Yesterday afternoon, for the first time in weeks, I had time to go for a run. I started running regularly during my junior year of college as a way to get in shape (having previously never been very athletic), and kept with it throughout my senior year, even running in the Bolder Boulder in May of 2005. During that time, my runs became a place for me to clear my mind, think, and sometimes pray while I exercised. Sadly, the busy schedule of seminary has made this a hard discipline to squeeze into my schedule.
Recently I’ve also been doing some reading on the topic of contemplative prayer . My morning devotional times are usually filled with reading the daily lectionary and then a time of intercessory vocal prayer. Though I’ve sensed the need to become more meditative in my devotions, I’ve been hesitant to move in that direction – the length of the lectionary doesn’t lend itself to pondering particular verses and I sometimes feel guilty spending time in prayer that doesn’t include intercession for others. Still, I feel like my devotional times are more work a time a basking in the presence and love of God.
As I stepped into the workout room at the seminary yesterday, I was thankful that there was no one else around. I chose not to turn on the TV or any music, deciding to take this opportunity to try to contemplate and meditate and pray while I ran. I climbed onto the treadmill, got up to a decent pace, and then let my body settle into the rhythm of the run. After a moment, I started to repeat a simple one sentence prayer, over and over while I ran: “Jesus, fill me with Your love. . . . Jesus, fill me with Your love. . . . Jesus, fill me with Your love.” After a full minute of repeating that prayer while I ran, I changed the words: “Lord, fill me with Your Spirit. . . . Lord, fill me with Your Spirit.” Recalling an argument I’d had with Eileen earlier in the day, I next prayed, “Jesus, melt my anger. . . . Jesus, melt my anger. . .”
For 25 minutes, I ran at the same pace, the same rhythm, changing these short mantras ever minute or two. Eventually I thought of words and illustrations that came directly from the experience of running. When I was out of breath, I found myself praying “Give me new lungs to breathe Your Spirit.” When I was tired, I said “Lord Jesus, finish the race.” This ended up being the most calming, peaceful, and concentrated time of prayer I’ve had in months – just the sound of my feet on the treadmill, the rhythm of the run, and the repeated words of these short prayers.
I was hesitant to post this for two reasons: the first is Matthew 6:6, “But when you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.” This command of Jesus has been one of the easiest for me to obey, simply because I pray best when I am alone. It’s uncomfortable for me to publicize my prayer-life, but as a soon-to-be-pastor, I know I’ll have to learn to be open about my own spiritual disciplines if I’m going to one day model them for a congregation. The second reason is that I know some of seminary friends may read this and then it would feel awkward if we ever ran into each other in the workout room. Nevertheless, I thought this might be a helpful idea for anyone who comes across it and I hope the idea proves valuable for anyone who reads it. And I’m curious, has anyone out there had similar experiences or found other ways to integrate exercise and prayer? What other practices like this lend themselves to a holistic view of our relationship to God?