The Spiritual Practice of Running around the Lake (and listening to The Wailin’ Jennys)
Last year, I decided that I will run around Lake Joy five-thousand times before I die.
Tina and I live at Lake Joy in rural Washington State in a big white house I have owned for ten years. It is poised on a beautiful sloping acre on the lake with a view of the Cascade Mountains and a grand spacious yard. It is a long drive to anything, though, so I have considered selling it and moving into town off and on. One of those times, I was lying on the front lawn waiting for a contractor to finish an estimate for some repairs. It was a sunny Spring day and I asked God what to do about the house and the drive and everything. The impression that came back to me: “This is holy.” It might have been the warm sun on the grass and the blossoming plum trees up at the road that spoke those words to me, but I decided that it was true. It is holy. And if it’s holy, I should keep it and let its holiness have its way with me and with those I love. Tina and I were married the next summer, and now it is our holy place together.
The act of staying, if the Benedictines are right, is also holy. I have a beautiful little hand-painted children’s’ book called The Gift of St. Benedict, and one of the ten values author Verna Holyhead presents is Stability. Listen to her words and let them sink in: “The most important aspect of this promise is always the deeper stability of heart, the commitment to a continuing search for God in a particular way of life, and a readiness to sink one’s personal roots deep into a community, standing firm with its members in the concrete realities of everyday life.”
This has not been my reflex.
The big colonial at Lake Joy is the eighth home I have owned. It is easy for me to get antsy and to think a move or a change will solve some problem or another—a premise that rarely proves true. If you are as squirrelly as I am in this regard, the Benedictine discipline of stability doesn’t come easy. That is why the commitment to running around Lake Joy came as such an epiphany. It is a convergence practice for me.
You see, Tina is more than a tiny bit younger than I am. When we were dating she used to say to me, “Just don’t die”! Now I am not that old, but I do want to live long enough to experience forty years or more loving and being in life with her.
The 2.2-mile run around our lake makes a great daily 4K, so a commitment to lapping it regularly means a commitment to a good workout (I’ve decided to give myself credit for walking, bicycling, and swimming it as well). The number five-thousand means that I have to do it regularly, I have to stay in shape, I have to live a long time, and I have to stay at Lake Joy. If I am active every other day, it will take me thirty years! This is what I mean by a “convergence” practice. It wraps several of my most important values and aspirations up in one spiritual discipline. As a bonus, it even creates space for me to pray, reflect, and worship my Creator.
Lest I mislead you, I should confess that out of my goal of 5,000 laps, I have yet to hit 100! A new job with a long commute and the Seattle winter slog distracted me for a time. This morning, though, the third day of Spring, Tina nudged me out of bed, I put on my running clothes, put Alaska the dog on the leash, put my earphones in, and headed out into the dark in a light rain to the magical blending voices of The Wailin’ Jennys playing on my iPhone. I was tempted to turn back about a third of the way around, but I looked at my phone and saw that I had time to complete my course, so I persisted. The voices in my earphones sang:
“Open wide your wounded heart;
It’s a funny place to start;
In the light of the sun;
We are found, we are undone.”
“All the seeds beneath the snow;
Start to grow, start to grow;
All the seeds beneath the snow;
Say hello, say hello;
All the seeds that lie below, the ones we sow…”
The sky grew lighter as the sun began to rise above the lake. The endorphins began to kick in bringing lightness to my heart. Alaska spotted two little cotton-tailed bunnies who scurried quickly away as she hurried to the end of the leash in pursuit. I heard the singing of birds welcoming the morning to Lake Joy. I noticed the buds had begun to burst forth from the limbs of the plum trees that were in full bloom that day it came to me that our place was holy. And it was holy again this morning.
I was looking at my Bible a little later and I came across the words, “…that you may live long in the land the Lord your God is giving you. That is the beauty of stability. It helps us to stay around long enough to receive the gift of the land that God is giving us. If we scurry off too quickly—like those frightened bunnies into the bushes—we risk missing or diminishing the blessing God has for those who stay.
Verna Holyhead and Lynn Muir (Illustrator), The Gift of St. Benedict. Notre Dame: Ave Maria Press. 2002. P. 8.
The Wailin’ Jennys, “All the Stars,” on Bright Morning Stars. Red House Records. 2011.