My run began on a crisp, early winter morning. The paved path that led into Almaden Quicksilver Park wound slightly uphill until I hit the dirt and made a sharp left onto a steep, narrow, oak-tree-shaded single-track headed away from the city.
It was my Sabbath. A day set aside for God. A day to nourish my embodied soul. And yes, I went for a run.
Image by Bob Jagendorf
Years ago, burnt out from a prayer life defined by lists, I yearned for more of God. I had given my life to Jesus to be with him—not lecture him about what I needed and what I thought everyone else needed. Knowing this, God gave me the most beautiful gift: contemplative prayer.
Libraries of definitions for contemplative prayer exist. Many are confusing. For me, it meant sitting silently for thirty minutes twice a day, allowing God to shape me. My job was to get out of the way and let God be God—let my thoughts pass, let my body’s itches go unscratched… Basically, as best as I could, do nothing for sixty minutes a day.
My discovery: God showed up. Seriously.
Most of life is experienced as separation from God. He is different than me. And He is. But in the silent nothing of contemplative prayer the thin veil between God and myself fell to the floor. All of creation became one with and in God. Pretty cool stuff.
So, as I was saying, I went for a run. I was ten minutes into an hour-long foothill run. I’d hardly begun and I already wanted to walk. To quit. To be done. To go back to bed. My legs hurt. My breathing was labored. It sucked.
Most days, I just take a rest when I am spent. Enjoy the view, you know. It’s not like I am training for a race. But on this day, for no reason in particular, deep within me, I experienced a previously unknown resolve to embrace the pain. I continued hurting for one hundred yards.
And then something changed. The difference between the path and my feet became blurry. Not in the “oh no, I’m going to faint” kind of way, followed by my rolling down the hill like a lawn chair out of a speeding truck down the I-5… No, not at all. The path and my feet, the hill and my body, the pain and pleasure all merged into a single reality. All of creation was swept up into the presence and pleasure of God.
The next forty-five minutes, while running, I had one of the more profound, contemplative, unitive, and wonderful God-experiences of my life. As a mystical experience, it’s hard to explain with any real clarity. But, trust me, it was pretty cool.
The run ended, of course. And as you might expect, no run since has quite measured up. That run was exceptional.
And yet, since then, after every run, I still find myself closer to Jesus, more free and less controlling. I find myself, in many ways, cleansed and purged—not just physically but also emotionally and spiritually.
Tomorrow I will return to Almaden Quicksilver Park for my Sabbath run. I don’t know what to expect. I can’t control when God shows up. But I do hope to encounter God—to run with the Creator, to use the body He gave me, to carry the Holy Spirit living within my physical body through the hills, like a carriage, on another wonderful adventure.
Tony Traback is a pastor of Spiritual Formation at The River Church Community in San Jose. He journeys with people in the church (and outside of it), as they wrestle with life’s more difficult questions, as they struggle to discern life’s meaning and as they attempt to be a kind and compassionate presence in our world. He is passionate about living as a creature and discerning his relationship with the earth and The Creator—which involves a wide range of hobbies and practices, from hunting, gardening and cooking to silence and contemplative prayer.
Have you ever experienced a profound and unitive God-experience? What does a nurturing prayer life look like for you?