I was trolling Facebook the other day and noticed a friend’s post about his upcoming birthday. While hiking, he had met a woman who suggested – perhaps quoting yet someone else – that my friend should do something new each and every year on his birthday. My friend liked the idea and planned to do exactly that – something new. Try something new. Get out of the rut. Live life! To the fullest!
Years ago, I cancelled my subscription to Outside Magazine, not because I stopped exploring the outdoors, but because I stopped relating to the magazine’s features. Writers emphasized super-human feats involving very strong young adults pushing natural boundaries that I, then in my fifties, could never manage. Feats most people could never manage.
Supermen and superwomen, these kids climbed the biggest rock faces without safety lines. Scaled Mt. Everest three times in one month. Ran fifty marathons in fifty states in one year. Race across the Atacama Desert over the course of a week with everything they’d need – food, tent, sleeping bag, water – on their backs.
I cancelled my subscription because I could no longer relate to the people Outside wrote about. To be sure, I like activity and pushing my body, and I feel as though I am touching God in the process.
I do touch God in the process. A friend once asked me, Rob, Is it when you run? That you pray? Do you pray when you run? As a jogger, I laughed and answered, No, that’s when I run. Only later did I realize my friend was on to something, that the cadence of my footfall while jogging is a type of prayer, a rhythm, a beat, a cousin to centering, diverting my soul’s trajectory inward and upward. Yes, I pray when I run, or running is prayer. Gardening is prayer. Cooking is prayer.
Hiking is prayer, gentle on a warm day in the soft sunlight, SPF as the devil notwithstanding. I pray by being as much as with words.
Yes, I pray when I read Scripture, when I offer Morning Prayer or, as a priest, the Eucharist. Just the other morning, I prayed the Burial Office for the father of another friend who died over the weekend of Covid. You see, I pray along hiking routes, but elsewhere, too. In conflict with others. When I read the NY Times and Facebook (and learn about friends’ birthdays).
The thing is this. What this woman told my friend the week of his birthday borders on the holy. Try something new. I say it borders because some people are like Peter when Jesus washed his feet, asking Jesus to wash everything. Feet are sufficient, and touching God does not require one to run across a desert. Or to climb the most intimidating rock face.
Yes, George Bush parachuted out of an airplane on his 90th birthday. Did the jump draw him closer to God? Who knows, perhaps. After all, trying new things, getting off one’s duff in a holy way formed the basis of Jesus’ call to his disciples: stop fishing for fish and start fishing for people!
God calls each of us beyond. Not to love the beyond more than one loves God, but to love God in living the beyond. Like Eric Lidell said to his sister in Chariots of Fire, … when I run I feel his pleasure!