Running can be prayer.
Prayer with pumping legs that we’ve long forgotten after we put them in motion. Prayer as we move around creation.
Running can be meditation.
Meditation as something that allows us to think more about who and what we are, where we are going, and how we can serve. It can make us kinder and more gentle.
Prayer and meditation center us as human beings. Both open up communication between us and what’s beyond us, not us, or simply above us. When we open up space in ourselves to pray to God or meditate on what God has shown us, we are being truly human.
Cultural images of running and exercising put us all in mind of annoying jocks or experiences of exhaustion after pushing hard and seeing what we could get out of our legs. Running seems as distracting as putting a hand on a hot stove or shutting your finger in the door to your car. It’s hardly a place in time or mind that can be occupied by God.
Likewise, prayer is considered to be only passive and still. Meditation brings to mind pictures of zazen – sitting meditation – or deep inward (and outward) stillness and thinking through puzzles. They seem to be at first glance only activities of the mind.
And of course both images can be correct some of the time, which is why they have their place. Stillness can be part of prayer and meditation, pain and anguish and striving can be part of running or exercising. However, if we build up the stamina and find inner stillness (a place from which to speak and to listen), we can find the running a place to really encounter God.
It’s honestly one of the reasons I run and swim.
I believe that body and mind are part of the soul. The body and mind work together, and there are few places that I can really find myself connecting body and mind like running and swimming. John Wesley called them the means of grace, places or activities where God’s grace runs deep and we tap the well so to speak.
It happens when I am walking, hiking, or biking as well – God knows that we are not all runners or swimmers.
The love of God and the love of neighbor seem to flow out of such times where we encounter God, and those encounters give us the ability to hear and do the will of God. So, go run, walk, swim, hike, stretch, to whatever your place to find God is, and when the movements of your body fade into the background and the sound of your pulse fades into the back ground, listen closely for a word from God.