Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Jonah 3:1-10

I don't get to mass every day during Lent.  In fact, I rarely get to mass more than every Sunday during Lent.  That is no more often than at any other time of year.  However, I do try to look at the readings on a daily basis with a bit more regularity.  Today's readings very directly reflect on the continuing theme of proclaiming things that matter.

The Old Testament reading for the Catholic mass today was the third chapter of Jonah verses 1-10.  This is the part of the book of Jonah in which he has decided to become obedient.  In it, it is clear that Jonah is proclaiming what God has asked of him and then that the people of Nineveh proclaim their repentance.  Perfect examples of how doing what we are supposed to focus on brings pleasure to God.  Later in the Gospel reading for today, Jesus mentions Jonah and the Ninevites and talks about the need to repent.  Again, the need to focus.  The need to proclaim rather than mumble.  The need to "be all that you can be" when it comes to what is most important.  And--pretty much to not be--to the things that are not important.

I am coming to grips with the fact that my approach to my career from 1996 though 2011, i.e., spreading myself over so many activities and doing them all just oka,y is really not anywhere nearly as good as choosing a subset of those activities and making sure that I do them as well as I possibly can.  And, along the way help others be their best in any way I can.  I can't always help others--but identifying where I can make the biggest difference is part of giving my all.

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Proclamations and Eric Liddell

I've written about Eric Liddell before.  One of his best know quotes is something to the effect of "God made me fast. And when I run, I feel His pleasure."  I have written before that I completely appreciate his linking his spirituality and his running.  I have written before that I have felt Gods pleasure when I run.  God's pleasure with the scenery.  God's pleasure with running with others.  But this morning, I felt God's pleasure that I was proclaiming what really meant something to me and how I can carry this into the rest of my life.

This morning, with my student and track workout buddy, Diarmuid, I did a workout that I can attribute to one of the coaches from Charm City Run.  At least the distances and the sequence.  Not the timing.  Last time I did this with the CCR coach, I ran it at a much more subdued pace 11 days before a race.  Today there was very little subdued 12 days before a race.  The workout was 200/400/800/3x1600/800/400/200.  For non-runners, that's a half lap, a whole lap, two laps, three 4 lap intervals, and then back down again.  Runners do intervals hard and then either jog or walk in between.  When we got done the next to last intervall (the 400) in a time faster than any 400 I'd run in a long time, Diarmuid said it felt like a proper 400 (just under 76 seconds).  I decided to push the last 200 (half lap) even harder.  We made a comment about Michael Johnson before we ran.  We went.  When we got done, Diarmuid said he could not catch me, I felt like the 200 was a "proper" 200, and we had run it in less than 33 seconds.  In fact, that was the first time I had run a half lap around an outdoor track in less than 35 seconds in more than 20 years.  I felt God's pleasure.

Why?  Because my comment about a proper 200 was reflective of giving it everything I had.  Such a short run, but I felt every step.  For the lasst 20 meters, my legs felt like it would never end, even though the entire interval was just 1/2 lap.  I felt like I had--for one brief half minute--given absolutely my all.

That, following from the reading and homily at Sunday's mass and my blog yesterday, is that God wants. That was not a "mumbled" half lap.  That was a shouted and proclaimed half lap.  That was a half lap I'll remember.  That said, "Yes, I can."

I'm pretty sure God was pleased.  And I am pretty sure that God would be even more pleased if I took everything I did just as seriously.  Again, it comes back to choosing to do somewhat fewer things really well and leaving behing the mumbled (rather than proclaimed) items in my life.  Maybe that is the main reflection of this Lent.  What am I just mumbling?  How can I set that aside? And how can I take on what I am proclaiming in an even more substantive way than I am now?

Monday, February 27, 2012

Proclaiming (Mark 1:12-15)

The Catholic mass Gospel for Sunday February 26 was Mark 1:12-15.  In this reading, it was stated that "Jesus came to Galilee proclaiming the Gospel of God."  Father Sam made a big deal of this point.  That Jesus was proclaiming the Gospel after going out for 40 days to find himself.  It's funny, I never really thought of our Savior going on a retreat to the desert to find himself but the analogy seems reasonable.  In any case, the emphasis on proclaiming something after he spent time finding himself was on Jesus having "fire in his belly".  In other words--focus  In other words--finding something so important he had to proclaim it.  The distinction between proclaiming and mumbling.

