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.

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