Roger Joslin is an episcopal priest who happens to run a lot and who felt lead to write a book about mediation, running, and spirituality. I haven’t finished the book yet, I am reading it very slowly, trying practices out for days at a time before moving on to the next page, I am benefiting much. In this post I wanted to not only explain why you might get your hands on a copy, but a practice you might try without spending a dime.
One of the observations Joslin makes that I particularly appreciate is that in ancients times spiritual leaders sought to teach followers how to sit, or kneel, to meditate and pray. This sitting was in stark contrast to the daily toil of the average worker who spent their lives caring for animals, tending the land, getting water, and all the other hard labor aspects of life, the hard parts that we in the West mostly don’t do anymore. The contrast, argues Joslin, was a helpful one, it taught the mind and the body to recognize the posture and begin the process of entering a form of stillness. For us today the opposite reality may be true. We sit all day, most of us anyways, and so to enter into prayer or meditation we may do well to train our bodies and minds to associate certain movements with entering mental stillness. Thus, for Joslin, running as prayer, and for many, walking as prayer.
My running partner and I have spoken many times about prayer and running. About aligning our breathing patterns and focusing on breathe, of mentally repeating mantras in our heads as we run, of contemplating scripture over the course of a run, of listening for God. There are many books about spirituality and running and I suspect today there is hardly a religious group that doesn’t have at least some folks who see alignment in the two. I suppose I am with them, not out of ideology, or even methodical thinking, but from an experiential point of view. There is something about running that has helped me draw closer to God, that has helped me open space for him to speak, that has brought clarity.
At one point in the book Joslin hits the nail on the head. He says that we often recognize the holy in a certain place we know to have been prayed in a long time, the cathedral or the prayer closet (I love the scene in War Room when the old preacher is considering buying the house and he can tell someone has been praying in a certain closet). Joslin notes that because he has spent so many hours on certain paths praying he now comes to see them as holy ground, sacred space to be shared with God, a space to encounter God. Of course, God can be encountered anywhere but we still have the notion of the thin place, where is gets a little bit easier, where we are a little bit more open and ready. It has taken a few years and I had never thought about it much, but when I read this I thought of my little path with it’s familiar inclines, trees, animals, and creek. Running has helped make this valley sacred for me.
My favourite practice from this book so far has been a mantra. I should say that running with a mantra is nothing new to me, I have done this often in running and in walking what is new to me are the words. Joslin suggests we try to repeat, “Towards the One” as we move through our exercise, I use that word because I do not believe you need to be running for this to be helpful so long as you are moving. I have found mantras helpful because they make it obvious when your mind wanders, when you leave the plan, and that makes it easier to bring your mind back. This practice has been great! I have drawn to God through it. Sometimes, when I see the path turning up ahead and the branches of the trees look like a tunnel, I feel pulled ahead, I feel God responding, yes towards me! That’s it! It is a mystical sensation to feel God beckoning you to follow him. I cannot summon this up and it doesn’t happen all the time, but that it happens at all is a marvellous reality.
The book is worth a gander if you are looking to revitalize either your prayer life or your body. May you be blessed in your pursuit of the One.