Saturday, March 31, 2012

Psalm 96:1-3

Earlier this week I wrote about Mary, Martha, and Lazarus.

Yesterday, I wrote about waiting for an answer from the LORD.

Two days ago I was sure my dog was ready to leave this world.

Yesterday my perked up (obviously she had not been dead, as in the story of Lazarus, but her amount of recovery seemed nearly like the death to new life of the Lazarus story), impressed the vet, and gained at least one more day on this earth.  That made me think about singing for joy, and that led me to Psalm 96 verses 1-3

Sing to the LORD a new song; sing to the LORD, all the earth.
Sing to the LORD, bless his name; proclaim his salvation day after day.
Tell his glory among the nations; among all peoples, his marvelous deeds.

The LORD does marvelous deeds.  His glory and salvation are important aspects of my life.  I try to share that with all I know.  Not in evangelical worlds most of the time.  Mostly just in the way I live.

This morning, as I prepare to run another race today, spend the early afternoon with my 7 year old at a lacrosse game, and enjoy the weekend, I look at my dog.  She actually looks not much better than on Thursday.  

Why did she perk up for one day?  I'm not sure I'll ever know.  Might she perk up again later today or tomorrow?  The vet did tell us that it really will be a day by day issue at this point in time.  So, maybe she will.  Or maybe she is just such a proud dog that she wants everything (even the way she goes) to be on her terms.  

I think that the most important lesson to take away from all this is that every day with a friend or family member is precious.  Every moment should be appreciated and enjoyed to the fullest.  And be libing every moment to its fullest potential it is possible to give glory to the LORD.    

Friday, March 30, 2012

Psalm 27:14 and My Dog's Life

As my family awaits the outcome of my dog's trip to the veteranarian today, I thought I'd share Psalm 27:14,

Wait for the LORD, take courage; be stouthearted, wait for the LORD!

I don't think that the kids appreciate yet what this visit might mean. Especially my seven year old. The visit will be while the kids are at school, so if this is the end they will not have to deal with it directly.

But we wait. I have a good idea that this will very likely be our dog's last visit to the vet but it is not certain. She occasionally, and at this point it is very occasionally, looks alive. She was out in the warm sun yesterday. She enjoyed watching the birds. When she was upstairs at our dinner time last night she acted close to normal. She ate anything she could find on the floor. She ate many treats and some regular dog food.

But getting her upstairs and outside was a big chore. And those times she looks tired. Sullen.

So, we must take courage that there is a reason she is hanging on. A reason that she has not simply passed. A reason that we are going to the vet to have to discuss her future rather than simply letting it end.

So we must be stouthearted. Even while we wait with all the uncertainty of when we are going to lose a family friend, she keeps surprising us. This morning after drinking some water she actually came over to me to be petted and looked as though she might want to go outside. But then as I went toward the steps she backed away. That is what concerns us. It is impossible for a pet to live in our house, so she needs to be able to make it up and down stairs. So we wait. We have courage. And we wait to see what the LORD reveals to us.

We pray for her. And I pray for my family's well-being as well.

Only time will reveal with mystery God has waiting for us today.

Thursday, March 29, 2012

Dn 3:14-20, 91-92, 95

The Catholic church has daily mass. The verses in Daniel that make up the title of this entry reflect yesterday's Old Testament reading. While I did not attend mass yesterday, I have begun to look to the readings each day as a source of inspiration for my writing.

So, what do I take away from the verses in the book of Daniel? Well, aside from some pretty cool names (King Nebuchadnezzar, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego) the story is about how the last three of the men mentioned refused to turn away from their belief in God even at the risk of being exposed to a "white hot" furnace.

The reading ends with:

Blessed be the God of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, who sent his angel to deliver the servants who trusted in him; they disobeyed the royal command and yielded their bodies rather than serve or worship any god except their own God.

This is another reflection of a Bible story with the people being "all in" and trusting in God. Once again it is a reminder to me (as there have been so many during this Lenten season) that life is all about being "all in" and being someone whom others can trust and about me putting my trust in my values, my beliefs, and God.

I suppose the signs of the importance of things like this have always been there. I am just making more of an effort to notice, comprehend, and integrate them into my life this year. It is a pretty awesome feeling.

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

John 11:1-45

In looking for some inspiration for today's reflection, I came across this long reading. It is the story of Mary, Martha, and Lazarus and how Lazarus had died and been placed in a tomb for four days while Jesus, who had been informed that Lazarus was ill, was on his way. Then Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead. When thinking about this reading, it was not for the fact that Jesus raised Lazarus. Rather, for the trust that both Martha and Mary--but especially Martha--showed in Jesus. In particular, two quotes seem to demonstrate just how much she was "all in" when it came to her belief.

21-22: “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died. [But] even now I know that whatever you ask of God, God will give you.”

27: "Yes, Lord. I have come to believe that you are the Messiah, the Son of God, the one who is coming into the world."

Both of these show Martha's belief and trust.

In my ow life, I try to give my all to my beliefs and my value system.  Some days I think I do a pretty good job.  Other days I fail miserably.

And, obviously, I will not perform the miracles Jesus performed, but I do also try to be the type of friend to others who can be trusted.  In that, I sometimes fail, but I must be pretty good.  I seem to be able to put friends at ease.  Many people over the years have commented that I am a good listener.  (Before I was married--now many years ago--I used to find that an annoying thing to be told as numerous people I might have been interested in dating would confide in me but not be interested in dating.  However, now, I see the importance of the role of confidant.)  Finally, I apparently do a good job of explaining things most of the time.  So, people place trust in me that I try to live up to.

I'm not saying that my insight is particularly profound and that no one else would have thought of what I just brought up.  But I wonder how many people who come across this reading would focus on the strength of will and trust and the very humanity of Martha and her relationship with Jesus rather than on the power of Jesus to raise Lazarus.

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Revelations 16:13 and 6:9-10 and Interconnections

Yesterday, I commented on a humorous moment on the cruise last week. The way Carnival works dinners we generally sat with the same people each night. Two young women traveling together were at our table. One day we randomly also ended up next to them for lunch. One of the young women had on a Muppets t-shirt. For dinner she ordered frogs legs and bacon macaroni and cheese. The irony was not on me and Sherry or her and her traveling companion.

While that was humorous, it made me wonder what the Bible has to say about frogs. I bet that most people know about the plague of frogs in Exodus. But that is not the only place where frogs are mentioned. Frogs also come up in Revelations 16:13,

I saw three unclean spirits like frogs come from the mouth of the dragon, from the mouth of the beast, and from the mouth of the false prophet. 
These "demonic" spirits are described as performing signs (presumably false signs) and that is followed by 16:15 which warns readers that God will return unexpectedly like a thief in the night, reminding us to always be ready.

The reference to the unclean spirits like frogs is also sandwiched between verses about angels pouring out the sixth and seventh bowls. These follow the seven seals. All of them are associated with the seven plagues in Exodus as a reminder that catastrophe will come to those who do not follow God.

And, that brings me back (ten chapters) to Revelations 6:9-10. There, the author writes,

When he broke open the fifth seal, I saw underneath the altar the souls of those who had been slaughtered because of the witness they bore to the word of God. They cried out in a loud voice, “How long will it be, holy and true master, before you sit in judgment and avenge our blood on the inhabitants of the earth?”

This is clearly a reference to martyrs and the plagues are part of the answer to the avenging of the martyrs. The concept of martyrs brings me back to St Sebastian and my tattoo, which I have not written about in a long time but my appointment to get is now just 2 1/2 weeks away. Interestingly, I had a conversation with a colleague about tattoos just yesterday.

