Running, I understand, is the world’s most accessible and practiced sport. It is so because you don’t need much to run, and in many areas of the world people even run barefooted. I am always fascinated by people who have found great joy in running, and so run as often and as religiously as possible. I have a friend who lives in San Francisco and travels all over the world to run marathons. Steve Alpern - Christ Church's Sr. Warden - runs marathons and has the habit of running daily. There are a few more people within our parish who have also developed the habit of running. I wish I could run like Steve, or my friend in San Francisco. "Nothing stops you," my friend will remind me. If only I can discover the inner athlete in me and just run like Forrest Gump.
I don’t think running should be as intimidating as many like myself like to make it out to be, especially if you run with a group where no one judges us for our ability, or speed, or weight, or look. It is also no secret that if we should run regularly or even walk, we wouldn’t only become healthier, but we will feel good about ourselves. You and I may be surprised that we are harboring an ‘elite’ athlete inside of us, and if only we would take that first step, there’s no telling how we would be surprised with what we can accomplish. In my case, and I think for many people, the challenge has been the motivation to take that initial first step.
In my readings, I was surprised when I learned that the etymology of the word sport is derived from an old French word desport, which means, among others, as leisure, diversion, or being carried away, and sports of all kinds still carry us away from the disappointments of everyday, from dashed hopes and bad luck to a world of possibilities where our inadequacies are of no relevance.
A point worth considering is that in the exertion of sports - just for a moment, you become more than yourself, get out of yourself, and away from yourself - you get lost like the way you do in great music or literature. Maybe this is why sports has been called "the faith without explanation" - it takes us beyond what we know of ourselves. And we feel not only our selves, but that which lies beyond us and empowers us to touch its very reality.
If you have faith, you might reach for an explanation - like the Olympic sprinter Eric Liddle who, in the 1980’s movie Chariots of Fire, remarked that “God made me fast. And when I run, I feel his pleasure.” I believe that when we test ourselves in sports, we make discoveries about ourselves - most especially about our inner athlete which may carry us away out of our very own selves.
For some of us, running is about solitude, a thinking time, a meditation, an act close to offering a prayer. For others, it is about commitment and perseverance. Early Christian teachers like Paul saw the life of faith itself as a marathon - let us run with patience the race that is set before us. The physical running of a race is a powerful metaphor for the spiritual life which, itself, needs focus, commitment, and training. And combining physical strenuousness with the commitment to spiritual attentiveness offers us a way of living that’s not always easy, but it’s purposeful.
Sports, including running, is also about liberation, a release from the constraints of the everyday, "a search for freedom" is how a Catholic philosopher, Michael Novak, puts it. To run is to be free, and there’s no freedom comparable to the power within you to run - whether figuratively, or in reality.
I know I want to run. I want to feel the power of freedom within me as I brace chilly winds hitting my face or drops of sweat running down my face like morning dew. The weather has indeed been beautiful, and I wonder if like me you are also struggling to test the inner athlete in you, or like me, you are struggling to take the risk.
Life is about risk, and to discover your inner athlete is to embrace life's risks.