As i look ahead to the remainder of Lent and the remainder of my life, I think about what I find sufficiently important to proclaim and what I choose to mumble about--either literally or figuratively.  I think that the things that I only mumble about should be re-assessed.  And either raised to the status of something I want to proclaim OR left behind. So that I can focus on the things that I want to proclaim to the world.  Sometimes in word.  Even moreso in action.

Let my actions proclaim what is most important to me and let me be judged based on that.  

Sunday, February 26, 2012

Home is...

So, for my catch up reflection of the day, I start with the phrase, "Home is..."  I could get totally cliche with "where the heart is."  I could think of a number of other things to so.  And obviously this is related to "Love is..." from 1st Corinthians and "Happiness is..." which we see on greeting cards and other "nice" type of stuff.

But I am thinking of it because of my stop in Hampden on Friday.  It ended with planning my tattoo.  It started with a quick coffee with a guy I'd run with for three years in high school, whose older sister was in my grade, and whom I had not seen in 25 years.  Each of us had known the other lived in Baltimore since we found each other on Facebook a while ago but it was nice to get together.  What was telling, with regards to "Home is..." was our conversation.  Did we occasionally talk about people from our combined past?  Yes.  Did we talk about specific events from our combined past?  Not really?  Did we dwell on things in the present related to our combined past?  Of course!   But the fact that the past did not dominate our conversation helps me answer the question "Home is?"

I know plenty of adults who still think of where they were born and grew up as "home".  The fact that I was born one place and moved three months later, and lived in three houses growing up definitely shapes my inclination not to think that way.  I know where I grew up.  I've been lucky enough to be honored by my high school and undergraduate institutions.  I think of where I grew up as just that.  And, even where my parents live now is not where we lived when I grew up, so I don't even think of it as the same area.

When I go visit my parents, if we are there for a mass we don't go to the church I grew up going to.  And at the time it was mostly going to and not growing my spirituality at.  My spiritual growth began when I was an undergrad and has grown since then.  The music that I count on as such an important part of mass now makes all the difference.

When I go to visit the area in which I grew up, I probably could recreate the most common 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 9, and 13 mile routes we ran.  But I don't "know" them any more in the way I know my Baltimore courses.

And, in terms of a physical space, my still relatively young family has been in the same dwelling place than my parents have ever been in one dwelling place.

So, when the tattoo artist asked me about what geographical location I'd like the picture I want for my tattoo set in, I simply said, "After all these years Baltimore really does feel like home."

Intellectual.  Spiritual.  Physical.  Home.  No doubt in my mind what I will think of as home.

It wil be interesting to see some day how my own children struggle with this.  Or whether any of the kids in Sunday school or kids I teach at JHU will have a different interpretation of what home is for them over time.

People Helping People

This has been a week with many examples of people helping people in my life.  I'll list just a few highlights and then probably try for a second blog entry later today to even out for my one a day for Lent and thinking of sacrifices and appreciations in preparation for the renewal that comes with Easter.

(1) I had my gloves that I run in with me when I stopped at the grocery store earlier this week.  I took them off and put them in the basket while shopping.  Somehow, I forgot to take them out and left them in the basket when I checked out.  I called 20 minutes later when I got home and realized I didn't have them. The cashier had noticed and had set them aside for me.  The manager on duty put them in a bag in a safe and I was able to get them later.  Honesty and helping.  Thank goodness.

(2) In my running with Back on My Feet this week, the team with which I run was introduced to two new routes.  One from me and one from my fellow coach.  I ran with people I don't usually run with.  Made them comfortable with the route.  And learned interesting things along the way from both routes and both sets of runners.

(3) The person who ran into my wife's car while I was driving it on Friday night was not helpful for running into it.  But, he did everything right afterwards.  The employees at his insurer have been helpful.  And, we also were able to help a fellow driver whose car was overheating who had stopped near us on Friday night be lending her my wife's cell phone.  Then, yesterday, the place where I take my car for service was helpful with a small item my car needed taken care of.  No tough questions.  Just a job well done.

(4) I really enjoyed the conversation I had with the tattoo artist on Friday afternoon.  She listened to the vision I had for a tattoo for myself, asked some good questions, and made some great suggestions.  The tattoo I am getting will be a somewhat timeless, although also could be described as a symbol re-interpreted in an anachronistic way, of one person helping another.  More details in April when I actually get it.