The level of interconnections of ideas and concepts, physical and spiritual, driven by my interests and what is happening around me often amazes me. It is evidence (in my mind) of how God is always watching over and the reason I should be as cautious as is recommended in Revelations 16:15 (and the more familiar Matthew 24:43 or Matthew 25:1-13).

Monday, March 26, 2012

John 12:24

Yesterday's Gospel reading in Catholic churches was John 12:20-33. That includes verse 24:

"Amen, amen, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains just a grain of wheat; but if it dies, it produces much fruit."

The footnote in the New American Bible Revised Edition (the American Catholic standard at this point) suggests that Jesus's death will be accessible to all. That is an important premise of the Catholic faith.

For me, I think of other things. And the best example I can think of at the moment is an important part of my spiritual life. I have been part of the contemporary worship band at my church basically since it started about six years ago now. When it first started, I was just along for the ride, taking my son to rehearsal each week. Then, I tried contributing a guitar part. My guitar skill has never been all that great, and that was definitely a failure. I thought that my attempt to use that "grain of wheat" (the opportunity to play) was "falling to the ground and dying" (in this case just ending). But the death of one opportunity opened up a new opportunity. To play bass. Even there, I tried to play bass and sing for a while. That worked okay but not great--another death of a grain of wheat. Then I completely stepped away from playing with the band at mass for a while--yet another death of a grain of wheat. Finally, I came back, and now my bass playing has improved and continues to evolve in important ways that make bass playing a better experience for me and a more integrated part of the whole. It forces me to think about how the bass playing works with the song (or not sometimes). It brings into focus the contribution I am making and how important it is to be part of a team.

So, one opportunity slipped away and another not only became available but eventually blossomed in a way that I never would have anticipated. So it is with faith in God. Sometimes it is difficult or impossible to tell in advance which opportunities that seem like grains of wheat dying end up being the ones that turn out to be wonderfully blossoming opportunities later on. And, it is also impossible to know in advance which of those opportunities will contribute not only to my life but to the lives of those with whom I interact. But that is what faith is all about. Trusting that by following God's commands and following in Jesus's ways, all will be revealed in time and I will (sometimes long after the fact) understand how the single grain died and yielded a rich harvest.

Sunday, March 25, 2012

Self Regulation (and more from Psalm 147:10-11)

Yesterday, I commented on hoping in God's mercy and correcting missteps as the end of my entry that focused on Psalm 147:10.  I wanted to comment a little more on missteps today.

And, I'm not going to comment on missteps as they apply to mistakes in my work--although I have been known to make those.

I'm not going to comment on missteps as they apply to my personal relationships--although I have been known to make those.

I'm (as is not surprising to anyone) going to comment on a misstep in the course of my running and how I corrected it and how that provides a framework for the rest of my life.

So, today I did not work out.  Last morning on the cruise.  Have to be ready to go fairly early. No need to work out after six days in a row and starting from Saturday a week ago seven out of eight.

Yesterday, I ran 9 miles on a treadmill.  And, because the treadmills on the ship are programmed to allow no more than 30 minutes at a time, I broke it into three separate 3 mile segments.

I felt a lot better than I did when I ran only 8.3 earlier in the week. I think that the gym on the ship was a little--although not much--cooler.

Also, for the first six miles (at just under 8:30 per mile for the first mile and progressively faster), I felt like I wasn't really working all that hard.  Honestly, given what I know I can run, I should not have felt like I was working all that hard.  But it was good to be "in touch with my body" enough to recognize that I was getting the workout I needed while happily pushing along.  I think part of that was just because I should be able to run that distance at that pace without thinking about it and partly because of some fo the reading of Born to Run and Chi Running that I did this week.

However, as I started my final three mile segment, by the end of mile seven, I pushed myself down to a 7:30 mile and hoped to stay there for a while. That pace is still slower than what I averaged for the entier marathon two weeks ago, but something just didn't feel right.  It could have been a lot of different things.  It could have been my body just telling me--no, I really don't like treadmill workouts.  It could have been my body telling me it simply was not ready for pushing that hard at that time or morning given that I was not up all that long before I ran. It could have been the heat.

Whatever it was, I recognized it and pulled all the way back to where I had begun with an 8:30ish mile pace. Then, after "rechecking that all systems were go," I started pushing myself harder again and ended with a nice final mile and a half.

So, by paying attention to warning signs, I recognized when to slow down, how to manage the slow down, and when to come back up again.  All those are things that I have to do in other parts of my life.  Managing spending.  Managing parenting.  Managing next steps in my career.  The only difference is that my physical body system that I used as a check for my workout becomes my spiritual value system driven by my belief in God and the notion that the main goal of God's followers is to bring the earth as close to the Kingdom of God as possibl.

Saturday, March 24, 2012

Psalm 147:10 (and 11)

This is not a race time or a bib number.  This verse came from a search I did this morning.  Between my bike and elliptical workout two days ago and my swim with the dolphins (with bad form and fins) yesterday, my calves have been very tense since we got back on board and headed for home yesterday.  So, this morning before I ran, I first searched calf in the King James version of the Bible I have on my iPhone.  Most of what came up was things about a molten calf or a fatted calf.  Those are interesting to ponder but didn’t speak to me and were, of course, about a different kind of calf.

So, I searched for legs.  What came up was Psalm 147:10 and into 11:

He delighteth not in the strength of the horse: he taketh  not pleasure in the legs of a man.  The LORD taketh pleasure in them that fear him, in those that hope in his mercy.

Why does this speak to me?  No matter how much I train, God does not care whether I qualify for Boston.  Unless by qualifying for Boston I use all the gifts I have been given and learn and share important lessons along the way.

God does not care about the strength of my body but about the strength of my will and my spirit as I try to follow the path that has been set for me.

God does not care about how fast I can run but about how fast I can learn the lessons of being a good follower and use them to make this world as much like God’s kingdom as possible.

God does not care how far I can run, but how far I go to serve others.

So, rather than feeling sorry or hurt, I simply push ahead.  Taking care of myself.  Caring for others.  And following God as best I can.  To “hope in God’s mercy” as I lead my life and try to correct any missteps along the way.

Friday, March 23, 2012

Running as a Way of Life

When we arrived in Nassau yesterday we first spent some tim looking at the small shops in the market in the first building you have to enter off any cruise ship that pulls into port.  We enjoyed that and when we finally exited we were approached by a gentleman named Eric who offered us a ride in a horse drawn carriage pulled by his horse named Princess.  Despite nearly every part of our intuition saying to use, "is this really such a good idea" we went.  It was great because afterwards, he referred us to a specific certified hair braider who braided all of Sherry's hair for a look that makes her look even more amazing than she already did.  And Sherry was able to negotiate a nice price.  We learned that nearly everyone in Nassau who owned a shop was willing to make a deal.

On the carriage ride we also passed a restaurant called Conch Fritters where we eventually ended up for lunch, ate the dish that the restaurant is named after, and enjoyed sweet potato, plantain, and, in my case, the local beer.

Thus, there were great experiences we would not necessarily have enjoyed without the carriage ride.

One of the things that Eric told us on the ride was that the island was 21 miles across.  My mind, having just finished Born to Run and exercised most days on the trip, immediately flashed to, "I wonder if they have a marathon."  Interestingly, when I mentioned it to Sherry later, she said that she was thinking something similar, like "Oh, Kevin could just run across."

In some ways, it goes nicely with the other entry I just wrote focusing on learning about what is missing in life.  I have no doubt of the importance of running and exercise for my next 20 years and my wife fully appreciates that in a way I doubt she did until recently.

