What is most deeply true

Lagging in the middle

Any runner will tell you: it’s a mental sport.

You train hard to be in good shape, but even the most fit runner knows that it’s easy to get psyched out — not just by competition, but by yourself.

When I run, I’m always strongest at the beginning at the end. It’s the middle of my run, no matter the distance, that lags the most.

I start to worry that I don’t have what it takes to keep up my pace. I calculate and re-calculate split times in my head, trying to figure out what benchmarks I need to be hitting.

And all that anxiety and self-doubt slows me down.

That’s the irony. It helps to stay focused, but it doesn’t help to fret.

Don’t listen to your head

My brother, also a runner, sometimes does time trials with me. He stands at the finish line, watch in hand, and encourages me to hit my goals as I come around for each lap. Sometimes he’ll even run a few of those middle laps, the lagging ones, right behind me to keep me on pace.

“Listen to your body,” he tells me, “not your head.”

And I do.

Underneath the mental chatter about whether or not I can keep this up for another 10 minutes is the quiet, steady truth of what my body is really capable of. I often find that my mind has been telling me I can’t maintain a pace that actually feels fine for my body.

When I stop checking in with my fear and start checking in with my capacity, something inside me settles down. Those are the times I’m able to run more smoothly and easily.

The truest love story

I think often about how our spiritual lives follow the same pattern: when we get caught up in stories of self-doubt, we often slow ourselves down. We can cover over what is most deeply true about us: that we are created, redeemed, whole, and beautiful.

That we are, each of us, children of God. That we are immeasurably and abundantly loved.

That we have been given a spirit of power, not fear. That we are set free.

So, if you find yourself lagging in the middle, distracted by stories your mind is telling you about whether or not you have what it takes to keep going: stop checking in with your fear, and start checking in with your capacity.

Don’t listen to your head. Listen instead to the ever-present truth:

Neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come,
nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation,
will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.
(Romans 8:37-39)

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A Gentle, Ordinary Season

Memorial Garden Bench

There is not much drama in my faith life these days. It is a quiet-moment, bench-sitting, tea-sipping kind of spiritual season for me.

Some seasons are like that — gentle, ordinary.

My spiritual director reminds me often of Martin Luther’s teaching that prayer can be interwoven into the mundane of our daily personal and work lives. When Luther’s dear friend Peter Beskendorf, a barber, asked Luther how he could compose himself for prayer, Luther wrote him a treatise of advice on praying through times of struggle.

One piece of wisdom he gave the barber? You’re already praying, just by living your life and doing your work.

Real prayer, Luther wrote, is done attentively as “a good and attentive barber keeps his thoughts, attention, and eyes on the razor and hair and does not forget how far he has gotten with his shaving or cutting.” If the barber isn’t paying attention to what he’s doing, he might slip and cut his client.

So it is with prayer, says Luther:

Thus if anything is to be done well, it requires one’s full attention…
How much more does prayer call for the concentration of the whole heart
if it is actually to be a good prayer!

Orange Leaves

So that’s it then. No mystery, no magic.

Sometimes our best prayers are just our simplest moments — our captured hearts, our full attention. Sometimes our spiritual disciplines are composed of nothing more than being here fully, in our work, our play, or our rest.

(Note: You can find Luther’s treatise on prayer easily on the web. It is also published in Luther’s Prayers, edited by Herbert Bokering and Luther’s Works, edited by Jaroslav Pelikan, Hilton Oswald, and Helmut Lehmann.)

 

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The Business (or Pleasure) of Pilgrimage

“We are all of us seeking a homeland, dear,
even though we have only seen and embraced it from afar.
We are all of us strangers and pilgrims on the earth.”
Frederick Buechner

“Business or Pleasure?”

It was what acquaintances asked when I mentioned I’d be out of touch for a few weeks while traveling in eastern Europe.

It was what the sales associate asked me when I bought my electrical adapter and extra camera memory card.

It was what the teller at the bank asked me when I told her to mark my account as going overseas.

“Business or pleasure?”

It’s such a cliché and profound question at the same time. They’re asking because I’m going to an uncommon and surprising destination (the bank teller made me write “Transylvania” on a piece of paper for her before she believed what I was saying), and they’re asking because it’s what you ask when someone says they’re traveling.

But it’s also a deep and compelling question to ask someone: What is the purpose of your traveling? Why do you think you’re going to this place?

Really, I was never entirely sure how to answer that fateful question accurately. Because the categories of business versus pleasure aren’t enough of a distinction to encompass this trip.

Strangers and Pilgrims on the Earth

I’m going on pilgrimage, to a little town in central Romania, to visit strangers who are long-time friends of my church community.

I’m going because I’m on the church staff, and my presence underscores the importance of the partnership for us. I’m going because I was asked to go as part of my job. I’m also going because I very much want to meet these resilient, colorful people whom — until now — I have only known from afar.

Pilgrimage is more than pleasure: it is certainly the answer to what Frederick Buechner calls the “summons” of mystery in human experience. It is also more than business: this is a sharing of communities, not a transaction.

When I arrive in Transylvania tomorrow, I will be at the mercy of my hosts, who I’m sure will welcome me to their tables, their homes. Though we don’t share language, we share a commitment to honoring the places of their Hungarian heritage. Though we don’t share a culture, we share the roots of religious tradition, and those are deep roots indeed.

The complexities of kind of this kind of trip is not particularly easy to explain to acquaintances, bank tellers, and sales associates, so I tell them I am traveling for both business and pleasure.

Really, though, what I mean is that I’m traveling for more than business and pleasure.

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