Sunday, August 4, 2013

Running to Find God

I have never been a particularly religious person - I'm not even sure faithful is the word I would use to describe how I feel about God and life; I would say that I am spiritual. Please be aware that I am not intending to judge anyone or their belief systems. This is fairly difficult for me to write about - but I feel like it is important to share. Maybe some of you can relate.

As a very serious young girl with a need for logic and reasoning - I had an exceptionally hard time accepting the rules of my church. I could never make sense of what I was supposed to take away from my time spent there - should I be afraid of God? Should I be ashamed of my mistakes? I could not get behind an institution that seemed to make so many judgments - and most importantly - I did not personally feel a love from the church or its rules. I didn't leave feeling like a better person or like I knew myself or God any better. It actually made me feel a lot of confusion and anger towards organized religion.

The fact that I stopped going to a church does not mean that I don't believe in God. I would argue that I have an extremely strong connection to God - and everything that falls under the umbrella of "life." The only rule I live by is to be honest, fair and kind to all things. Good choices will follow.

I seek out time with God in nature rather than within the walls of a church. This is where running comes in. Running is my church. It has become my time to reflect, to meditate on my life - to seek out that "zen" moment where everything is a bit hazy accept my thoughts, my footfalls on a path and the rhythm of my breathing - a harmonized connection of mind, body and nature. It is healing and necessary for me.


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I remember the first time that my beliefs about God felt validated. The sun was setting as I ran down an abandoned county road in my hometown. I was struggling through a long run;  I was in pain, my breathing was heavy and so were my feet - but off in the distance I heard a "whooshing" sound - a breeze rustling the fall leaves. They kind of danced in front of that orange and pink sky, and in that exact moment - I became so overwhelmed by the peacefulness and beauty of it all that I started to cry. I felt sad that no one was there to experience it with me, but so grateful that I was able to recognize the moment at all. "God is in the trees" was all that went through my mind and that is a phrase that hasn't left me since.

God is in the trees.

That day, I felt a connection with nature and God and life that I am always trying to replicate - and I am often able to do so while running. I have found that as long as I am paying attention to the details in my surroundings, I'm able to have a similarly overwhelming experience - where I can find myself in absolute amazement at both the simplicity and complexity of life. Running allows me to experience MORE of those moments. You just see MORE. You cover MORE ground. I always think about the beautiful details that I'm passing when I'm in a car - how much did I NOT experience because I'm passing it by for the sake of modern efficiency? Running forces us to take our time, to use our senses and to participate in a natural world that we are not separate from but we are an integral part of. When my life feels chaotic, my solution is to put on my running shoes and head to the woods.
To the woods.

When I've had this conversation before, people have written it off as a runner's high. Crazy talk. So what? I don't think it matters if its a runner's high as long as I have a time to feel a part of something much greater than myself - as long as I am able to appreciate the beauty and structure of life - as long as it helps me to lead a healthy, happy and thoughtful experience. And let's not forget: just the ability to run - to push our bodies through this rigorous activity - is an incredible gift and a testament to our amazing design.

What about you? Do you feel a greater connection to yourself, to life, to God when you are running?

12 comments:

  1. One thing I haven't figured out. Every once in a while I feel sad after finishing a run. Not often and it doesn't have anything to do how I ran. So strange.
    Very interesting take--thanks for sharing.

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    1. That is interesting - but I can relate. I find that all of my emotions are heightened and probably a lot more authentic when I'm running (and when I am done.) High highs and some pretty low lows - but I feel ok about it, because at least those emotions GET OUT. I haven't figured anything out either, but I do operate on what makes me feel best about my life.

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  2. One reason I love running is because of how much more connected to my surroundings I feel after a run. I love the idea of running as spirituality.

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    1. I figured that others must be having similar experiences - but maybe we all interpret what we experience differently. I like to think of it this way!

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  3. YES!!! I totally relate, and it makes me sad when my others think that the lack of religion in my life=atheist. Probably about the farthest thing. I too went to church, but now running is my church. Love this.

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  4. Oh yes - I get the atheist commentary as well. I've learned that I can't pay attention to judgments from others; they're making those judgments with incomplete information, so it doesn't matter. All I try to do is lead a good life and that is indisputable.

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  5. I totally agree with you Michelle! And, thank you for this post :-)

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    1. Thank you! I feel a little less "alone" in my perspective with some of the feedback I've gotten hear. Thanks for reading and sharing.

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  6. I completely agree with you. I do not attend church either, but definitely feel a strong connection to god when I am outdoors and running!

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    1. Wow - I didn't realize so many people were experiencing the same thing and dealing with their spirituality in a similar way. Thanks for reading!

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  7. "Many people--I am one myself--would never, but for what nature does to us, have had any content to put into the words we must use in confessing our faith. Nature never taught me that there exists a God of glory and of infinite majesty. I had to learn that in other ways. But nature gave the word "glory" a meaning for me. I still do not know where else I could have found one. I do not see how the "fear" of God could have ever meant to me anything but the lowest prudential efforts to be safe, if I had never seen certain ominous ravines and unapproachable crags. And if nature had never awakened certain longings in me, huge areas of what I can now mean by the "love" of God would never, so far as I can see, have existed."
    -The Four Loves, C.S. Lewis
    Along with Emerson and Longfellow, Lewis has always described how I feel about nature and the way it takes my gaze in moments of near perfect joy and directs it towards the creator, the source of all that is true joy.
    And, because I can't stop at one quote:
    “The truest and most horrible claim made for modern transport is that it “annihilates space.” It does. It annihilates one of the most glorious gifts we have been given. It is a vile inflation which lowers the value of distance, so that a modern boy travels a hundred miles with less sense of liberation and pilgrimage and adventure than his grandfather got from traveling ten. Of course if a man hates space and wants it to be annihilated, that is another matter. Why not creep into his coffin at once? There is little enough space there.”
    ― C.S. Lewis, Surprised by Joy
    I mean, he's just the best.

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