All of these things are just a few of the things for which I am thankful, that show that there really are still people in the world out there who care about others, and that make me think about my own behaviors as I look forward to the liturgical and spiritual season of renewal.

Saturday, February 25, 2012

Serenity Prayer

So, only three days into Lent and I missed blogging yesterday.  Probably do two quick entries today.  There is a reason I missed yesterday.  Last night we were trying to get Daniel to hist last Friday night ice hockey practice.  We were stuck on the Baltimore beltway going very slowly.  There was a break in the traffic behind us at one point and a kid in a car from PA came up and hit the driver side back bumper, scraped along the side, and took the driver's side view mirror most of the way off.  That shook me and Sherry as it was the second time a car I am driving has been hit in less than 60 days and Sherry's car was also hit recently by a hit and run driver.

The serenity prayer came into play because there was nothing to do once the accident occurred but deal with it.  We had to accept the accident.  Sherry--as the passenger--was even more annoyed than I was.  The other driver and I calmly exchanged information.  Then, I immediately called and started the claims process.  That did not take courage, but is part of taking care of things that I can do something about.

Other parts of yesterday were also in that vein.  I had two meetings yesterday morning to move long overdue projects in the right direction.  And, this weekend when I am doing "work work" it will be all in the same direction.

Taking the time to use my God given talents not only for what I want to do but also for what I have to do/am supposed to do is an important part of the growth and focus I am seeking this year as part of Lent.  

Thursday, February 23, 2012


So, one of my goals for Lent is to make the time each day to actually think about my spiritual and physical well being.  And, if I'm going to think about it, I'll also write about it.  So, this blog will likely see the most entries it has seen since the summer of my first marathon back in 2010.

I have written about consistency many times in my blogs, but the topic never seems to get old.  When I ran this morning's track workout with my buddy, I commented that I thought it was one of the hardest.  The workout is 6 times running 3/4 of a mile (or 1200 meters) each time.  My buddy thinks that 16 quarter miles is harder.

Why do I find the 6 times three-quarter mile workout such a challenge?  Well, 3/4 of a mile is a distance that is too long to run anything close to all out the whole way (at least when you are doing six of them) but not long enough to really relax at any point.  It is a challenging distance that you keep coming back to over and over again.  To do the workout well, I have to be very consistent on each interval (meaning that I have to run either each lap about the same or constantly monitor over multiple laps and make up for any slacking) and then I have to do the same over all six or improve on each one.  We ran the first three at about the same pace; the next two faster and at about the same pace; and the final one the fastest of the morning without having to push all out the whole way.  It was great.

So, while that all makes sense from a physical perspective how does it relate to my spirituality?  Well, let me begin by going back to yesterday's entry?  On the 364 days when I don't have ashes placed on my forehead how will anyone know that I am someone who follows the teachings of Christ and that I am trying to be an ambassador for him?  Consistency.  Hour by hour (like the lap by lap).  Day by day (like the three quarter mile interval by three quater mile interval).  I need to be aware of my beliefs.  I need to live my beliefs.  And, if ever I slack, I need to work all the harder to catch up again.  

Wednesday, February 22, 2012


Today's second reading at the Catholic mass was 2 Cor 5:20-6:2. I have used letters from Paul--especially to the Corinthians as part of my person reflection on a number of occasions.  This is no exception.  The opening verse is, "Brothers and sisters: We are ambassadors for Christ."  On a day like Ash Wednesday it is easy to think that way.  Anyone who receives ashes on their forehead is easily identifiable as someone who places value on their belief in Christ.  What is more of a challenge is being an ambassador for Christ on the other 364 days of the year.  Particularly when the Gospel reading today specifically told us not to do things that appear spiritual just for the sake of getting attention.  Don't give to charity, don't pray, don't go to church only for the reason of getting attention.  Do those things because they truly mean something.  Do them to be an ambassador for Christ regardless of what happens next.

Lent is a time for preparation.  Historically it is thought of as a time for giving up.  Sacrifice does not necessarily mean giving up.  Sacrifice can be as much about taking the time to do extra things that are positive.

Personally, I am looking for ways to continue to increase my insight, my understanding, my view of what my religion means to me.  I saw a sign in the hospital today that said something to the effect of patients not caring what you know until they know that you care.  That is very true of religion.  It doesn't matter how much I know about the beliefs and the rules.  What matters is hat I live them.

