Contemplation is like … … the Long Run to a Marathoner
For the Desert Father Anthony , we are “Athlete’s of God .” Any spiritual practice that we engage will require an adequate amount of training. Contemplation is perhaps one that for many will require more training than others. Times of training to wear down the “monkeys” and other distractive voices that nag for our attention.
It struck me this morning, as I was about three-miles into my Long Run when the thought occurred to me that contemplation is in many regards, very similar to the training component of the Long Run for a marathoner.
For someone aspiring to run a marathon (26.2 miles), there are several significant elements that must be integrated into the training program, at least if the runner hopes to finish the race well. Some of these key components are Speed Work, Fartlek , Tempo Runs, Lactic Threshold Runs, Rest, Recovery Runs and the Long Run. Each of these must be incorporated at just the right place, for just the right distance, at just the right amount of speed, pace and intensity. If any of these elements is off or missing, one’s race time will be influenced significantly. And, this is just the running aspect of training, nothing has been said of diet, sleep and the mental training.
One starts training for a Long Run by running a short run, which at the time probably feels like a long run. I can remember my first Long Run when I began seriously training back in May for a marathon this October. It was a Wednesday night about 11:00pm and I ran six miles. My heart was pounding, my legs were aching, my hip flexors were twitching, it was all I could do.
Sounds a lot like what happens to many people the first time they give Contemplative Prayer a test run, especially the centering and silence parts. A short span of time seems like eternity. Our minds race from one thing to the next, one task to another, while all our monkeys are going bananas. Yet, as we start with what we can do, our capacity begins to increase, our contemplative muscles begin to strengthen and focus becomes second nature.
You can’t rush into a Long Run , nor can you force the results, you can only gradually add distance to what was done the week before. You can’t sprint it, the secret is in the long, slower, yet consistent pace. Likewise, you can’t rush into Contemplative prayer, nor can you force the results, rather you position yourself before God, with God. And, as in the Long Run , intimacy is cultivated and insight emerges within
For me the practice of Contemplation, particularly Lectio Divina types of meditation produce a similar effect as the Long Run . The Long Run of Contemplation : <ul><ul><ul><li>Develops a greater sense of perspective of the big picture in the race called life. </li></ul></ul></ul><ul><ul><ul><li>Gradually brings reformation to the undercurrents of innate responses and reflexes. </li></ul></ul></ul><ul><ul><ul><li>Strengthens areas of my character, thus improving my demonstrations of patience and endurance. </li></ul></ul></ul><ul><ul><ul><li>Teaches the body about restraint, focus and the power of clarity. </li></ul></ul></ul><ul><ul><ul><li>Develops your mental acuteness and the ability to preserver under discouragement and the mental games of the enemy. </li></ul></ul></ul><ul><ul><ul><li>There are a number of others, as well as how some of the other Streams correspond to some of the other key training components, but perhaps another time… </li></ul></ul></ul>
Today, in my training it was Long Run day. In fact, the longest thus far. I ran twenty-miles. The interesting thing is my heart wasn’t pounding anywhere near as hard as it was that Wednesday night back in May, my hip flexors were going crazy, my mind wasn’t trying to talk me into stopping they run by laying down in the road as if I were dieing, and my legs, we’ll honestly during my twentieth-mile they were pretty tuckered out. I guess there is always an element of stretching when we go beyond where we’ve gone before.