Running to God

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"When COVID-19’s isolation came along, I needed spiritual stillness. Reading St. Augustine’s Confessions helped anchor me: 'You have made us for yourself, O Lord, and our hearts are restless until they rest in you.' I ran with renewed spiritual intensity. Aren’t we all running to Him, in our individual pilgrimages?" Photo: lzf/shutterstock

“…let us run with patience the race that is set before us,
looking unto Jesus the author and finisher of our faith.”
Hebrews 12:1-2

I love running. “Pounding the pavement” some say, but I don’t run that hard. For me, it’s about submitting to God—spiritual running, if you like. I run not only to sweat a little but to lose myself to His will and notice His amazing handiwork along the way.

Lifelong running has earned me some rewards. On the Paris Marathon’s starting line amidst 20,000 runners, I met my husband. Having exchanged a few pleasantries, I bumped into him again at the end. Our conversation: started then, still hasn’t finished. Wasn’t that God’s design?

Runs are now my time of spiritual renewal, but they didn’t start out that way. As a teenager I was a competitive runner, so running meant discipline and pressure. I missed the carefree running of my youth—running has been a universal human activity since creation.

I wanted to run away from running, but it always found a way back into my life. Fresh out of university, my former track coach hired me to help him organize the World Indoor Athletics Championships. Running has giving me a mission, interacting with athletes from around the globe and translating official documents. Faith, hope and charity prevailed as the world’s fastest gathered in competition and fellowship.

Once I got a regular office job, I’d run to let off steam. Later, when I had children, running became an obsession. With the Baby Jogger, we’d explore neighbourhoods, parks and back roads. Time felt suspended: no yesterday, no tomorrow. Only the here and now blending with the eternal—just as time, for God, is not linear.

During the busy parenting years, I watched the Baby Jogger gather dust, shedding tears when we got rid of it. I ran when I could, but life was a whirlwind of parental tasks. I’d praise God for His blessings though was perhaps too busy to recognize I needed His grace.

Then, in the blink of an eye, my children flew off to university. Running felt too sedate, so I tried kickboxing, aqua fitness and high-intensity training. My interest in them all burned out quickly; a run was what I still wanted, being empty or “poor in spirit” (Matthew 5:3). I was finding God more deeply than ever: He shaped my thoughts and plans as I ran.

When COVID-19’s isolation came along, I needed spiritual stillness. Reading St. Augustine’s Confessions helped anchor me: “You have made us for yourself, O Lord, and our hearts are restless until they rest in you.” I ran with renewed spiritual intensity. Aren’t we all running to Him, in our individual pilgrimages?

* * *


(Bells ring for front-line workers at St. Jude’s. Video: St. Jude’s Anglican Church)

Running has given me many memorable experiences over the years. One of the most powerful ones happened recently on a run in my neighbourhood. Nearing my destination—the Oakville Harbour—I heard bells ringing. How glorious! A byproduct of this pandemic has been a jarring silence.

Turning away from the lake, I ran towards “Amazing Grace”. I savoured the bells’ lingering reverberations from St. Jude’s Anglican Church. About to resume my running, the bells chimed again.

Could it be “O Canada”? I closed my eyes to take it in more richly. When I reopened them, I saw people spread out on both sides of the street, their phone cameras capturing the bell tower. At the end people clapped, transfixed.

We were all one in the shade of the red brick building. Since being established in Oakville over 180 years ago, St. Jude’s—with its 1883 edifice and 1906 bell from Whitechapel Foundry, Big Ben’s maker—has kept watch over the neighbourhood. That day was one of its bell tower’s finest moments, forging God’s community in pandemic shutdown.

I sprinted home, having found that the church was there for each of us. What a beautiful reminder it’d been that God is always uniting us in our hearts, minds and souls. As I ran up my driveway, I was glad my running had taken me to that spot when church bells had rung, announcing our true place with God, our Father.

Nancy Coombs is a runner, a writer and a parishioner at St. Jude’s Church in Oakville, Ont.

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