And, about the importance of running, another quote from Born to Run, is that people don't stop running because they get old.  Instead, they get old because they stop running.  Of course, that is based on the thesis that humans were evolutionarily "born to run".   I buy that thesis. I'm not sure everyone does.  I have certainly seen what continuing to run can do for the men and women who do. And I fully intend to.

I also figure that in terms of the gifts God has given me, my mind will ntop thinking because I get old.  It will someday get old, if I stop thinking and writing.

It's just one more lesson illustrating how when we use the gifts God has granted us we usually come out ahead.  


As I look back over my blog entries in this blog since the start of Lent, I find that I am one short or there is one missing.  It was the day after the marathon.  I don't recall why there is one missing from that day, but I figure today is an excellent day to make up for that.  And, I might as well ponder things that are missing.

Certainly there is not a lot missing in my life.  Beautiful wife.  Three wonderful sons.  Success in my career.  Success and enjoyment in my hobbies--including running, playing music at church, and cooking.

And, yet, in almost all of those I can still find something missing.  A missing piece that would make things even better.  A better understanding of my kids, their interests, and what they need?  Is it more time?  More advice?  More undivided attention when I give them my attention?

For my running, I think that the missing piece all wintere long was a focus on something other than my own running as I ran long slow distances.  The distances go much more easily when they are run with someone. I bet they would also go more easily if I focused on something other than the running.  Although not to the complete exclusion of concern about my body.

Playing music--there is plenty missing that could make it better, although I think I have been improving.

There is always room to improve my cooking.

There is always room to improve at work.

And, even after 20 years, I think that Sherry and I in some ways are only beginning to truly undersand each other.  Particularly, how what makes us tick is likely to change over the next 20 years.

So, in everything in life, I can seek what is missing, and work to improve my life by addressing those issues head on.

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Low Impact

Another day.  Another workout.  More pondering.  Today, the theme is low impact.  Not surprisingly, I was on the exercise bike for 30 minutes and the elliptical for 30 minutes.

How does “low impact” relate to my life?  Do I try to make a low impact on the world?  In some ways, yes.  Recycling.  Careful use of the resources for which we are supposed to be God’s stewards. 

In other ways, no.  I try to have an impact on a lot of people through my work.  Heck, the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health’s motto is “Saving lives…millions at a time”.  I don’t think I’ve saved millions.  I may not even have saved one.  While I have tried to have an impact on a lot of people in a lot of different research areas, I would say that my method of impact is “low impact” or perhaps “gentle impact”.

In what way?  I don’t say “It’s economics or bust!”  I don’t force my ideas on people.  I try not to come to any collaborative or teaching situation with preconceived notions.  Instead, I try to come at each opportunities with open eyes and an open mind and share ideas.  Share concepts.  Teach and learn.  Speak politely and listen.

Does it always work?  No.  No plan of mine has always worked.  No philosophy I’ve tried has ever turned out to be 100% foolproof.  Nothing in my life has turned out to work just the way it was intended 100% of the time.

However, there is plenty of evidence that taking a low impact or gentle impact approach does help to develop good collegiality, nice collaboration, and open doors. 

So, once again, my exercise of the day, a low impact workout not beating on my knees.  Low impact collaboration not “beating on” my colleagues.  Both work together in my life. 

And, tor bring it back to the spiritual, in the New Testament, even Jesus was “low impact” most of the time.  Of course, there was the time when he cleared the temple of those who were performing commercial transactions there.  Not so low impact, of course.  And there was the crucifixion.  Obviously, also not low impact.  However, most of his preaching, most of his teaching, and most of his doing were definitely low impact.  One of the best stories to illustrate this in my mind was the one where the woman was about to be stoned.  Jesus just sat in the sand and drew in the sand and challenged anyone sinless to throw the first stone.  Little more was said.  No one knows exactly what he was drawing or writing in the sand.  Then he forgave the woman and things went on.  Great example of a low impact way to have a high impact on the world.   

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Born to Run

Late in the 2010-2011 academic year, one student passed along to me a copy of the book Born to Run.  As someone who, by that time, had been hanging around with distance runners consistently for almost a year, I had, of course, heard about the barefoot (or at least minimalist shoe) running movement by that time.  This is the book that really brought the story to life.

I started the book almost as soon as I got it and then set it aside for a while.  On this vacation, what did I bring with me?  Two Wall Street Journal weekend editions, the Baltimore Sun that was delivered to our house on the morning the cruise began, and several books, one of which is Born to Run.  I turned to the book yesterday after finishing off the newspapers.

Most cruises seem to be organized in a way that if you attend a regular dinner each night you are seated at a table with the same people.  We met Stephanie (sp?) and Alyssa (sp?) on Monday evening, sat across from them playing Scattergories yesterday, and then had a lovely conversation with them at dinner last night.  When I mentioned getting up at 5 to run at 6 in the gym one of them commented that that did not sound like much of a vacation.

And yet, to me, it did.  Being able to run with little time pressure for pretty much as long as I want at whatever pace I want (now that I am not training for any big race other than trying to set a half marathon PR in 10 days).  That is vacation.  Just doing what I want with no strings attached.  And part of that is running.

I didn’t make the comment directly back, but I thought about it as I read through about half of Born to Run yesterday.  There were multiple references to people smiling when the presumably should be cringing or gritting their teeth during a run.  There are statements about the serenity of running itself.  There are multiple quotes I’d like to comment on.  I’ll comment on one this morning, from page 114 of the book, “When you run on the earth and run with the earth, you can run forever.” 

Did I capture that this morning when I went to run?  I think so.  I was still on a treadmill and actually had no sense of which direction the boat was going as it approached Port Canaveral.  I had several hiccups during the run as the treadmill seemed set to go to cool down mode after 30 minutes of exercise so as I ran 8.3 miles I had to restart twice.  I listened to my body enough that instead of pushing for a full 10, the heat in the gym and the slight tilt of the boat during much of the run told me to stop at 8.3 and be happy.

And, happy I was.  I don’t know how many people around me could tell that.  Others on the machines really looked like they were ‘putting in time.’  That is fine.  I just tried to take it all in stride, and feel good.  When I didn’t feel so good anymore, I knew it was time to be done. 

I came back to my room, pulled out two diet Mountain Dews, took them to the balcony, and drank them down while enjoying the cool morning air as the ship had docked at Port Canaveral.  I was at ease after a nice workout.

As I have now qualified to apply for Boston and now begin the phase of ‘what next?’ I don’t plan on moving to ultramarathon running.  I do plan on finding ways to enjoy what I am doing even more.  Running for joy has been a theme I have discussed off and on in this blog.  The fact that the ultramarathon runners who run the fastest also seem to run for joy gives me hope that I will continue to find meaning in what I am doing and that I really have only just begun to find meaning. 

The physical aspects of running.  The self-awareness aspects of running.  The social aspects of running.  The giving aspects of running.  All are what it is about.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Straight and Narrow

Yesterday, I ran on the small onboard track and wrote about going round and round.  Today, my inspiration for the title also comes from my run, and readers can probably guess where I ran—on the treadmill.

The treadmills in the cruise ship gym are Life Fitness.  They should a picture of a track making it look like you are going round and round, but there is definitely not the feeling—or the differential pressure on the legs/hips that comes from running around in a circle.  The treadmill can provide an up and down experience, but today’s desire was to simulate a flat track anyway.  So, what can I say other than—I planned to and succeeded in running the straight and narrow.