Thus, this time of preparation called Lent is also a time of renewal.  A time to look at the various things in my life and decide what to continue with, what to let go for a while, and what to let go forever.  And for things that have been sitting around for a while, what to bring to a conclusion.  How to push ahead.  How to make things happen.

There is a lot to think about between now and Easter.  Many miles to run.  Many friends with whom to run.  Many thoughts to ponder.  And hopefully a stronger sense of my beliefs and my spirituality when all is said and done when Easter arrives this year.

Sunday, February 19, 2012

"Remember not the events of the past..."

The title of today's entry is from the Catholic church's first reading for mass today.  It is from Isaiah 43:18.  Despite the fact that today's readings also included Jesus healing a paralyzed person, the priest who indicated we should look for something truly amazing in the readings was really trying to get us to focus on the phrase that is the title here.

He commented extensively on it.  It makes me reflect on the whole taper once again.  During the taper, I think about the run coming up.  That is looking ahead.  I also think about past marathons.  The key from today's readings is that while I may learn lessons from past runs, there is really no value in dwelling on the things in the past.  The priest was not saying we should totally forget the past but not dwell on it.  Not be trying to escape negative experiences that happened or letting them constrict our futures.  Not trying to always relive or protect a powerfully positive experience in a way that prevents exploring new things in the future.  So much of this can relate to running as well as the rest of life.  Dwelling on past runs--good or bad--really doesn't help with the next race any more than dwelling on a past event in life really changes what we do in the future other than bringing what is likely to be an unnatural limit to our experience and life.

Saturday, February 18, 2012

Enjoy the Taper

Today, someone who is always a friend, sometimes a fellow runner (almost always ahead of me in races), sometimes a coach, and sometimes my advisee in my job as a professor, was writing an email to me about a race I'd registered for last night and I commented on my upcoming marathon run in three weeks.  Three weeks before a marathon, many runners begin what is called a taper.  A time to let the body rest and heal while keeping up enough activity to avoid losing strength and cardio.  The theory is that the body is ready to run the 26.2 miles of a marathon.  That doesn't change in three weeks.  What does change is that with rested and healed muscles the performance on race day is the best it can be.

Do most runners enjoy the taper--as was suggested to me?  Suffice it to say that a lot is written about the difficulty of the taper.  A runner's body is so used to so much more activity that it is difficult to slow down.  Runners get tense.  Runners get antsy.   Runners get irritable.  I have been all of these before, but as I go into my fourth (and for a while final) marathon, I think that I actually can enjoy the taper.

I view the taper for exactly what it is.  A time of rest.  A time to get back to doing other things as I spend less time running.  That may be more blogging.  More cooking.  More time with family.  Getting a melody written for some lyrics that have been sitting around for a couple months.  

It is also a time to look ahead to the race.  A time to reflect on how I got here.  And a time to think about what comes after the marathon.  Not looking past the marathon in the sense of concentrating on something else beyond he race, but just asking what I will do with the time?  Probably after the race even more of what I said for before the race.  I even will think about what running means and how to continue to have it be an important part of my life without being the somewhat consuming  part of my life that it has become over the past year.

So, since I have learned after three marathons what this part of training feels like, I really think I can enjoy the taper and begin to think about what will come after the marathon.  No matter how fast or how slow I run, I will look forward to the experience of the race and all that life has to offer when it is done.

Thursday, February 9, 2012

Losing Form

Sometimes in running I get going so fast that I forget about form.  Sometimes it's not just about the path to the finish line or even just reaching the finish line, but it is about how I reach the finish line.  So, slowing down to right myself may be the best move.

Lesson in running on the track this morning (even without an actual fall).  Lesson for life.

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Symbols and Running

A few random thoughts from recent running.

Many of my blog topics recently have been about relating lessons of running to the rest of real life and lessons from real life back to running.  What I have not written about in a while is symbolism.  When I have written about links between bible verses and running, I think of that as an example of symbolism.  So, on a recent run I was pondering symbolism and running.

My first thought was of a winged foot/winged shoe image.  This is an image that is often used on track and cross country uniforms.  I saw it in the pins I received to go along with my letters in high school.  It is a symbol that goes back to Hermes in Greek mythology.  It is a neat symbol for which I have some nostalgia. But it is not a symbol of the belief system that I hold so dear now--my Catholic faith that I teach in Sunday school and that I support through the music ministry that I play with.

