Perhaps it’s the 11 kids or my own undisciplined personality, but I tend to fall asleep when I pray the Rosary in traditional positions. During adoration of the Blessed Sacrament, I am ashamed to admit, I find the prayer especially mesmerizing and struggle to recite five decades before the head nodding begins. However, while running in the woods, my soul soars as I stride along rugged cross-country trails. I have received both physical and spiritual consolations. Once, in His goodness, God enticed two deer to race across my path. He knew that Psalm 42, which begins, “As a hart longs for running streams, so my soul thirsts for you, O God…..” is my life’s prayer. What a consolation.
During the year of my beloved St. Paul, his words in 2 Timothy4:6-8 echoed in my soul as I ran along my chosen path: As for me, I am already being poured out as a libation, and the time of my departure has come. I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. From now on there is reserved for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, will give me on that day, and not only to me but also to all who have longed for his appearing.
God has whispered His wisdom to me while praying the Rosary and running over the years. Taking only my fingers and rectitude of intention along as prayer tools, I open my heart to receive His light. I feel like the disciples whom Jesus instructed to take nothing with them during their first mission. I, too, have only the Paraclete to unite me to heaven as my Nikes pound the earth. The totality of the running experience frees my soul to pray. Even distractions, such as airplane engines ripping the sky above, serve as a point of meditation for me. This is earth. There are no planes in heaven. The noise reminds me that I will not let Satan snatch the joy of my prayer-run from me. I then hear only the birds or the wind-tossed leaves. I’ve even heard the silence of a fawn nestling in moss. She echoed the silence of my soul at prayer.
The Joyful Mysteries seem to yield abundant fruit during my runs. On the Monday following the Notre Dame student body’s standing ovation of President Obama, Our Lady reminded me to rejoice in the midst of fear. God’s perfect will for Mary, and humanity, was announced and incarnated, in time, both 2000 years ago in Nazareth and two days or weeks or years ago in Indiana. Christ defeated death through his birth in a stable. My fast-beating heart gave birth again.
While leaping roots and mud puddles: expected stumbling blocks along my way, the Holy Spirit showed me that love and service of others requires sacrifice. The Visitation of Mary to Elizabeth was not without its trials either. Mary had to overcome her own exhaustion, nausea, and travel logistics to attend to Elizabeth’s needs. She persevered. While praying this second mystery of the Joyful Mysteries, I meditated upon what keeps me from serving others. Do I judge whether their needs are legitimate? Are they worthy of the service of a very busy woman? Can I even afford to make the meal or donate the diapers? “Why is my hardened heart leaving good undone”, I’ve contemplated while approaching a hill I’d rather walk than charge. Mary then energizes me not only to run up the hill, but to act in the service of others.
During one run several years ago, I had counted off the Joyful mysteries with each breath but without apparently receiving the Breath of Life in my prayers. Finally, as I began to pray the fifth Joyful Mystery, the Finding in the Temple, my heart began to pound with joyful understanding. Jesus’ words to his parents, “I must be about my father’s business” became my answer to those who had chastised me about yet another pregnancy with the following comment, “Whatever you’re trying to prove, you’ve already proven it. You don’t need any more children.” Peace caressed me and my tiny, unborn tenth child. Perhaps Jesus didn’t know why He was in the temple. He only knew that He “must be about my father’s business”. I, too, couldn’t explain why my husband and I were open to a large family. My reasons weren’t important. I knew, with every stride, that I was running the race for God. Only His perfect will mattered for me and my family. The Father wanted Grace in the temple of my body and I submitted, answering, “Yes, I will be about your business, Lord.” The supernatural gift of Understanding given to me four years ago continues to breath life into me while I run and pray. Effective exercise and true prayer continue energizing one long after the prayerful run has ended.
Often, running is my prayer. It’s my small way of returning thanks to God for allowing me to co-create eleven children with Him. I struggle to regain fitness postpartum in order to glorify God in my body. Also, in justice, my children and husband deserve a mother and wife who cares about her body and soul. They deserve an energetic and happy mom. Prayer and exercise produce that fruit. I believe God is using my family to evangelize the world to the truth and beauty of the human family and to the goodness of children. Therefore, in living my vocation I represent what a Holy Catholic Mother may resemble. I try to present to the world an attractive example of Christian life in everything I do, including care of my body. God willing, my runs are helping to forge my victor’s crown.
The prayer of running inspires me to “finish the race” when I feel exhausted both on and off the trail. Running the Rosary has taught me to persevere through the end despite the crosses of my vocation. Many times I have not wanted to begin a run. On those days, I am gentle with myself. I start slowly. I walk until my body remembers that I am a runner. Sometimes I’ll walk for a time and then recommence the run. My body deserves respect and recognition for what it has given the world: children. Training myself as a runner teaches me to nurture my soul too. As St. Frances de Sales wrote, “Hate your imperfections, then, because they are imperfections, but love them because they make you know your nothingness and give to you an opportunity to exercise yourself in virtue, and to God to show His mercy towards you.” Running and praying work together and teach me another lesson of St. Francis, “Courage! Let us rise above ourselves, for God will help us, and we shall advance.”
St. Francis must have been speaking to me, because some mornings I advance by leaping out of bed when the “alarm” of a child screeches. Therefore, my Morning Offering lays unsaid on my nightstand. I don’t despair of my slow prayer-start to the day. When I remember what I’ve forgotten, I return to my prayers. All is not lost. St. Paul tells us to persevere to the end. He doesn’t give us a time frame. Physical conditioning takes months and years to attain. Athletes continually train in order to improve. So, too, our souls require the humility of patient nurturing. St. Alphonsus Rodriguez wrote, “Let one say to himself in the morning, ‘This day I mean to perform my ordinary actions well.’ So, that becomes easy and tolerable, which might appear very difficult if it were taken in a general way, and with the thought that this effort was to be made for a lifetime. Meanwhile, by proceeding every day in this manner, little by little a good habit is formed…” Beginning to run again after each pregnancy has informed my prayer-life. My legs have run St. Alphonsus’ counsel on wooded trails while my soul, too, journeys along its path to heaven.
Regardless of one’s hobby, if it is of God, it can become a prayer. I have mulched my yard and meditated, cooked and contemplated, cross-stitched and beheld the cross. For one whose mind is set on things above, everything becomes an opportunity to contemplate the goodness of God and to glorify Him with your body. Ora et labora, indeed.