Having stepped away from the pulpit, inquisitive saints want to know where I’m to be found on Sunday morning.
I confess that lately you’d spot me in the cathedral of nature running under the inspiration and tutelage of pastor John Ferguson.
John is not ordained except in the sense of fated or destined to do what he does, which is to shepherd his flock of running sheep through their paces. While he dons a singlet instead of flowing robes, John nevertheless is a teacher armed with anecdotes and illustrations.
As a coach/pastor he organizes events, counsels the confused and encourages the discouraged. He greets strangers along the running route with a hearty hello.
At the end of a long run, water is not sprinkled; it’s guzzled. He waits until each one of his flock is safely home, offering a benediction of high fives and a post-run fellowship over communion of cookies, cupcakes or oranges graciously provided. Then, if time and opportunity afford, like any good cleric, John builds relationships at a local eatery.
Lest you think I’m all obsessed about pace and split times, I know that running is as much metaphor as mileage. To first-century Christians at Philippi who were in the run of their lives running for their lives, someone wrote, “Forgetting what lies behind and reaching forward to what lies ahead, I press on.” In another letter circulated to Hebrews, “Let us run with endurance the race that is set before us.”
You get the picture.
We are all in the race of our life, which is more about endurance than speed; finding the fortitude to keep going when you’re injured by unfair treatment or just exhausted by the rigour of getting through another day.
Training to run a race teaches discipline with its hours of training in hot, humid weather. It means lacing up when you’d rather lie down. St. Paul compared the rigours of running with the Christian pilgrimage. He saw in running the essence of what he preached; the submission and the sacrifice.
“Everyone who competes in the games exercises self-control in all things; they do this just to win a wreath that will wither away, but we do it for a wreath that will never wither.” (1 Corinthians 9:25)
Whether a race or a pilgrimage, the victory is in the running.
Nevertheless, running is spiritual. We may find God in the hard pew or at the altar rail. We may find God in Bach or the face of the poor. But since the sacred runs through the secular, running is re-creational, bringing us back to life from the dark forces of this crazy world that threaten us. Running outdoors introduces us to clouds and cows and streams and the changing seasons in this grand cathedral of creation.
John reminds us continually that we were built to run. As if to say that engaging in the movement for which the Creator designed our bodies, we are connected somehow to that Creator.
John doesn’t preach it, but I sense he believes it.
Rev. Bob Ripley, author and syndicated columnist, is the retired senior minister of Metropolitan United Church in London, Ont.