So, what would fit better?  Well, I looked to patron saints.  I wondered if there is a patron saint of runners--there does not appear to be.  But there is a patron saint of athletes.  It is Saint Sebastian.

Saint Sebastian is a martyr from before 300 in the common era.  Whether his story is more than legend, I don't know.  But the link to athletics is that he energetically spread the Gospel and he survived (through physical endurance) an attempt on his life where archers shot him.

When taking a quick look at how he is depicted in art, I noticed three themes.  One theme is just Saint Sebastian by himself at the a tree pierced by arrows.  This would symbolize desperation and loneliness that endurance athletes can feel--for me, this is especially true when I am running alone.  But it doesn't symbolize the glory of God in ways that speak to me.

A second theme is Saint Sebastian with the arrows with an angel in the scene.  A symbol of the mystery of God's presence despite suffering.  A symbol of the fact that God is always present despite our suffering.  A symbol of God being with endurance athletes stride for stride, or pedal for pedal, or stroke for stroke all depending on your sport.

A third theme shows Saint Sebastian with Saint Irene tending to him.  This symbolizes the importance of enduring with others and how others can help to lighten the load of having to endure anything.  I think of the many friends who have helped me after runs--especially after my most recent marathon.

The second and third  themes really speak clearly to me.  God is omnipresent and enduring with others is a gift from God.  I could also imagine the angel carrying a scroll with the verse I started my marathon running with, 1 Cor 13:13 that reminds us that of faith, hope, and love, the greatest is love.  The love of God for us.  The love of one person for another.  And the two themes go along with this quite nicely.

Saturday, February 4, 2012

Runner's Serenity Prayer

When I found out today that I'd missed the registration for the race I was hoping to run in early March, a twist on the serenity prayer came to mind:

God, grant me the serenity to accept that I missed the registration for a race I was hoping to run, the courage to make sure that I never miss another registration opportunity, and the wisdom to know how to make this happen.  

And, as I always try to make sure to link my running lessons to life's lessons, I'd add:

And, in all other things in life, give me the serenity, wisdom, and courage to actually make the things that I can change actually change rather than just letting things ride.  

Why is that second part important?  It's the things that I let ride that just drive me crazy after a while and don't help my spiritual or physical well-being.

Thursday, February 2, 2012

More on Being Only Human

From February 2011 through September 2011, I ran six 8-lap (i.e., 2 mile) runs on outdoor tracks for time.  Each time I improved.  I did my first since September today and I was between my last two but not faster.  I'm only human.

It's another running and life lesson for me.

(1) It is simply not possible to improve ad infinitum.  Sooner or later we all max out.  This applies in career as well as in running.  Sometimes it's just one race.  Sometimes it's just a week in a career.  Sometimes it is years where things just seem to be hanging.

(2) Along with that, there will be ups (of which I have been fortunate to have many) and downs.  This wasn't too much of a down but reminds me that they are out there.

(3) I can learn from it.  Was it stress outside running.  Not keeping my mind on the task at hand?  Lack of sleep--for one night or many on end?  Was it having fewer people to run with than last time?  So many variables.  Some beyond my control.  All open for consideration.  Identifying which is the biggest issue will help me to avoid the same outcome the next time.

(4) Finally, there may still be redemption.  After an easy mile, a half at 3:13, another mile in the 6:40's, my friend and I ran half with splits of 96/85.  I still had something left.  I know that if I give it my all I can still come through.  And that will be just as important for me to clear things off my plate in the workplace as it is in my running.

So many lessons from a one hour workout.

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Only Human

Just a quick follow-up to yesterday's post.  On the occasional day when I come into work saying I overslept (generally meaning I didn't get out running at 5:30), my colleagues will tell me I needed sleep and that I'm only human.  At this point, I think that all of this "what can I actually fit in and it has to be less than I've tried" is one big reminder that I am only human.  Sometimes in business and politics people talk about managing expectations.  They are usually referring to others.  In my case the key person's expectations I have to manage are my own--expectations of what I can actually accomplish.  We could adapt the serenity prayer: May we drive to accomplish the most we can, have the courage to admit what we cannot, and have the wisdom to discern the difference.