When I say we meet on the trail by the river, I mean that is where we arrive en masse. To suggest something akin to fellowship happens there, at the park, in the ink of early morning, is disingenuous. We are, however, like something of a congregation.
We arrive in our various modes of transport, laden with our own heavy burdens. They’re not on display; we keep those tucked firmly in our technical wicking gear. We are sick, we are tired, we are overworked, underpaid, getting divorced, losing a job. We are worried about parents and children and four legged creatures. We are bleary and weary and tense with the tumult of the real world. The one that awaits us.
But we suit up and light up and gear up. We lace up and we roll our shoulders and we go.
And here at the the church of running, where our cathedral is bedecked with spires of our city, busting like oil out of a patch of red clay, where refineries and manufactories strut and plume, we bring our offerings.
They are meager, but they are ours.
While we may congregate at the water fountain near the nicer public toilets, while we may engage in small talk and brief how are yous while we adjust our earbuds, we focus on that one thing. We anticipate the action. And while we may be a group, the action happens alone.
Our captain, and yes she is our Captain, has assigned distances and paces and warm ups and cool downs. Mine is mine. Yours is yours. We do not share, nor do we want to share. My pace, my distance, my workout, will get me where I want to go; I do not want to go where you are going.
And so we process, north toward the city. I imagine we look like communion processional, heads tucked against the wind, lugging our cares to the altar. We singularly and in a roughly assembled community, turn south lighter, faster, toward our own cars, our own little worlds.
When we are done, we mingle briefly. We have to shower, get to work, feed the kids, pay the bills. But we are lighter. We are awake. We are braced by the wind in our lungs, the coolness on our skin, the warmth of our muscles.
When I climb into my car, the cathedral lights have begun to light. Pointing eastward, the sky looks like a two-day bruise, yellowed at the edges and mellowing. I don’t know what others make of our goofy ritual, of our hackneyed worship. But I know what I bring. I know what I receive. I know church is all around me.