while you run (or walk)
I’m training for my first half marathon. I love being out on Vancouver’s seawall and am grateful to be living in a part of Canada that isn’t buried in snow half the year. And I’m finding that I have a growing desire to be attentive to God as I run.
To pray for our city is to invite God to shape our seeing, our heart and our attitude. It is to begin to take a posture that says, “Whatever happens in the places where I live and work matters to me because it matters to the God who is making everything new.”
For a long time, my default running route took me along the seawall. It’s convenient, beautiful and there are no traffic lights to break my stride.
One day, I headed in the opposite direction. No particular reason, I just wanted a change of scenery. As I passed the homes of some people in our community, I felt compelled to pray for one person in particular. Later that day, I found out he was going through a rough time. I took the Spirit’s prompting as a sign that God was thinking of him.
I decided to take that route once a week and dedicate that time to prayer for the neighbourhood.
That little change in direction on the seawall is becoming a metaphor for a new course, a new direction. I’m working on the following ways to pray with my eyes open while I run.
Choose a centring or anchoring prayer.
Select a short, memorable phrase to come back to when you’re becoming distracted – which, by the way, is normal and inevitable. You could also try a simple phrase from the Psalms, like “Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good. His love endures forever” (Psalm 136:1). Or “Taste and see that the Lord is good” (Psalm 34:8). Or a phrase from the Lord’s Prayer. I often use the Kyrie: “Lord have mercy, Christ have mercy, Lord have mercy.” When you notice your mind wandering as you pray, come back to the “true north” with your chosen phrase.
Something that has stuck with you from your weekly church gathering, small group or your own personal reading can be spoken as a blessing or plea for the neighbourhood. This morning, I prayed, “This is my Son, marked by my love, focus of all my delight” (2 Peter 1:17, The Message). What the Father spoke over the Son, he also speaks over us: you, I and our neighbourhoods are deeply loved.
Pray your music.
I use a custom running playlist of songs that move me in body, mind, heart and imagination. When a tune by Shad comes up, I pray into the issues of justice, race relations and culture renewal he often addresses in his songs. One morning, as Peter Gabriel’s “Big Time” began to play, I prayed the irony and the scandal of the good news: true winning comes through losing, not by achievement or success.
Pray your geography.
Your route may take you past parks, schools, residential neighbourhoods, coffee shops, entertainment venues and pubs. Pray “Your kingdom come” over the places you pass. When you run by favourite restaurants, pray for their chefs, owners and servers; as you pass schools, pray for the students, teachers and administrators.
Pray for people.
As you pass by and notice others, smile, say good morning, offer a high-five. Pray for the person’s well-being, relationships, family, workplace and hopes and dreams. Pray for commuters in cars and on transit.
Pray for yourself.
As you run, name your anxieties, fears, worries, longings, your unfinished-ness, for situations where you’re looking for resolution or renewal. Offer yourself as you are and ask God to let his light shine in and through your life.
Thank God for the beauty of your city and neighbourhood.
People ask how my running is going. Right now, it’s better than ever: I want to run more – further and faster. And that discipline spills over into other areas of life: the more I pray, the more I want to pray.
What about you? How do you practise being attentive to God as you walk or run?
—Nelson Boschman, pastor of Artisan Church, Vancouver, wrote this piece for his church community. In process of discerning a vision for a new neighbourhood parish in East Vancouver, members participated in a season of focused prayer – one hour a week – individually or in groups for the existing and new church expressions.