Thursday, May 19, 2011

Running Prayers

I had a bad day Tuesday. I've had a few of those lately, and I joked recently that if I have too many more I'm going to gain a ton of weight with my emergency drives through Culvers and Dairy Queen. But on Tuesday I had a bad day and for the first time ever I didn't want a Blizzard or Concrete Mixer (or at least that's not ALL I wanted); I wanted to go for a run. All day long I was itching to get out of the office and just run. Run off my energy. Run off my anxiety. Run off my terrible, horrible, no good, very bad day.

My gym bag with my running stuff was at the office because I planned to go for a run at the end of the day, so when I finally got everything checked off my list I mapped out a 5K run on, did a quick change in the church bathroom, and hit the road. I was nervous that I wouldn't be able to stick it out because I didn't have my iPod. I had never run without music, my own or a Couch to 5K podcast (mostly I use the free ones from NHS Choices when I'm running outside). I even considered skipping the run all together, the lack of music being my excuse. I didn't, though. My first run was a few days away, and I needed to know that I could do it, and I REALLY needed to run.

I did my warm up walk around the parking lot and then turned out onto the sidewalk with a steady pace. It didn't feel too fast or too slow. It was just right and rhythmic, which I had never noticed before. When I'm listening to music on an outside run or a podcast or TV show on the dreadmill it's all I can hear. When there was nothing else in my ears suddenly I could hear myself. I could hear my feet hitting the pavement. I could hear my heart thumping in my chest. I could hear my breath, rhythmically flowing in and out of my lungs, two beats in and two beats out.

I remembered as I noticed this someone else's post on RunRevRun in which he said the Jesus prayer works well as a breath prayer while running. I'll be honest that my knowledge of spiritual practices is pretty weak, so I don't actually know the Jesus prayer, but the idea stuck with me. On a rough patch of the run, heading up a hill I chanted, prayed in my head, "I - Can - Do - It" with each of the four beats of my breath. As the hill crested it changed to, "Thank - You - Je - Sus."

It wasn't a flippant prayer. It was simple, maybe even trite-sounding, but it was completely sincere. Thank you, Jesus, for getting me over that hill. Thank you, Jesus, for getting me out of my office, for getting me out of my head. Thank you, Jesus, for my body that moves, my lungs the breathe the breath of your life in and out, in and out.

I kept it up as I ran the 5K, my first real try on my last day of the 9 week program. The whole last mile was up hill. I ran the whole way for about 2 1/2 miles, but had to walk about a quarter mile toward the end. I wasn't happy about that, but I got over it. I used the time to calm myself, calm my breath, and get reinvigorated for the final push at the end. When I picked my feet up to get back to running at the end my chant prayer changed one last time. "I - Will - Do - It. I - Will - Do - It." And I did.

I think I've found that place where my movement is part of my prayer. I never understood it when people said that. I've never been "good" at still prayers, words flowing from my mouth or my mind toward God. I've tried, but 20-something years of conscious faith has never really felt fulfilled by my prayers. I think I made a connection with my embodied prayer while running this week. It wasn't just the chants and breaths it was the movement, the power, the strength. It was the physical act being stretched, pushed, and sustained. It was the communion within and beyond myself. It was prayer in a new and exciting way.

Has this happened for you? Do you find yourself praying through and during your exercise? What is that like? How does that happen? What "techniques" can you describe that add to your life of prayer and communion with God? I'm excited to delve into this even more!

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