When I think about the rest of my life, I struggle with what straight and narrow means.  Some may think that religion usually implies something relatively straight and narrow for a person’s life. Ten Commandment.  Eight Beatitudes.  And yet, it is not really, despite many people’s impressions. Within most sets of religious beliefs there is plenty of room for creativity.  And there is room for free choice.  Room to fail.  Room for making mistakes.  Room to grow from correcting our errors.  Even in Christianity while there are the Ten Commandments in the Old Testament and the eight Beatitudes in the New Testament, Jesus ultimately said, “Love God and love your neighbor.”  Simple and direct  with lots of room for finding interesting, novel, and useful ways to show that love for our neighbors and to help everyone live up to the potential of the gifts they have been given. 

My career path has never been straight and narrow and yet I have been relatively successful so far.

My kids lives (as a result of my parenting or not) have not been straight and narrow, although the oldest is certainly focused.

So, I use straight and narrow as a guide for individual projects and individual goals.  I set a goal of getting to full professor and reached it.  I set a goal of qualifying to apply for the Boston Marathon and reached it.  For individual projects I set goals and usually (although not always) reach them.  All that is good.

But I tend not to use straight and narrow for other things.  So many projects.  So many ideas.  So many things I’ve dabbled with. 

Will I ever live completely straight and narrow—probably not, but it is a great way to guide at least a part of my life.  

Monday, March 19, 2012

Going Round and Round

As I write this, I’m sitting on the balcony of the room on the boat as my wife and I enjoy our first cruise.  When June 20 gets here, we will be celebrating 20 years of marriage.  We are traveling now simply because the arrangements worked out better for us.  Twenty years and a nice vacation are things to celebrate with joy. 

Last night I slept nearly nine hours.  Every once in a while I get a really good night’s sleep.  Last night I barely even tossed and turned during that nine hours.  I woke up at about seven hours, went immediately back to sleep, and then felt much better when I woke up “for real” at 7 AM.   A time by which I have normally been up, worked some, ran some, and stopped at the grocery store on more mornings than not.

Why do I call today’s entry “round and round”?  Well, when I got up, my wife and I had a little breakfast after which we went for our respective workouts.  She did spin and turned out to be the only one who showed up for the class.  She got quite a workout.  I ran for about 40 minutes and then did 20 minutes of elliptical.

The running was on a track that mixes with a mini golf course and a small basketball court on the highest level of the boat.  The track is—116 yards around.  For anyone who has ever seen the standard high school or college quarter mile track (which is 440 yards around), you can appreciate just how short this is. 

So, my 40 minute run was at best approximately 5 miles.  I may have counted the 76 laps correctly or I may not.  Either from simply boredom or from trying to dodge young kids and even some adults who were simply unaware that the thin blue area around the golf course was supposed to be a track.

What do I think about when I go around the same small track so many times?  Mostly how many more I have to go and how fast I’m running.  The same things I generally think about wherever I’m running.

But the round and round is a great thing to think about both with respect to part of the serenity prayer and for life in general.  The serenity prayer asks God to give a person the courage to make a change when a chance is necessary.  But how many of us actually do that?  Ho may of us make changes when they are needed?  How many of us can get out of emotional, spiritual, and physical habits that lead us to places that we don’t always like to get to places that feel better.  That are better. 

It is a constant struggle for many of us.

People complain about being too much of something.  Too heavy.  Too much in debt.  Too busy.  To overworked.  Some of that is beyond our control.  But a lot is not.  A lot is within our control.  We complain because we feel as though we are trapped on a path that just goes round and round that we cannot get off.

A colleague wrote on his FB page the other day that boredom seems to be his long run equilibrium.  I don’t speculate why for other people.  Perhaps it has to do with choices.  Perhaps it has to do with what he defines as boredom.  From one economist to another, I could say “a person has just the amount of boredom they choose to have base on all the alternatives and their preferences.”   In other words, to some degree, people end up going round and round because they choose to.  Because they don’t want to or don’t feel comfortable taking a tangential path off the track they are on and going just round and round.

I don’t like to speculate on others’ motivations as I have a hard enough time speculating why for things I do myself.  What I try to make sure of for myself, however is that when there is a need for change (as in getting started on exercise again six years ago, as in thinking about my career development, as in figuring out which projects to move forward and which to finally leave behind, and as in adapting my parenting to each of my three kids) that I am ready, willing, and able to make thoughtful change when it is needed.  That I take the new paths when they are needed.  That I either expand the size of my track so that even if I am going round and round, I only see the same point every once in a while, or that I don’t feel like I am on a track going round and round at all. 

There are some parts of my life where I really don’t feel as though I’m going round and round.  Others where I do quite often.  I suppose as part of my ongoing reflection I really need to think most about the paths that are just round and round.  Am I making the same errors over and over?  And if so, how do I finally change them.  And how do I manage the interacting, overlapping, paths that I have to mange?

Sunday, March 18, 2012

Psalm 137:6

The traditional recited responsorial psalm for today's Catholic masses is Psalm 137. The response, in particular, is from verse 6:

"Let my tongue be silenced, if I ever forget you!"

I have blogged about physical and spiritual well-being an enormous amount since August 2010. As everyone who reads this probably knows, I have chosen to write every day during Lent this year.

So, why do I find this verse interesting? Especially, given the fact that the mass I go to is one at which we play a responsorial song that is definitely not the same most weeks as the exact verse that is recited.

Well, I think in this case it is quite simple.  I always try to focus on the spiritual aspects of my life. Sometimes I focus more on the physical. Sometimes I focus mostly on the emotional.  But I always try to make it clear that I remember that the emotional and physical ultimately tie back to the spiritual.

I can run all I want--but it is nothing without the recognition that I am using my gift from God and I need to keep that in mind. If I forget that--I shouldn't be writing this.

I can volunteer in any role I want as much as I want. Just the same--if I forget that I share my gifts from God with other people who are gifts from God and that all this fits together in a very special way guided by God, then I shouldn't bother writing.

I can work as hard as I want. If I forget that my capacity to do work and my capacity to be helpful to others--which is one of the things that I see as the most important outcome of any work I do--then I should not be writing.

I can spend as much time as I want with my children. Cooking. Watching their activities. Anything else that may be involved. If I ever forget that this is purely a gift from God, then I should not be writing.

If I use Psalm 137:6 as a guide for everything I write about and everything I do in life, then my life should come a step closer to God each day.  With each activity.  With each thing I write.  Going back to yesterday's entry--it will help me to revela the full truth and not just is what is in the reflection.  

Saturday, March 17, 2012

Reflections in a Bible verse

Yesterday, I wrote about reflections.  Yesterday, the team I run with for Back on My Feet was encouraged to think about reflections.  When I typed in "reflection and Bible verse" into a web search, I stumbled upon the verses that connect the "Love is patient, love is kind...Love never fails..." verses with "and the greatest of these is love."  (The verse (1 Cor 13:13)that began my interest connecting my running to verses from the Bible.)

What is in between? Well, I'm not going to quote the Catholic translation in this case as it does not use the word "reflection".  It uses an alternative "indistinctly", and you'll see why in a moment.  The use of reflection in this case is not "pondering" but "an image".  Here are the verses surrounding reflection from the New International Version.  The connect "Love never fails..." the the verse that ends with "the greatest of these is love."

"Love never fails. But where there are prophecies, they will cease; where there are tongues, they will be stilled; where there is knowledge, it will pass away. For we know in part and we prophesy in part, but when completeness comes, what is in part disappears. When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I put the ways of childhood behind me.  For now we see only a reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known."

So, this verse is not about reflection as pondering as I have been doing on a daily basis during Lent. Instead, this is reflection as an image that is not the complete or perfect image.  In the same way that our actions as adults are not supposed to be childish--not that we cannot have fun, just that our actions should be preceded by thought.

