Most days, the first conundrum of my morning is to determine where I am going to run. Unless I have plans to run with a friend, I have two convenient choices – run from home, which means running in the countryside or run from the local rec center, where I can choose to run in the country or in our small town.
The country roads are usually lightly traveled, but they have little or no shoulder, so depending on time and traffic, safety may dictate the location of my run. Running in the countryside means pretty views and plenty of opportunity to contemplate my internal monologue, but running from the rec center means human interaction before and after my run and a chance to read the signs that populate the town. (Readers of this blog know my affinity for signs.)
I was running in town a few weeks ago, and I read this sign outside a church that I passed. I slowed down to a walk to read it, then stopped, deep in thought. I even forgot to stop my watch. I had to go back after my run to take a picture of the sign, since (incredibly, I know) I don’t run with my phone.
The world is pretty noisy these days.
We recently had a primary election in our state, which brought with it the usual slew of negative advertising (quick random thought:”Usual Slew” would be a great name for a rock band). Even though Facebook recently promised to restrict misleading or hate-filled advertising, an ad from a shadowy PAC that I could find no information about kept showing up on my feed, informing me about the cheating ways of a certain congressional candidate (until I blocked it).
I am insulated from most loud negativity on social media. On Facebook, I block friends who consistently write negative posts, no matter what their political or religious persuasion, and on Twitter, most of the people I follow are runners. Many runners’ threads follow the same pattern. It’s hilarious. One runner will post an accomplishment, for example “I ran 5.7 miles this morning before sunrise.” Then his/her followers will respond “Congrats!” “Way to go!” “Awesome!”, etc. For runners, the twittersphere is one of constant positive affirmation, no matter how momentous or inconsequential your achievement. Even though my social media isn’t negative, it is still noisy, occasionally (I hate to admit) drowning out real life.
My own life is going through a rather noisy period right now too, with a beloved family member experiencing a particularly rough time.
I need to find a way to turn down the noise of the world.
Running has often been my release, my therapy, and my time to contemplate. It’s a way to tune out the world, but I cannot run 24 hours per day every day.
The sign I encountered in front of a church in our small, very conservative town seemed to be advocating meditative prayer. Some religious thinkers condemn meditative prayer. They say that it is too New Age-y, too “Eastern”.
At first, I did not understand the difference between meditative prayer and regular prayer. The best way to explain it is this: in conventional prayer, you talk to God; in meditative prayer, God talks to you.
You must first learn to still your mind to hear God speak to you, otherwise ubiquitous noise will drown out His voice. According to theologian J.I. Packer, “Meditation is the activity of calling to mind, and thinking over, and dwelling on, and applying to oneself, the various things that one knows about the works and ways and purposes and promises of God.”
Christian meditation has its roots in the Hebrew tradition of the Bible. There are many instructions to meditate in both the Old and New Testaments. One of the most compelling is in Philippians 4:8, where Paul says “Whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever things are of good report… meditate on these things.” Many Christians meditate by repeating a passage from scripture over and over, but the act of meditation is an individual one, and there are as many ways to meditate as there are practitioners.
Some people think that in Matthew 6:6, (Whenever you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret) the door that is referred to is the symbolic door to your senses. A mind free of distractions is essential to contemplative prayer.
In contemplative prayer, you must make an effort to lift up your heart up to God. You must love God because you believe Him worthy of love, not because you will get something out of it. St. Augustine described three types of people – the slave, the merchant and the son (or daughter). The slave will do something out of fear; to love God, for example, because you are afraid of hell. The merchant will do something because it is part of a bargain; to profess faith in God in order for Him to bring you to Heaven. The son (or daughter) is contemplative. He (or she) loves God without expecting to get anything as a result of that love.
Sometimes, in regular prayer, my mind wanders. I might be praying for the end of world hunger or a cure for the arthritis in my fingers, and, before I realize it, I am making a mental list of things I need to do before I go to bed: water the plants, close the window, brush my teeth…. In contemplative prayer, you should have a prayer word (sort of like a secret code word to yourself) to bring you back to your contemplation. You may choose a sacred word like grace, peace or mercy. Each time your mind drifts, you repeat this word to remind yourself to focus on simply resting in God.
One method to begin practicing contemplative prayer is to find a quiet place where you can be alone and seated comfortably for at least 10 minutes. Close your eyes and allow your thoughts to drift by like a river flowing past a certain point. If your mind gets stuck on any one thought, repeat your prayer word to gently un-stick your thoughts. Remain seated with your eyes closed for a short time. Letting go of thoughts is supposed to help to let go of anything that blocks the flow of God’s love into your heart.
I made a good decision the day I ran in town, rather than in the countryside. If I had run in the country, I would have missed the sign. It makes me wonder; how many signs am I missing? I must remember to always be on the lookout. Signs are everywhere.
I am linking up with Jamie Sumner for Sunday Thoughts. Visit here for faith-based posts from many other bloggers. I am also linking up with Jessica and Amy at Live Life Well. If you like this post, you may want to visit to read what other bloggers have to say!
I am linking up with Amanda at Running With Spoons for her Thinking Out Loud Thursdays. I am also linking up with Debbie at Dare 2 Hear. Check out the inspirational posts on her Tune in Thursdays and with Holley Gerth for Coffee for Your Heart. I am also linking up with Char at Trekking Thru. Visit here for inspirational posts from many other bloggers. Check out some moving inspirational blogs here. I am linking up with Eclectic Evelyn for her Words on Wednesday link up.
I am linking up with Clean East Fast Feets for her Week in Review. Check it out for some more great reads (including some very yummy recipes!) I am also linking up with Shank You Very Much for her Dream Team link up and her Global Blogging link up.