trail in Purgatory Park at 6:55am. Predawn, cold, and very quiet. I circuited the park a number of times and accumulated 10.05 miles in 2:17 hours, ascending 1277 feet and descending 1301. It was a good, solid workout, and yet the echoes of my previous run were resonating in my heart and mind. I could hear each footfall and felt the miles wind out before me. I had as my original objective a 5-7 mile effort, but was caught in the moment, the place and sense that these were special times reserved for Him. How could I so easily separate myself from the glory and wonder? I could not, and so I ran on. It was a good run, and in a way I could gaze upon the beauty of the Lord. As I meditated on these simple things it was like inquiring in His temple. I loved this run and this place. But there were more trails ahead.

It was a few days later that I landed in Seattle WA, checked into a hotel, and headed immediately to Saint Edwards State Park. I had visited this park before, and knew I was in for a treat. It was 3:39pm, and I was hungry for trails and a strong workout, and off I went. It took me 2:14 hours to cover 7.25 miles, ascending 3609 feet and descending 3620. Yes, there were some mighty nice hills involved and I was loving it! This was the primary reason I selected this park. In Saint Edwards I ran among the old growth forests, breathing in the deep fragrance of woodlands, of ferns and moss and soil. The temperature was mid 50s. Some areas needed careful navigation. Recent rains had turned steep descents muddy and very slick. I managed to avoid a crash and left the trails deeply refreshed and satisfied with the intensity. It was very good. In fact, it is always good to dig deep within ourselves, to push beyond the limits we think we have and to find new levels of endurance and strength. Trails have taught me many things. But maybe it’s not the trails as much as my companion along the trails. I am never alone. The beautiful trails and woodlands are simply the handiwork of my Creator. As I run these foot paths and witness the continuing displays of wonder, I just see the profound testimony of His continuing faithfulness and His love of beauty. This is all around me. It is this display of His greatness and glory that carries me along, strengthens me along the way, and brings me to each trail’s end. Running the trails gives me a deep sense of gratitude. My heart seems larger each time I run. This is why I feel compelled to run the distance, because I am running as a simple testimony to Him. Will I see you down the trail? We could run together into His breathtaking wonders holding to our course with the strength that He supplies. I’ll be watching for you. Until then, run hard and run true, my friend.

Friday, January 15, 2010

Hard Crusty Ice and Broken Trail

Sometimes it seems that I am being followed by glory. It clings to my garments with laughter and mirth, with spontaneity, a wild, natural joy. But at other times a great weariness settles on me with haunting shadows, and my heart becomes weighty and tired. And yet the trail remains. The trail strings out in front of me each day drawing me into my tomorrows. And so I must run through these things, these changing moods and winds of the each day. I must run through both the glories and the shadows that confront me. And here the trail becomes my teacher of deep things. It teaches me to carry on, to go forward in the face of challenge, and to run through my joys and my sorrows; to run as I run my trails – taking the paths boldly and full of faith in the One Who Made these trails for me. I run full-hearted even as the distance presses me hard; I go for the trail’s end with all that I have. He has given me this heart to hold. I run for Him.

On Monday, 4 January at 7:50am I went out with my 30-year-old daughter for a quick run in nearby Purgatory Park. We did 2 laps. It was -12F (-24C), and dangerously cold. We covered 2.44 miles in 31:38 minutes. By then, we had had enough and just wanted breakfast and hot coffee. Sometimes there is nothing better than a hot cup of coffee. But we had gone out into the frigid cold. We did it! A few days later on Thursday, 7 January, she and I were in northern Minnesota, near Ulen, and figured that a short run was in order. It was just before noon. So among the corn fields and farming silos, along the country roads and wide spaces of the prairie, we covered a 3.06 mile route around the small town in 36:45 minutes. It was -8F (-22C), so it was still a bit nippy. But we kept moving. Again, we did it! Later that day at sunset, we saw “sundogs” (rainbows each side of the setting sun). One could almost imagine that there were three suns setting that night. We were so blessed. What can we say of such wonders in this world? Surrounded as we are by glory continually, it is easy to overlook the constant grandeur and breathtaking strength of our Lord as He holds all things together by the word of His power. Yes, we are just men, and this universe is so vast, so infinite. It seems we can never grasp it. Sometimes it is good just to have a trail to follow, to keep things in perspective.

A few days back on Wednesday, 13 January at 7:51am I went out alone from my home headed for trails and hills. It was 23F (-6C), near ideal for running. I made for Birch Island Park and dropped into the woods 11 minutes later. This was like heaven. Crisp, snowy trails, the hush of early morning in a winter woodland, stillness yet vastly alive, teeming with life, subdued glory but crystal-like and brilliant. My footfalls tracing along a single trail, and later along little used tracks, high-stepping through 8-12 inches of snow cover, irregular steps and uneven tracks to follow – a thousand glories and challenges wrapped into my 2:22 hours of running. I covered 7.59 miles, ascending 1377 and descending 1325. I was working my hills and loving every minute of it. In fact, I was so taken with my surroundings that I snapped over 30 pictures; breathless with the wonder. It was a magnificent run.

Along the way I was thinking of how our trails are filled with a mingling of joys and sorrows. I was considering how we grow trail weary and discouraged even as we track through such wonderlands of beauty. But as trail runners we have learned to handle some of this. It is one of the great things about our running life – adapting, having the discipline, having the passion, reaching for hard goals, seeing things through, and – all the while - grasping the wonder and joy in the midst of our struggles. And I was considering that this mix of joy and sorrow is common to anyone who has been on life’s trails for any length time. It is the challenge we all face. As I ran, I listened to the worshipful singing of Josh Garrells (http://www.joshgarrels.com/).

“When we were young
We walked where we wanted to
Life was ours,
And now we’re old
We go where we’re told
The Lord’s Spirit calls,
He’s singing
Follow my road to sorrow and joy
Be intertwined,
And find

All things are under my wings
And rise,

Given time…” [from Desert Father by Josh Garrells]

My feet traced the snow-packed, single-track wooded trail through the growing light. It had been awhile since my training had been consistent. I could feel the impact of my earlier high-stepping through snow cover, of the irregular surfaces of hard crusty ice and broken trail, of the hill repeats and distance. I was growing tired. So I fixed my thoughts on my run’s end and kept to my course. You know how the story ends, because you are a runner. In the end, I finished - coming up into the driveway of my home. Some few minutes later I was lingering over a hot cup of coffee and savoring the memory of my delicious morning adventure. We thread our way along forest paths, across fields, and anywhere our hearts are drawn. And in the end we have learned much about ourselves. We have seen with each step a flicker of glory and a shadow of sorrow. With each trail and run, we have savored the wonders and touched the hard things, too. We have had great happiness and borne sadness on our way. This is our life and our days; and the trails have been our teachers. Come with me, friend, and run hard and true. Let us run the race 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... [Hebrews 12:1]

I hope to see you down the trail. We share so many things. I run for the sheer joy that is set before me. I run with everything I have in me. The trail is often hard, but I do not run alone. I’ll be looking for you. Keeping running.