All of this is in the context of the coming of the Kingdom of God and contrasting each of these other things "prophesy," "knowledge," "reasoning" are temporary and changeable.  Our holiness is supposed to be constant. God's is.  And of the faith, hope, and love that make up holiness, the highest of these is love.  

Despite the difference interpretation of "reflection", I still find it quite useful for me as a verse for today as it suggests the incompleteness that my pondering reflections seeks to complete as I continue to use my love of others to guide my running and every other activity of my day.

Friday, March 16, 2012


Back on My Feet is a great organization that tries to help people in recovery programs, residential job training and placement programs, and homeless shelters to get "back on their feet" by using running (e.g., sticking with something, setting goals, and having a sense of accomplishment) as an example for getting their lives together in general.  Many residents of five facilities in Baltimore and other facilites around the country participate.  Many non-residents from communities come to run with the residents.

An interesting struggle that some groups have is how to make sure that everyone has someone to run with and, in particular, that every resident or at least every small group of residents has someone from the community with whom to run--at a mutually agreeable distance and pace.

Yesterday, the team I am on exchanged some emails grappling with this issue for our team.  I suggested something that surprised me.  I reflect all the time in my blog.  I reflect on all sorts of things including my motivation for running and my motivation for sharing my running.  If I need to grapple with my personal struggles over matters like this one (e.g., how to fit the principles of this organization together with my own need for training) I have an outlet.

What I suggested that surprised me is that maybe other non-residential members need an outlet as well.  Even with not everyone having a religious focus.  Even with those who have a religious focus not all having the same focus.   Reflection doesn't require religion--although it can be guided by that.  Reflection simply requires looking inward.  Exploring our motivations.  Comparing motivations now to when each person involved started the volunteer activity.  And pondering how (or even whether ) our own motivations and the organization's needs and purposes fit together.  It is probably something that volunteers in nearly every organization should do once in a while.  It will be interesting to see whether this organization finds it feasible and useful moving ahead.  

I was most surprised that I suggested this type of thing.  Not trying to push my ideas about how to run my life on others.  Just trying to share with others things that I think work. 

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Psalm 61 (2-5)

My bib number was 61 for the Lower Potomac River Marathon.  On my Facebook page the day I posted my bib number, a friend immediately mentioned Psalm 61.  Here are verses 2 through 5 from the New American Bible, Revised Edition:

"Hear my cry, O God,
listen to my prayer!
From the ends of the earth I call;
my heart grows faint.
Raise me up, set me on a rock,
for you are my refuge,
a tower of strength against the foe.
Let me dwell in your tent forever,
take refuge in the shelter of your wings."

First, it is interesting that this should come up now. My bib number for the 11K in Australia was 2161 and I had never blogged about it.  I had actually thought about the fact that the last two digits were the same when I got the bib number.  The 11K was not my best race ever for a variety of reasons, and I ran a 7:23 pace.  On Saturday night last week when I got my bib, I thought about how cool it would be to run the same pace.  I almost achieved that with a 7:25 pace on Sunday.  So, there was some connection that seems like more than pure randomness.

In any case, about the Psalm.  There are lots of times during a marathon when I might want to cry out.  Not like Jesus on the cross, "My God, My God, why have you abandoned me?"  Because the marathon--starting and continuing to the end--is my choice.  But, it still hurts.  And there are times when it feels very hard to get my stride.

Listen to my prayer--prayers of thanksgiving (that I can do it), prayers of praise (for God's goodness that I got to see in St. Mary's county), and prayers of intercession (for my health and the health of all my fellow runners).  And, as a Catholic, praying for St. Sebastian's intercession as a go between to God as well.  And looking up to St. Sebastian (and St. Irene's) examples of God's love and the use of God's gifts.

From the ends of the earth I will call--well, in a course that has four out and backs, I'm not sure I'd say I was going to the ends of the earth, but there are a lot of different places I called from.  And, thank goodness my heart did not grow faint, but it was stressed.

"Raise me up, set me on a rock,"--something I might ask for at the bottom of every rolling hill.

The remainder--God is always my refuge.  When I choose to run marathons, I remember that I am using God's gifts for me and as an example for others--from my kids to fellow runners.  God is a tower of strength. There is no foe in a marathon, but needing and using strength is, of course, a key.  When I think of taking refuge in the shelter of your wings, I picture clouds making it slightly overcast after a sunny start. That didn't happen on Saturday and there are many wages to take refuge in the shelter of God.  Taking refuge in God is critical after a run as I celebrate the gifts and give nothing but thanks and praise for all God has done for me.   

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

1 Kings 3:14-25

OK. I ran only one race this winter before the marathon on Sunday--and when I ran that one I didn't link either my bib number or my time to a Bible verse. This time, I am going to link both my bib number (in a later entry) and my time. My time, as everyone who reads my blog regularly knows by now, was 3:14:25. My link to scripture will be form the Old Testament this time: 1 Kings 3:14-25. (And, I know the 1 was not part of my time, but this really is the best verse.) From the Catholic approved New American Bible-Revised Edition

"And if you walk in my ways, keeping my statutes and commandments, as David your father did, I will give you a long life. Solomon awoke; it was a dream! He went to Jerusalem, stood before the ark of the covenant of the Lord, sacrificed burnt offerings and communion offerings, and gave a feast for all his servants.

Later, two prostitutes came to the king and stood before him. One woman said: “By your leave, my lord, this woman and I live in the same house, and I gave birth in the house while she was present. On the third day after I gave birth, this woman also gave birth. We were alone; no one else was in the house with us; only the two of us were in the house. This woman’s son died during the night when she lay on top of him. So in the middle of the night she got up and took my son from my side, as your servant was sleeping. Then she laid him in her bosom and laid her dead son in my bosom. I rose in the morning to nurse my son, and he was dead! But when I examined him in the morning light, I saw it was not the son I had borne.” The other woman answered, “No! The living one is my son, the dead one is yours.” But the first kept saying, “No! the dead one is your son, the living one is mine!” Thus they argued before the king. Then the king said: “One woman claims, ‘This, the living one, is my son, the dead one is yours.’ The other answers, ‘No! The dead one is your son, the living one is mine.’” The king continued, “Get me a sword.” When they brought the sword before the king, he said, “Cut the living child in two, and give half to one woman and half to the other.”

What does this say to me.  Well, it is all about Solomon's following God--he was all in.  This is a theme I've discussed a lot lately.

It also shows Solomon's wisdom.  The story ends, of course, with the prostitute who was actually the child's  mother agreeing to give the child away rather than seeing the child cut in half  and Solomon recognizing that she was the mother.  Why is this important with respect to this marathon?

First, about qualifying for Boston, I really can use the serenity prayer once again.  I have to accept what I cannot change. I cannot change the rules about how to get into Boston.  I cannot change how other people do. I cannot change who chooses to register.  Did it take courage to change and improve my own time?  Some may say so. Others may call it other things.  But separating what I change (whatever is required) from things others have control over is an important step.

Second, during the race, my splits show the wisdom of running a consistent and not too fast first half.  

Finally, the entire reading is simply an overall reflection of the importance of (as it begins) walking in Gods ways.  This time, it was more running in his ways. But, regardless, the key was that I used the gifts that God has given me, I felt God's pleasure, and I have been able to bring a message of hope and accomplishment to those with whom I run in Back on My Feet.  

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

The Five Themes of My Tattoo in My Marathon

As I continue to ponder my marathon experience on Saturday, I have thought about how it captures the five themes of my tattoo--endurance, people helping people, timelessness, learning about running and spirituality where ont fields at home, and women of strength.

