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Running for the prize

For athletes, and everyone, spiritual growth and regeneration should be our goal.

From the July 27, 1992 issue of the Christian Science Sentinel

No one would argue that the Olympics don't move us. They not only touch our hearts, they literally propel us out of our seats—at home or in the stands—to shout, clap, maybe even hug whoever's nearby. During the winter Olympics earlier this year, many people were touched by the tender friendship between two cross-country skiers, a Moroccan and a Norwegian. Their friendship blossomed over the course of the games before the eyes of the viewers and, for many, symbolized the essence of the Olympics. This expression of brotherhood and unity between nations surpassed victory and athletic mastery—as important as those were—as the highest accomplishment of these athletes. Despite their considerable differences, these two men shared an affection and mutual respect that inspired all who watched them.

This surely is the higher goal of the Olympics—to promote universal brotherhood and peace by taking down the walls of prejudice, fear, or misunderstanding that would lead to division and conflict among nations. This message is evidently coming across, because I for one cry happily no matter whose national anthem is played during the award ceremony following each event. (I don't think I'm alone, either.)

Sadly, however, this noble motive underlying the Olympic games isn't enough to actually bring universal peace and brotherhood. When we think of the city of Sarajevo, for instance, recently bloodied and battle-torn by those who not long ago viewed each other as brothers and fellow citizens, it's heart-rending to recall the joy experienced there during the winter Olympics just eight years ago.

Clearly, even the best intentions, cooperation, and successful gatherings aren't sufficient of themselves to heal the hatred and selfishness of conventional, materialistic views of existence. Something more is needed—something more powerful and lasting than human effort alone can accomplish. That "something" is the power of Spirit, God, divine Love.

Over and over, the Bible assures us of the love and healing power of God. The study of Christian Science shows how it is that spiritual healing takes place and how we can play an active part in bringing healing—not only to our own problems but also to those of our friends, our community, and the world as a whole.

I'm no Olympian, but I do enjoy running, and I learned something of the power of Spirit and Love while running in my neighborhood. At one point I suffered a painful leg injury that restricted my movement. One day not long after this, I felt impelled to go for a slow run despite the injury—not willfully, but with a strong conviction that my life, my activity, and my well-being were governed by Spirit, not by matter. Through my study and practice of Christian Science I had been learning about spiritual power and divine healing, and it didn't seem right to let the appearance of material restriction govern me. I knew that my true being was wholly spiritual, for man is in reality the offspring of God, Spirit. In truth, I was not a physical mortal but the very manifestation of all-active divine Life.

As I ran I prayed. Suddenly, a man stepped out from behind a tree along the road. I could see he wasn't in a correct state of mind. But as I passed him, I felt supported by the spiritual truths I had been acknowledging in my prayers. Rather than feel afraid, I had compassion for him. I realized that actually he was a pure, innocent idea of God, loved and governed by his heavenly Father-Mother. And so I knew that he would have the proper attention he needed for his own sake and that of the community. As it turned out, when I rounded the corner I saw a police car approaching. I flagged the car, explained the situation to the officer, and went on my way, grateful that the man's need for help and the town's need for safety would be cared for in this situation.

I kept praying as I ran, including in my prayers a world crisis taking place at that time. I saw clearly that man is free as the spiritual child of God—free from the imprisoning chains of fear, disease, crime, oppression. I knew this truth was applicable to everyone, including my neighbors across the globe struggling with political repression and injustice.

All at once I realized I was taking full, bounding strides. I was healed—completely free of pain and restriction. It was clear to me that this healing was directly related to my prayers for my local community and worldwide neighbors. This experience showed me the potential for athletics—they not only can glorify God through the expressed qualities of strength, vigor, joy; they also provide an opportunity to demonstrate more of God's love and healing power.

The Apostle Paul encouraged people to consider this deeper purpose of life. He preached in, among other places, Greece, home of the first Olympics and the first marathon. So it's not surprising he used the metaphor of running in his preaching and letters. On one occasion the Bible counsels, "Let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which doth so easily beset us, and let us run with patience the race that is set before us, looking unto Jesus the author and finisher of our faith" (Hebrews). Another time Paul spoke of the reward of "spiritual running" in these words: "Know ye not that they which run in a race run all, but one receiveth the prize? So run, that ye may obtain. And every man that striveth for the mastery is temperate in all things. Now they do it to obtain a corruptible crown; but we an incorruptible" (I Corinthians).

Paul was using running as a metaphor for Christian living, which requires great commitment, strength, and endurance.

Paul was using running as a metaphor for Christian living. He saw that being a true disciple of Christ Jesus requires great commitment, strength, and endurance. The task could be seen as a spiritual marathon that isn't finished until all worldliness is dropped for Christliness and we fully prove the truth of our spiritual selfhood as God's likeness.

Whether or not we consider ourselves athletes, this work of ridding ourselves of sin and expressing more of our true nature as the image of God, divine Love, is something we all can and in fact must do. We need the same qualities as the Olympic athlete or marathoner—persistence, self-sacrifice, patience, and excellence. We all can be fully active in this work. It's our nature, after all, to reflect omni-active Life.

Mary Baker Eddy, whose discovery of Christian Science was, in part, an outcome of her own consecrated Christian living, points to the necessity of this spiritual activity. Explaining Paul's admonition to put off sin and "run with patience the race that is set before us," she writes in Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures, "... that is, let us put aside material self and sense, and seek the divine Principle and Science of all healing." Spiritual running may not lead us to win Olympic medals, but it will enable us to heal ourselves and others and promote peace and brotherhood to an ever-increasing degree.

An image from the Boston Marathon this past April can inspire us all to keep our eyes on this higher purpose. Ibrahim Hussein of Kenya, the winner of the race, waited several hours at the finish line to embrace Bostonian Johnny Kelley as he completed his sixty-first Boston Marathon. Surely, this embrace of brotherhood was as meaningful as the significant athletic accomplishments of these men that day.

We may approach the ultimate goal of our spiritual running gradually, but the good news is that we can experience the "prize" of God's love and goodness and healing power every step of the way.

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