My thoughts on the afterlife, belief and other similar subjects have been expressed here previously and I don’t want to dwell on those specifically at this point, but I did give them a little more thought on my long trail runs I did last weekend, notably the one on Sunday, and I came to an interesting realization I want to share.
I was raised Catholic and did all the things little catholic kids do, like go to church every week, attend catholic school (sans-nuns however), do lots of sitting, standing, kneeling, etc., and basically go through all the rituals that were so constant at an early age that I though EVERYONE did those sorts of things. Of all those rituals, going to church on Sunday was the default. You just didn’t miss church…even if you were super tired, weren’t feeling well or so on. If you had something you couldn’t get out of on Sunday, you went to church on Saturday evening. It was an expected routine as is breathing air. So, after so much of that I’ve developed the basic understanding of the how’s and why’s of catholic worship, even though I broke from that a long time ago as I started to consider issues much more deeply and with a wider looking glass of perspective. Although I shed so many of those rituals that are catholic necessities, I seem to have held on to one I wasn’t aware of, the concept of worship.
I find myself running under the morning light most Sundays at the time most of the city is either sleeping off their Saturday nights or heading to church in their Sunday best, and I take huge sighs (or shortened breaths) of relief that I’m not doing either. I really hated going to church. It was boring, cut into my non-school free time and repeated its remedial moral stories a million times over, which made me question how people actually stick through that their whole lives. So, when I’m out running every Sunday I both appreciate NOT being stuck in church, but also finding a commonality between those who are inside worshiping while I’m doing something similar in my own way.
On my Sunday run through the woods last weekend I felt the same connection to worship again, but not in a “give thanks” sort of way, just a “being a part of” sort of way. Let me explain.
The narrative I was taught to accept growing up is that a being (wow, he looks JUST LIKE US…what a coincidence!) created the world and in effect SELECTED us individually to exist upon the world throughout the span of time. Every single one of us. The theories always skirted the boundaries of pre-destination, but never went so far as to persuade people to not even try. Still, the “miracle” was that god created the world and us, and our life wavers between living it in appreciation and one huge aptitude test where if you fail you burn in hell fires forever. Pretty, no? And people generally fall to one side of that divide more than the other.
Although I no longer accept, and barely understand, the aptitude test of life side of things, I DO understand the appreciation side of the divide, and on my run last Sunday I understood the commonality I still hold with believers. See, worship is basically their way of saying,
“Holy shit! (pun intended) Life is frickin’ unimaginably crazy! I can’t believe it exists and we get to do this and you picked ME to be a part of it! That’s insane! Thanks God dude!! You’re the bomb!”
And that I get. Life IS insane and the fact that “it” (all of us and everything, humans and non-humans, plants, air, chemical reactions, microscopic bugs, atmosphere, energy, extinct creatures, evolving species, black holes, expanding universes, etc.) actually exists and continues to develop, is abs0lutely mind-boggling. And to think that OUR planet and OUR existence is made possible by the most perfect storm of location and chance, well, I can’t even pretend to put that into words.
So I get worship. I get the feeling of stunned awesomeness that compels people to give thanks…to something. Their narrative basically has taken the amazingness of our existence and attached a human being to its origins, which in turn gives them a point of worship. It gives them something to define and thank and, in my mind, basically acknowledge our existence.
And that’s what I do when I run, sort of.
I don’t CONSCIOUSLY get up Sunday morning and think to myself,
“It’s Sunday! Life is the most amazing development of chance ever! I need to engage in an act of worship with the entity itself, that is me, the ground, the air, the bugs I’m about to swallow, and so on! It is time to run in an expression of gratitude and worship!”
No…that’s not it. But that doesn’t mean it’s not what happens.
When I’m running through the woods, surrounded by hundreds and thousands of creatures (though I can only hear a handful of them, and see almost none) , breathing at my maximum capability, my legs on fire from a long, gradual climb, breaking my muscles down with each impact, covering ground that seems absurd in rested states, and generally just expelling every bit of energy from my body I’ve stored up to that point….I feel as spiritual as I ever get. I don’t feel like an intruder in the world, navigating the landscape of abstract moralism, forming even more abstract political theories, colliding with rigid, man-made environments, fighting off the stresses of a system imposed upon me, but rather a COMPLETLEY INTEGRAL part of existence itself.
When I am running, I am nothing but a physical body doing what a physical body does, expending energy. I am doing what everything else does around me, utilizing our physical bodies to act out the give and take of the great circumstance we call existence.
And so in that moment I feel that commonality with the worshipers (not the test takers), who are saying, “Hell yeah! This is nuts! Thanks god dude for making this happen!”, while I’m saying, “Hell yeah! This is nuts! Im’a go be a PART of this as much as possible! I’m not going to sit at home in front of the computer wasting away…I’m gonna go run!!”
It’s an awesome feeling and one I’ve never experienced greater elsewhere. So hey, you worshipers go do your thing. Worship away, give thanks, sit in church and sing and chant and whip yourselves and whatever else you do…I’ll be out in the woods, just being alive. One last thing….If that story of the big dude in the sky were true, I bet he’d be pretty psyched if instead of constantly thanking it for making life, the churches emptied and everyone instead went out for a run, played a game of soccer or threw a dance party and actually LIVED life.
But hey, whatever makes you happy and content in this existence of improbable chance. My worship is running.