Endurance is what St Sebastian showed when he survived the attempted execution by archers.  Marathon running is not martyrdom.  Some may call marathon running a bit crazy, but it is not martyrdom.  I did show endurance in several ways.  Relatively consistent times for miles 1-16.  Never going above an 8 minute mile.  And coming through at the end to get my time to qualify to at least apply for Boston 2013.  All demonstrating my gifts from God.  God was pleased that I was running fast and celebrating the sabbath where the beauty of the world God created was quite evident.

People helping people--one of the friendliest marathons I've participated in.  Not everyone waived to or gave a word of encouragement to every other runner, but there was a lot of happy greetings and encouragement along the way--especially when passing or being passed in the last 6-8 miles.

Timelessness.  That is an interesting one to interpret.  Despite having my watch on and looking at it often, I felt like I had entered a timeless zone.  I really needed my watch to keep me from going too fast or too slowly.  Others around me were not running a constant pace.  Neither was I.  And when I say "around me" it was 100 yards (or more) ahead or behind in many cases.  That sense of just being in a state of having no idea how much time is passing captures the timelessness of the run--no matter how important my Boston qualifying time may have been to me.

Importance of home.  My "home turf" has a lot of rolling hills.  For the second half of the race, I ran a lot less consistent times than for the first half, but it made a bit difference to be used to rolling hills when I was able to run just under 1:36 for the first half and just under 1:38:30 for the second half.  Less than a year ago, I ran a 1:38:02 for a half marathon as my whole race.  Learning the physical aspects of what I consider my home turf and using my spirituality that I have gained in Baltimore to guide me through made a big difference.  One other thing--no longer do I think about my high school teammates or rivals when I run.  No disrespect to them and I do realize just how important that growing up experience was.  However, the reality of my running is now from my home in Baltimore.  And those are the runners I was thinking of--Rob, John, Joselyn, and Jaclyn first on the list.

Finally, women of strength.  First and foremost, my wife for coming along with me and driving on the way home.  No, being chauffeur was not her only role.  But having someone who could drive me the 2+ hours home so I could stretch and massage my muscles was wonderful.  Second, my coaches from Charm City Run over the past two years.  Two out of three--women of strength who guided, advised, and were usually out there running with us.  Thanks to Marie and Ericka.  Finally, my fellow runners.  Caroline--with whom I ran a lot last spring.  Jaclyn--part coach, part mentee in the academic life, part leader of a group that is about much more than just running.  Joselyn--fellow runner most of the 2011 marathon training season; fellow parent.  And those are just the women I have consistently run alongside.  There are other women runners who are also women of strength just for being out there.  Carrie, Sandy, and Lisa at the top of that list from CCR.  And the many women of strength from Back on My Feet.  Not that there are no fellow male runners who matter--Jerome at Christopher's Place, Paul, John, Rob, Kevin H, Christian, Dan, and the list goes on.

My marathon reflects the tattoo I will soon get in some ways I never could have imagined beforehand.

Sunday, March 11, 2012

Did I Manage to Run for Joy?

Today I had my best marathon every--just under 1:36 for the first half and just under 1:38:30 for the second half.  My first and fourth fastest half marathon distances ever.  For a total of around 3:14:25 (still awaiting official results).

But the main question is did I run for joy?  I think so.  I ran the first half cruising along in my own little world.  I got a little worried for part of the second half but reached a point where, knowing that this was my last one for a while no matter what happened, I decided to just enjoy it.

So, I ran for joy.  The joy of finishing.  The joy of being out there.  The joy of passing, and encouraging others when they passed me.  The joy of using my gift from God on a beautiful Sunday morning in a part of the state that exemplifies the beauty of God's gifts.  I ran for joy.  Now a lot more running for joy is to come as I will just be running for joy and not for a goal for a while.  

Saturday, March 10, 2012

More than One Positive Story

Yesterday, I posted about more than one type of team. Today, as I prepare for a marathon starting 24 hours and 30 minutes from now, I think about a comment I received shortly after a FB post yesterday. My FB post mentioned wanting to bring back a very positive story on Monday. A friend posted "U being positive is d story :-)" It suddenly occurred to me that while I am shooting for a personal best and a time that will allow me to register for the Boston marathon for 2013, there are many stories I could come away from tomorrow's race with that would be just as positive. A positive ending to three more monts of hard work. A positive ending to the many wonderful exchanges I have had with fellow runners on FB and other sties. A positive ending to the effort. A positive ending to all the runs with friends. A positive ending to all the sacrifices that I and my family have made for my running. I wouldn't even say that the personal best and BQ would be the most positive ending. While I once wrote that it life is about much more than the journey, it is all about results, now, I'm thinking that the journey has been pretty important. There will be life lessons learned during tomorrow's 26.2 miles that I'll take with me forever regardless of whether I end up being able to run Boston 2013 or not.

And with the attitude going in that I am just going to experience a marvelous gift from God, I think that I will be more at ease to just run for joy and run my best rather than being worried the whole time. I was tired when I got home at 12:30 AM after a very long day that included a very important meeting, a final defense, a dinner with potential students, a celebration with the student who had defended, an open mic night at which my oldest son played, getting the battery going on the drummer's car after the open mic night was over, and dropping of my son's girlfriend at about midnight. Perhaps sleeping well was just because I was so tired. But perhaps sleeping well was because for once, before a race, I am at ease rather than very worked up. And I will hopefully take the gift of being at ease into a second evening of good sleep and a great run tomorrow.

Friday, March 9, 2012

More than One Kind of Team

When I think about my sons' activities and the ways in which they might experience God's love through what they do, I often talk about how my only son who enjoys team sports is my youngest.  He plays lacrosse and hockey.

And yet, I have come to realize that if I see only my youngest as playing a "team sport" I am really missing the point in some important ways.  My middle son sings in a boychoir, and they clearly have a "team spirit" in some very important ways.  And even my oldest--whom I often describe as having no desire to do anything athletic--certainly does understand team spirit.  He plays in an orchestra and several other ensembles.  I have seen him play multiple times in a small (5-6 person) jazz ensemble.  He has come to know the guys in this over two years.  Last night when I saw them play it was clear that they either had some inside jokes that all the spectators were missing or that they were just plain having fun.  And clearly having fun playing together.

In the same way that I feel God's love when I run with others with whom I have developed a positive relationship, I can see that God's love shows in the friendship and reliance that these guys have for and on each other.

Upon reflection, I realize that my two older sons may not play team sports but certainly understand team spirit. And, now matter how one experiences team spirit, it is a wonderful way to show the love of God in the gifts one has received and how one shares them with teammates and the spectators watching. 

Thursday, March 8, 2012

Testify to Love

Today's spiritual reflection actually began on my way home from running yesterday.  On the drive I was flipping among radio stations--two different public radio, sports talk, non-NPR news and talk, and finally a Christian rock station.  Other than the fact that I have an eclectic mix of morning radio tastes, what did this reveal?  Well, on the one music station, I heard Testify to Love.  My first exposure to this song dates back to a television program called Touched by an Angel which ran in the late 1990's.  The songs main message is about giving thanks to God by testifying to love.

Why is this relevant to me now?  On one friend's Facebook page, she asked "why blog?"  That is a good question.  She received a variety of comments--including self-importance.  I hope that's not what anyone thinks of mine.  I answered that one of my blogs is for teaching health economics.  The other--this one--is my public diary.  This blog is my way of testifying to the love of God for as many to read as care to.  Even if it is not that many, it is my testimony and people can see what they think of it and draw strength from it or take inspiration from it--or never read it again.

What do I have to say about the love of God?  How I realize it.  How it affects me.  How I interpret it through scripture to which I am exposed at mass.  How I find it in my daily life; in my beautiful wife; in the rest of my family; in those with whom I volunteer; in those with whom I run.

