Monday, 17 June 2013
Running through the Rapeseed Field
I started running just after Easter. Not Forrest Gump style, accumulating intrigued followers as I single-mindedly and inexplicably crossed inspirational landscapes, although that would make for a better story. No, I just went for what a friend of mine calls 'a trot,' and then did it again the next day, and then again a few days later, and so on. To start with, I ran around the edges of a rapeseed field just behind my house; someone from my church had told me about a good path that led right round the large field.
In fact, that's what I did for the first week or so, as my legs got used to the unfamiliar sensation of rapid movement and as my stamina caught up with my resolve. My plan, at that stage, was that when I was a bit less unfit, I'd simply go round the field twice, and then, as time went on, three or four times. After all, the field has a convenient path around the edges, has a pleasing mixture of flat and gradients, and is quite nice.
Then, one morning, as I was trotting along, I noticed two other runners, coming into the rapeseed field, from the opposite direction to my house. My curiosity was piqued. Where had they come from? And what was it like there? So the following day, rather than going around the rapeseed field twice, I trotted off in that direction, and found that my field, as I had come to think of it, led on to another field, which led into a wooded area, which opened out briefly before coming to a crossroads, one way
hilly and open, the other flatter and sheltered by woodland.
By this point I had begun to realise that I was, in fact, surrounded by some beautiful countryside, living as I do on the edge of a village, and that there was vastly more beautiful countryside around me than there was me to discover it. But I'd make a start.
My adventures in public footpaths have got me thinking about living the Christian faith. The metaphor of life as a race to be run is used in the New Testament by Paul and the writer of the letter to the Hebrews, although it's likely that the kind of run route that these first-century Greco-Romans had in mind was more akin to a marathon whose route is already marked out and lined by cheering spectators than my rural wanderings.
That disclaimer notwithstanding, it struck me that when we start out on our journeys of faith, wherever and however those journeys begin, our faith is defined within particular perimeters, by particular experiences, encounters, language and thoughts which inspire us and get us going on our journey. Once we've got a bit of spiritual stamina built up - once we've started to learn to pray, and to grapple with the Bible and to relate to the Christian traditions - we can either do what I thought I'd do, keep going around that same field again and again, or start to explore where else that field might take us.
Now this isn't to say that where we start from in our Christian faith is bad, and we need to move away from it deliberately. Where else can we start? That'd be as silly as saying that starting out on a run route from my house is a bad thing (although we might as well be honest and say that some starting-places are more conducive to a good run than others). I'm very fond of my field, although it's impossible to run around now, so high has the rapeseed grown. It just seems rather self-limiting to stick to one field when there's a whole world of fields to be discovered, when there is vastly more countryside to explore than there is me to explore it.
Nor is it to say that to be mature, faith must wander off into places which might turn out to be spiritually dangerous; after all, one argument for sticking with the rapeseed field is that it's safe, and known. But what I've found with my explorations of the Hertfordshire countryside is that venturing out of known places, along new paths, requires not less awareness of distance, proximity and sign-posts, but more; not less discernment of relative danger or challenge in new routes, but more. I've found myself discussing public footpaths and poring over Ordinance Survey maps since I ran out of the rapeseed field; I've gathered knowledge, advice and even some basic map-reading skill as I've planned where my runs will take me. One fear of leaving the landscape in which one started one's spiritual journey is that confidence will be lost, faith will be lost, discernment will be lost. But it's quite the opposite.
Discovering the Christian tradition, running new routes and going along unexplored pathways of prayer and thought, doesn't mean blithely accepting everything and anything, it means opening yourself up to new horizons and discerning, through careful attentiveness to the spiritual landscape, which way will take you further into the God of whom there is infinitely more than there is you to discover Him. But let's make a start.