After my third pregnancy—and despite a lifetime of avoiding every form of athletics—I decided to take up running. In those middling years of my 30s, I found myself wading through a deep identity crisis, unsure of my purpose and place, apart from the quotidian tasks of laundry and diaper changes. I spent my days in the weeds of raising small children and often found myself at night sitting in the tub with the water flowing full force, in an effort to drown out my crying.
I often found myself at night sitting in the tub with the water flowing full force, in an effort to drown out my crying.
My relationship with prayer had grown increasingly difficult—it was a time of silence and waiting and wilderness. Because my spirit remained unsettled and my brain continued to produce the same negative thoughts on repeat, I decided to turn my attention to my long-neglected body. I needed to lose a few pounds and, like many people, had an unused treadmill sitting under a stack of boxes and discarded tchotchkes in the basement. One afternoon, on a whim, I moved the boxes off the treadmill to a cloud of dust and attempted to run for the first time in decades. It was not glorious or triumphant. It was sweaty and chest-heaving and ugly. It didn’t feel life-changing.
Two days later, I attempted the treadmill again. And once more the following week. Over time, I developed a daily running habit, pounding away in the basement while the kids slept or watched TV. As my body moved, I found my spirit growing quiet, my mind stilled from its relentless questions about the future and my place in it. In time, I began to attempt longer runs beyond the confines of my house. I walked out of my front door and discovered that a stretch of tree-lined streets transformed into a cathedral when I passed beneath the branches. Accompanied by birdsong or the soft patter of rain on leaves, I began to feel a small measure of God’s delight as I ran. The slap-slap of shoes on pavement matched the rhythm of prayer. I learned how to pray all over again with my own aching feet.
When my mind couldn’t find the words, my body seemed to understand at a cellular level what my spirit needed. As I ran, I remembered the glory with which God created me, and it felt like an embodied prayer to move my muscles, ligaments, and bones in a way that honored Him. On my most strenuous long runs, I found both the pain and pleasure of it connected me to God in a way I hadn’t experienced through mind or spirit alone.
Author and pastor David Taylor says, “The physical world becomes a tutor for our physical bodies. Our bodies become a grammar for us to understand what it means to be faithful in the world.” If grammar is the way in which language forms sentences and sentences form stories, then the grammar of the body tells the story of God working in and through us. Our frames speak to a Creator who used hands and breath to form every angle and curve out of dust. The grammar of the body is a language unto itself, and it is a language many of us do not speak. Our bodies are often an afterthought, a temple to forgetfulness. We ignore them, sedate them, overindulge them, or deny them the goodness of rest and sound sleep. It’s no surprise the flesh forgets how to speak the language of faith. As a runner, I’ve found that through my interaction with the created world, I learn how to speak what is good and pure and holy and true about faith. The inhalation of my lungs tells the story of mankind’s creation. As blood pulses through my heart’s chambers, oxygenated muscles flex with praise. As organs quicken to silent rhythms and my brain calculates effort, exertion, and strain, I tell the story of a God who sustains. My body prays a psalm of thanks.
Every part of our humanity is meant for worship. I can offer Christ my skin and bones, soul and spirit because He knows what it is to become an embodied creature. On earth, He walked and ate, carved and whittled, climbed and ran. He knows the singular sacrifice of His own blood and bone is redemption for all of creation—our flesh is redeemed through the death of His flesh. The body speaks a language Jesus understands, and if I listen, my body may speak the same.