There are so many ways to find it and it is important to me to proclaim those ways and proclaim my thanks to God and for the gifts I have been given.

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Running for Joy

Clearly, I enjoy running.  Anyone who has read what I've written about how much I run and how hard I've run couldn't possibly reach any other conclusion.  But there is a difference between enjoying my running and taking a joy in my running.

Some friends say I should "run strong".  Same focus on running fast.  Yesterday in a FB exchange several people (almost, or, in fact, all guys) focused on running at different ages.  One of my friends repeatedly reminds me to run for joy.

I do--but sometimes it isn't so obvious.  In addition to spending a lot of the last year focused on running with others, I have also spent the last year focusing on running for a goal--the time I need to qualify to register for the Boston marathon.  Yes, I would find joy in qualifying.  But I think my focus would honestly be more on the sense of accomplishment.  The past year has been a year of following specific workouts at specific times with specific goals.  Precision--yes.  Accomplishment--yes.  Even, fun--yes.  Joy--not so much.

The most recent Saturday run was an example, however, of running for joy.  Yes, the person I was running with and I both had our watches with us.  But we didn't look at them much.  We mostly looked at them as a reminder of how far we had gone.  And every once in a while to check how fast we ran a particular mile.  But we didn't spend our time dwelling on our watches.  And I think the joy showed as we greeted other runners.

I have to say that is much easier to do when running with someone.  When running alone, I feel I have little else to focus on.

Would I ever run without a watch?  Not so likely as my watch also tells m how far I have gone and then feeds into a computer program that gives me useful data.

Do I plan to focus on my watch a lot less (which would also mean letting go of tempo runs for a while--a fact in which I do take much joy) and running with people a lot more?  I hope so.

I think that focusing less on time--particularly for very long races--and focusing more on the running with others--either in conversation to share the stories of our lives or in quiet to listen for the voice of God--will allow me to run for joy once again.  Then, when it comes time to really focus on timing again at some time in the future, I'll be refreshed and ready to run for goals for a while.  A whole year of running mostly for goals and not so much for joy has left me a little imbalanced.  And, as with so many other things in life, I am seeking balance looking ahead.  

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Sunday's Readings and Generosity

When Fr. Murphy gave the second homily that I saw him give on Sunday (this time aimed at Confirmation candidates and adults rather than at first through third graders) he focused on the first reading--the story of Abraham and Isaac, just as I had when I was reflecting on the readings.  He talked about how it would have been easier to discuss the transfiguration.  I'm not priest, but I'm not at all sure the transfiguration is any easier to figure out than the story of Abraham and Isaac.

Fr. Murphy didn't use my words, i.e. that Abraham was "all in," but his homily did reflect a similar notion.  Where his interpretation was a little different from mine was in what he asked next.  He pointed out that as a Catholic priest he had no idea what a parent-child relationship was like from the parent side.  He'd obviously experienced it from the child side and had observed it plenty of times from the parent side but had not (and would never) experience it from that side.

What he had thought about was "what might God be asking me to give up?"  Or, alternatively, "what is the one thing that if God said I had to sacrifice that I'd be very hard pressed to do?"  He also turned it into a positive when he pointed out that whatever we are asked to do God will infinitely outdo us in terms of his generosity and then he asked, "What is the generosity God is calling you to?"

So, for the parishioners, the key was weather there was some temptation we were feeling linked to but being asked to set aside or was there some generous activity we were being asked to start?  And not just any small activity--although small activities are not bad--but what big item?

It went together with his earlier talk about listening for the voice of God in a very nice way.  For Lent, I've been writing every day.  That helps me.  Maybe others find this interesting.  After Lent, I'll have to see what comes next.  I'd like to continue to find ways to link my running and my giving.  Not that other issues about family, work, and community are not important, but I feel that God has called me to the running/giving combination in a particular way.  I just have to continue to listen (particularly on those long runs by myself) for the Word.

Monday, March 5, 2012

Silence, Stillness (?), and the Voice of God

Yesterday, as predicted, I did get to hear two homilies about the Catholic readings.  Interestingly, they were not given by two different priests (as I'd anticipated) but by the same priest.  We had "learning masses" at two masses at our parish yesterday where the priest gave what he described as "director's commentary--like on a DVD" during mass explaining things that people do out of habit and may not realize exactly why they do.  Going to mass both times (once as a  Sunday school teacher with my 3rd graders--and also as a parent of my first grader--and once as a musician) was nice.  The homilies were interesting and contrasting.  I even complimented the priest afterwards and he commented that what he said to the Confirmation class and evening congregation was his more typical homily for that set of readings while his morning message had been aimed at the children from 1st-3rd grade.

Since I heard the morning homily first, I'll react to it first.  The priest encouraged the children--among other things--to be quiet and listen in silence and stillness for the voice of God.  Abraham heard the voice of God in the first reading.  And the apostles who went with Jesus heard the voice of God after the Transfiguration.  In fact, the priest commented on how Peter "could never shut up" and finally heard teh voice of God after he stopped talking about building tents and was quiet.

I thought about what the priest was saying.  I agreed with the silence part.  Some of the most special moments are when you are at peace enough to just enjoy a person's presence.  No need to converse constantly.  It is possible to just enjoy being.  That can happen as a couple--I can be with my wife and know that she cares about me and I about her as we just sit together and each take care of our respective tasks.  This can happen in a group--some of the most fun runs I've had are ones in which we carry on a conversation (and make it social as well as physical).  But some of the most magical runs I've had are runs where I and whoever I was running with--from one individual to an entire group--are doing just that.  Running.  Particularly if it is off the main roads.  Imagine running by a stream with little but the sound of the stream, the sound of birds in the trees, and the sound of feet hitting the ground in rhythm.  It can happen so many ways.  Silence is a very special thing.  And it is certainly one way to hear from God.

The stillness, I had more of a problem with.  Perhaps I am a closet ADHD.  (I've been in numerous discussions where it was proposed that many academic researchers are actually this way--wanting to go in many directions at once). But perhaps it is not that.  Perhaps it is just the enjoyment of being in motion and the belief that is what makes God happy.  (See my comments about Eric Liddell several days ago.)  Perhaps in addition to the movement example with my fellow runners that I mentioned above, I could also think of movement examples with my wife.  Hiking in the woods--occasionally.  Walking at the mall--as we did this past weekend.  We had good conversation.  The mall itself was quite crowded and certainly not silent like a nature trail in the running example.  But we didn't have to carry on the conversation the whole time.  And it was just so nice just being together and taking our time.

And, on the occasions when I am alone and running on a nature path--not so much running on the streets as then there is often way more noise and I don't feel safe just letting my brain ponder while I run--that is when I most often feel like I truly can be in touch with the voice of God.  It is when I can try to reach out and find how the voice of God is trying to comment on the rhythm--not of my running but--of my life.  Is the rhythm of all the things I am trying to do the right rhythm?  Does the rhythm including the frequency, intensity, and duration of my activities really reflect what God wants for me.  Is there something more God wants me to do or something God wants me to turn away from?  As someone who is constantly on the move, I suppose I am predisposed to think of God's message as having to do something with movement and rhythm.

So, my goal is not to contradict Fr. Murphy (and, yes, for those of us who grew up in my generation watching Little House, the guy was a real priest as opposed to the character paid my Merlin Olsen) but to offer just another way to think of the message--listen to God.  My interpretation is just to listen to God in any way I can.

Perhaps a runners' retreat would be a cool thing some day.  Rather than just a time when all the focus is on running, I could suggest a purposeful silent run just to see what it feels like and then to talk about what we heard, observed, or thought during the run.  

