A Theology of Running: Prolegomena

by | Dec 27, 2019 | Theology of Running | 2 comments

Introduction

It was Christmas morning—four o’clock Christmas morning. I woke up, checked the temperature outside, and dressed accordingly for a run. With the temperature in the upper thirties, all you need is shorts, long sleeves, and gloves. My hands seem to get cold easily. I did a few quick stretches and took off up the road before making a left turn. After another mile or so, a second left turn took me past a gas station. A local news anchor stood in the parking lot, speaking in front of a camera. The thought of running through the parking lot to try and make it on TV crossed my mind. I decided against it. Now I was heading north on a major road I would normally hesitate to run on because of heavy traffic. But with it being Christmas morning, the conditions were right. It would be relatively safe.

In my experience, the two best mornings of the year to run on are Christmas and Thanksgiving. Everything outside seems so quiet. There’s hardly any traffic. That’s why I always try to get outside as early in the morning as possible anyways. Plus, I really enjoy running in the dark for some reason. This Christmas morning run was a good run. And it was dark. When cars did pass me, I could see my breath because of their headlights as I pushed to run as fast as I could for the distance I wanted to cover. Another left turn at around the seven-mile mark and I tried to spot Christmas lights through a residential area. Another left turn took me past farmland until I reached a historic mill just before my first right turn. The water splashing over the dam made a soothing sound. Up hills and down hills. My legs were starting to get tired as the miles accumulated. After another mile or so, I could see the reflection from lights blinking on a stop sign. The stop sign is fairly new and they want people to notice it. The stop sign was a reminder that only a few more miles remained until I would be home. My desire isn’t for the run to be over. Why do it if you don’t enjoy it? I crossed a bridge over a still lake, took one last left turn beside two silos, one with a precarious lean to it. And it was the final mile and a half stretch down more hills and up more hills until I was home. I pushed the button to stop my watch, leaned on the back of my car to catch my breath, walked around outside, stretched a bit, and went inside. For me, a fifteen-mile run was a wonderful way to begin a merry Christmas.  

That’s my story. So why talk about running on a theology blog? Does running have anything to do with theology? Sure. Although considering a theology of running might be up there with a theology of sleep. It’s not a weighty topic in anyone’s mind, and there has been very little written or preached on the subject. What questions would even be worth considering at the intersection of running and theology? That’s what this post aims to introduce. As a prolegomena, these are some preliminary remarks to orient you to what I have in mind for this series. Here are some topics to address in future posts. 

God’s Providence and Creation  

Why did I enjoy this Christmas morning run so much? Why was I able to do this? This was a demonstration of God’s grace. I was able to enjoy a physical activity in the world God created. 

Man’s Pride and Humility

Why did I tell you how far I ran? Why didn’t I tell you my time or pace? Should I share my run results on social media? It’s certainly possible a runner would want to impress others with their accomplishments. But there are other opportunities in running to be prideful. I’ll explore these further.  

Balanced Christian Living and the Danger of Idolatry

Like any hobby or interest, it’s possible to pour too much time and energy into one pursuit at the expense of others. How does your running affect others in your life? Is it selfish to expend all your energy and have nothing left for your family, employer, or your God? Are you taking too much time away that should be invested at home, work, and church? These are some good questions to explore. 

Conclusion

These theological topics seem worthy of consideration. There’s more that can be said about running besides the running metaphors and similes found in Scripture. I’ve listed a few topics to expand on in the future. What else could be addressed when it comes to running and theology? Share in the comments or contact me to let me know!


Brent Niedergall

Pastor, Grammarian, Runner

Brent Niedergall, MDiv, is Associate Pastor at Victory Baptist Church in Port Coquitlam, British Columbia. He’s gone to war in Afghanistan, felled towering trees, and parsed Greek verbs.

2 Comments

  1. Patrick

    Great things to ponder! I hope that you’d feel encouraged to write further on the subject.

    I have also stopped and thought about the parallels I’ve experienced with running/my faith life. There’s discipline, there’s the “otherness” from our culture at large, there’s the growth and the discovery of the world and yourself and so much more.

    Practically I’ve been available to help my community when running a few times. In what seems to be a brief moment I can lend a helping hand when folk moving in or out of an apartment, assist with yard work, or help stop traffic so someone can safely back into a driveway. They’re helped, and I get a small break. Win-win all around!

    More personally, I feel like the act of running is a way for me to get away from life and reflect. It’s almost fasting-esque. The body is denied and it reminds me to lean on the Lord. I pray a lot throughout my run. One, I’m not a great runner but I can push myself for a long time. Two, I see myself as competent in many things – THIS is a huge humbling act that shrinks my head and reminds me every step of the way that I cannot rely on myself entirely. Three, with no distractions the meditative rhythm of running frees my mind to talk with God and release tension. I’m curious if any of the resonates with you?

    I believe there is much to be understood/gained from running. If my points don’t resonate (or if they do) I’d love to hear it!

    ~Patrick

    • Brent Niedergall

      Thanks for the encouraging words, Patrick. I started writing the next post in the series this morning. It sounds like your a running superhero. Glad to hear you’ve been able to help others. Maybe it’s because I’m usually running in the dark, so I don’t often get those kinds of opportunities.

      With running, your comment on dependency resonates. I pray that I make it home and ask God to sustain me. Plus, I’m thankful the Lord has given me running to enjoy. I’ve found it difficult to pray at length while running. I tend to find myself saying short prayers as I think of people and things to bring before the Lord.

      I hope to have the second part of this series out soon. Thanks for sharing!

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