I recently began to read a book on running that was given to me by a friend at Christmas.
For better or worse, running has been an activity that I have pursued fairly passionately for over 40 years, beginning when the Converse All Stars my daughters now wear as a fashion statement were the basic running shoe of choice. Mercifully, my high school coach soon pointed me to a pair of Adidas that had recently hit the market and my case of shin splints was quickly healed.
Unfortunately, I’ve learned that the word “injury,” and the phrase “quickly healed,” don’t go together as well when one passes the age of fifty, regardless of the fancy new footwear one might try. So, I was interested to read the following assessment, by the author of my Christmas present — a fellow by the name of Danny Dreyer — in the introduction to his book “ChiRunning.”
Dreyer’s opening statement, directed to the estimated 65 percent of runners who get at least one injury per year that interrupts their training, is this: “Running does not hurt your body. It’s the way you run that does the damage and causes pain.”
It is not my intention to bore you with those details — especially those of you who believe that runners are basically nutty to begin with. But I do want to share that as I mused upon these various details of proper alignment, it occurred to me that having a proper alignment is critical, not only to run well but to live well. And to live well, we must focus not only on our physical, but also our spiritual, alignment.
What does healthy spiritual alignment look like? Dreyer, in his subtitle, calls his method for running well “a revolutionary approach.”
Over the years, I’ve learned that the most revolutionary approach to living well has been brought to us by a fellow named Jesus. This master summed up his approach with these very aligning words: “repent” and “follow me.” We find them spoken at the very beginning of his public ministry (e.g., Mark 1:15, 17). Since we all need to live well, allow me to put a little flesh on these life-giving words.
I appreciate the way author Dallas Willard describes what it means to repent. He says that it is an opportunity for us to reconsider.
“(Repentance) is a call for us to reconsider how we have been approaching our life, in light of the fact that we now, in the presence of Jesus, have the option of living within the surrounding movements of God’s eternal purposes (Divine Conspiracy, p. 16),” he writes.
Sounds like good alignment language.
Jesus declares that, if we use his life to align our own, then we will begin to move toward living well, and even joyfully. As author and pastor Timothy Keller puts it ion “The Reason for God,” “Jesus is the only Lord who, if you receive him, will fulfill you completely, and, if you fail him, will forgive you eternally.”
This does not mean that we will live lives that are absolutely free from pain and suffering. To use the logic of Dreyer, it’s not living that causes problems; it’s the way we live that can cause damage and pain. The fact of the matter is that we live in the midst of a mis-aligned world that hurts us all.
We, too, from time to time, will fall out of alignment and hurt ourselves. However, aligning our life with the life of Jesus, the one who conquered death, means that pain and suffering will not have the final word.
So, if you’d rather not run, or think about how your neck and spine and pelvis and knee and foot should all line up and work together, but prefer to swim or dance or just sit in the hot tub instead, that’s all good. But I would encourage you to give some thought to how you are aligning your life.
What is directing and connecting your mind and heart and soul and strength? Are you living in alignment with the one who has given you the gift of life and breath? Are you lined up with the one who can bring you both fulfillment and forgiveness?
Jesus invites you to come and take a look at the revolutionary and aligning way of living and loving that he came to reveal.
The Rev. Timothy Ziegenhals is pastor of the First Congregational Church of Essex.