Sunday, March 4, 2012

Abraham and Isaac

Today's Old Testament reading in the Catholic church is the story of Abraham and Isaac.  Between that, and the Transfiguration in the Gospel reading there is a lot about the importance of sons today.  Something I can definitely relate to as I have three of them.  By tomorrow, for my Monday entry, I'm sure I will have some new perspective as I get to hear two different homilies today--one when I take my third grade Sunday School class to a learning mass and one when I play my electric bass in the band at the mass I regularly attend.

But as I try to think about the story of Abraham and Isaac and how it relates to my own spirituality, I think of how strong Abraham was to follow exactly what God asked him to do.  He was "all in".  He proclaimed his faith through his actions.  And, while God (fortunately) does not make it a habit of asking people to sacrifice their own offspring, the example of the complete trust that following God's word would be the right thing to do is quite an amazing example of faith for me to follow.

And, as an aside as I finish writing, Abraham's wife (Sarah who started out as Sarai) must also have been a woman of strength in her faith to accept that she would have a son in her old age and to change her name at the command of God.

Following God is never easy.  Balancing following God against other demands is never easy.  But the examples of strength I find in the Bible and in the present day are amazing and inspiring.

Saturday, March 3, 2012

The Final Tattoo Theme

The other day when I mentioned themes of the tatto, I mentioned (1) the endurance of St. Sebastian, (2) people helping people (with the example of St. Irene), (3) the timeless nature of the message (in an anachronistic more modern setting), and (4) with it set where my spirituality had really grown (Baltimore).  There was one theme that I left out but was reminded of the theme by a comment from my wife, a recent fundraiser having to do with cancer, the many students, colleagues, and advisees I have who are women, and a run this morning with a great running friend.  The theme of people helping people is one view of St. Irene helping St. Sebastian.  The other view is the importance of strong women.

My wife's comment--she realized that despite the numerous car accidents our family has had relatively recently each of us is still in one piece and no one was every really injured.  We should count ourselves lucky.  The emotional and spiritual strength that it takes to leave unfortunate events behind and focus on the positive is amazing.

The cancer fundraiser--I've done a bit of that myself over the past two years.  This was a different American Cancer Society program.  It reminded me of my mother and the fact that she is a cancer survivor for more than a decade now.

My colleagues and advisees--may women of intellectual strength.  Future movers and shakers as researchers in public health, teachers of public health topics, and advocates for those less fortunate.

My running friend--someone I had not run with since last October who was out for a while with a stress fracture.  As we ran 10 miles in an average of 7:34 pace while carrying on a conversation most of the way, it was clear that despite her injury she had not lost a stride since the last time we had run together.

And, of course, I could list ways in which each of the women (or groups of women) listed above are strong in the other aspects I listed, but the examples of emotional, health, intellectual, and physical strength illustrating the presence of strong women in my life were the easiest to give.  Including a strong woman figure in the tattoo will serve as a permanent reminder.  

Poclaiming 5 E's: Effort, Exercise, Economics, Energy, Evangelization

This was supposed to be the Friday entry but my body decided to doze off while getting my seven year old to sleep and did not get up in time to make the entry a Friday entry.  So, I'll have one very early morning Saturday entry and, I anticipate, a second Saturday entry later on.

In any case, whether I am as focused as I want to be or a pure dabbler, my body was tired because of making a lot of effort.  The first of the five E's of life that I am thinking about right now and that are listed in the title of this entry.  The five E's are all things that I value (and that I want to proclaim rather than mumble) and are all things that I have been blessed by God to be at least somewhat good at and to have the opportunity to enjoy.

Using a conceptual model from exercise (the second of my five E's and something I do quite a bit of--almost all in the form of running at the moment), effort can be described as a function of frequency (how often I do something), duration (how long I do something each time I do it), and intensity (how hard I work at doing something when I do it).  Running will be something for which I don't expect the frequency to change in the near future but for which I do expect the duration to change (no more marathon training for myself) and the intensity to change (maybe more intense shorter workouts to get ready for what I hope are some more intense and shorter races this year).  

Economics, the third of my five E's of life at the moment, is the root of my entire career in the school of public health as a health economist.  Economics is primarily about tradeoffs.  I teach people about tradeoffs, and I find myself making tradeoffs.  As I continue in my quest to figure out what I want to focus on (or proclaim rather than mumble), I have to figure out what things I want to decrease the frequency of (perhaps to zero) and what things I want to increase any aspect (frequency, intensity, and duration of).  And, along the way, do I want to do anything that tries to maintain a level of effort while trading off between a little less frequency or duration and a little more intensity.  This is a good description of the tradeoffs I'm pondering for exercise.

Energy--just a cute way to get the letter E in to focus on cooking--in other words controlling my energy intake so that I have enough energy to exercise and to put in the effort that is needed for work and my family while not gaining weight.  Again, all about tradeoffs.  And I certainly do enjoy sharing things about my cooking (or energy management) adventures.  Tonight was actually a great example when it came to cooking in which I faced a tradeoff of whether to go out (which we decided against as it would have involved taking two people who were already warm at home back out in the rain), getting pizza out (which we tried but our usual pizzeria was not answering the phone), or cooking (which we ended up doing having a nice dinner of sword fish steak accompanied by kim chi and seaweed salad and Italian rosemary bread).

Finally evangelization.  About the only time I feel like I literally do that is when I teach Sunday School at church or when I play in the worship band at church.  But I work a lot to think about my own spirituality and the gifts God has given me.  And I attempt to share my story of the importance of my spirituality and relationship with God by blogging.  I don't have a huge number of readers.  My readers can take it or leave it.  My readers certainly don't have to agree with all (or even anything) I write.  But if one reader finds one thing one time to brighten their day and then decides to think about their own spiritual issues a bit more, I feel that is a step in the right direction.  And my own tradoeff with respect to evangelization has been to do it more frequently during Lent.

Thursday, March 1, 2012

Continuing the Proclamation Theme: A Tattoo of a Martyr

I have made allusion to speaking to a tattoo artist on several blog entries recently.  Today, on a friend's Facebook page, I described a tattoo I have an appointment to get in April.  Since I put it on a friend's page (in response to a friend of a friend commenting that getting a tattoo would give my friend's group of friends something to discuss), I figured I might as well put it on my own page now.  That way, when I get it, I can focus on sharing the art.

Besides, since I have spent this week of Lent blogging about the proclamation theme, the tattoo that I am planning fits quite nicely with that.

The tattoo will be on my right outer calf.  Allows for being discrete at work while showing off when I run.  Still, the tattoo is body art forever.  It is a form of proclaiming and not mumbling.

It will be an anachronistic representation of St. Sebastian and St. Irene.  Early 20th century clothing and scenery including Baltimore cityscape.  Early 20th century book colors.

Why St. Sebastian?  Patron saint of athletes.

St. Sebastian's story (legend)?  Served in Roman army while helping Christians.  Survived attempted execution by archers (sign of his endurance).  Nursed back to health by St. Irene.  Clubbed to death after confronting the emperor.

Relevance to this week?  Martyrs don't mumble.  Martyrs proclaim and are "all in".

Why the other elements of the tattoo?  People helping each other in the hardest of times is one of the most beautiful things in the world.  The message of being "all in" for both Sebastian and Irene is timeless--thus the anachronistic setting and various early 20th cenury themes.  I've learned many lessons about being "all in" and enduring in Baltimore.

It is yet another way for me to bring my running and spiritual lives together in a representation of what is important in all aspects of my life.  Do things in a way that shows I am "all in" and all times in all things.