Running is probably the most accessible sport worldwide. From a carefree jog in the park to the peak of athletic competition, people from every continent on the globe dedicate themselves to this activity. At the far end of the competition side of the spectrum is one of the world’s best known road-racing events, the Boston Marathon. It is the second largest single-day sporting event in the United States, just behind the Super Bowl, and over 90 countries will be represented at this year’s competition. The Boston Marathon is also the world’s oldest annual marathon—this year will be the 118th race. Year after year, this event is an international stage for breaking records and redefining the boundaries of physical endurance.
Recognizing the scale of the Boston Marathon started me thinking about what it represents to our world in terms of spiritual growth. Looking back over the course records one can see that race times have been getting consistently faster over the decades, with no sign of a plateau in sight. What impels this advancement? One could see it simply as the human will to push yourself to go faster than the person next to you. But in her book Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures, Mary Baker Eddy points to a spiritual cause: “Progress takes off human shackles. The finite must yield to the infinite. Advancing to a higher plane of action, thought rises from the material sense to the spiritual …” (p. 256). Consistent progress indicates something beyond human will—it points to a spiritual animus leading humanity out of material limits. The source of this progress is God, whom the Bible refers to as “Spirit” (see John 4:24).
As a Boston resident, I regularly have the privilege of running down Boylston Street, the homestretch of this marathon, and along the banks of the Charles River, where thousands of competitors from all over the world do their warm-up miles in April before the start of the race. The area is beautiful in the spring, with trees full of white and pink flowers, green grass, and sailboats cutting through the water. My love for running in Boston was one reason the display of terrorism at last year’s Marathon shook me—it was a shock to consider that such an ugly, senseless act could happen so close to home. I was grateful for the quick response from safety officials and for the care shown to everyone who was affected by the tragedy. But for some time after the event, I felt a twinge of fear whenever the Marathon would come to mind. Questions and uncertainties played through my head: Could something similar happen again next year? Will spectator support of the Marathon diminish because nobody wants to relive the memories? I found that when fear about the bombing dominated my consciousness, I totally lost sight of the spiritual impetus behind the Marathon. The first picture, of the activity of spiritual progress, and the second, of fear and suffering, were opposed to each other—so I couldn’t have a tuned-in picture of both at the same time.
Nehemiah, a biblical role model of mine, also dealt with mental “static” when he had to choose which of two opposing channels of thought he was going to listen to. Nehemiah’s mission to rebuild the fallen walls of Jerusalem represented a step of progress for his people. Yet repeated attempts were made to distract him from his work by those who wanted to hinder the rebuilding of Jerusalem (see Nehemiah, chapters 1–6). As I prayed about the Marathon, I thought of how Nehemiah watched only for the divine control of Spirit, not allowing his thinking to be sidetracked by fear or by erroneous suggestions that he stop the building project.
In this case, an act of terrorism is a kind of error that would try to drown out all the spiritual progress and good that’s expressed through the Marathon. In response to such an act, prayer—our active listening for the quiet messages of Spirit in our thinking—is a strong defense. This kind of prayer keeps us focused on God’s reliable instructions, which always lead to calm and security. As we pray and watch, as Nehemiah did, we’ll find we are able to maintain a clear understanding of Spirit’s activity in events such as the Marathon, helping to ensure peaceful, harmonious competition in these venues.
Love had never stopped knowing anything but spiritual progress through the whole Marathon.
After the bombing, a focused police effort took place over several days across the city to find the perpetrators. I was out of town with family during this time, but was feeling unsettled about what was happening in Boston. I decided to go for a run to find mental calm and to pray in support of a harmonious outcome. As I began to run on the hills in the nearby neighborhood, I looked to God in my prayers, affirming that He is ever-present good, always guiding His creation. With these prayers, I felt my thinking lifted out of the picture of fear and destruction I had seen on TV. I began to really feel that good was present on my run, and everywhere.
At that point I was running at a fast pace, but I felt no physical strain. The mental anguish I’d been feeling was replaced by a clear conviction that divine Love was governing the events in Boston. I recognized how error was attempting to deceive by introducing the suggestion that spiritual progress could be plotted against or disarrayed by fear, destruction, or malice. I reasoned that not only was Love guiding and protecting the police officers and citizens in Boston during that moment, but also that Love had never stopped knowing anything but spiritual progress through the whole Marathon. I could feel the truth of God’s care, and I knew the people of Boston must, by reason of divine law, be feeling it, too. When I returned to the house from my run, I saw on the news that the tense manhunt had ended with the capture of the suspect.
Later, when I revisited the story of Nehemiah, I was struck by the fact that he didn’t allow confusion, hatred, or fear to take hold in his thinking. Nehemiah stuck to God’s law of progress, and was ultimately successful in rebuilding the walls of the city. To me this shows that God’s ideas—men, women, and the whole universe—are spiritual and dwell in the safety of progress and incorruptibility. When our prayers affirm this truth as a fixed fact, we’ll see more clearly God’s government expressed on earth. This government does not leave any room for evil motives or actions; under this government, our fears are calmed and each of us is cared for in a way we can recognize.
Now, when I think about the Boston Marathon, fear isn’t present. An enduring feeling of progress and inspiration has taken hold. This peace of mind can be shared by runners and spectators alike as we bear witness to the continued breaking down of physical limitations, sped by Spirit. When I run down Boylston Street, I’m now filled with an understanding of what that street represents—the celebration and demonstration of global progress out of the limits of physicality. It’s a joy to run, and even to achieve personal records, but the real honor is in holding a spiritual consciousness. Divinely guided progress out of material limitation and into unlimited spiritual growth is what we’ll see carry steadily on, at the Marathon and all over the world.
A.J. Kiser is a Christian Science practitioner living in Jamaica Plain, Massachusetts.