Community of Spirit

The trilling of birds fills the Sunday morning air, a gentle reminder that we once lived in a society scaled more for pause and reflection, rather than one constantly driven by the passing billow and grind of work-a-day commerce.

On any such Sunday morning across the country we seekers and sufferers alike gather by the tens of thousands, congregants all, and embark on a journey of spiritual awakening, discovery and self-fulfillment. We represent every race and religious denomination, every creed and every faith, and by our simple garb make it impossible to distinguish between the wealthy and the poor among us.  We, then, are America’s runners, observers who enter no church as such, rather attend what amount to services at speed at marathons and road races nationwide.

Ours is a movement now firmly within the American mainstream, though we only began in earnest in the 1970s. Then, a combination of age and cynicism began to erode once dewy ideals which were bent toward altering a society of convention waging an immoral war in a foreign land.  Back then, a few iconoclasts sought refuge from the collective entanglement, and began to run on a path of self-discovery and personal well-being.

Today, our discipline transcends all boundaries and conventions, and has swollen into the millions across the globe. But even as our new collective has clogged city streets  – and in doing so filled charity coffers – we have met resistance.  Resistance not for what we believe, i.e. the restorative and redemptive power of a distance run, for that is a universal set tied to men like Thoreau and Emerson.  Instead, the resistance has come due to that which we require to fulfill our quests.  For in our need for open roads on which to celebrate fitness and health, we have called upon the graces of other, more traditional congregants whose path to their own places of worship have been blocked in the process.

The scheduling of marathons on Sunday mornings has thus become a thorny issue throughout the country. It cropped up a few years ago in Los Angeles, California after the city’s 21st annual marathon in 2006.  The old L.A. course, like so many major marathons, wound through the city’s neighborhoods blocking streets, and at times disrupting church services, in L.A.’s case as many as 500 churches.   But in thinking about the churches / marathon dilemma it struck me how narrowly us-versus-them that argument had become.  Continue reading