Risk is the possibility of loss or injury.
I’ve been thinking a lot about risk and faith recently as I try to prepare to walk ninety miles next week as part of the First Nation-Farmer Climate Unity March. I can no longer take for granted that my body can meet the challenge.
I am reminded of a similar position nearly thirty years ago when training to run in my first Indianapolis Mini-Marathon. I had been a regular runner, but usually didn’t run much more than 5 miles per day. Although the Mini is a half-marathon, that 13 miles was much further than I had run. I read in the runner’s training books that as long as you train up to running half the distance, you should be able to finish. So I did manage runs of about 8 miles on a couple of training runs.
I still remember how scared I was, lining up for my first Mini-Marathon. So many thoughts were racing through my mind. Would I have the physical stamina to finish? Would I run a smart race, i.e. could I manage my pace? The tendency is to run too fast at the beginning, leading to finishing poorly if at all. I had never run with 34,000 other runners! Would I be able to maintain hydration?
But as I looked around me, at the variety of runners, all ages, body shapes, facial expressions (from joy to terror), I realized we were forming a instant community, and looking to each other for some support, and getting it. I heard people muttering assurances to their friends. ALL the comments were positive–no negative allowed. There were also huge crowds of supporters and onlookers, yelling encouragement. Bands provided music along the way which was so helpful.
Fortunately after the first couples of miles you enter the “zone”, which is difficult to explain. Its like you exit the physical reality, and you enter a higher consciousness. Its like being centered at (Quaker) meeting for worship, where the people sit together in silence to be open to what the Spirit is asking of them. It is interesting to listen to all the comments and yelling during the beginning of the race. But by about mile 6 we become more and more quiet, until for the last several miles all that is heard are feet striking the ground and strained breathing.
You also become acutely aware of how your bodily systems are working. I’ve always appreciated the courses I took in human anatomy and physiology, from which I’ve learned about exercise physiology, and can visualize things like the oxygen flowing into the lungs and crossing into the bloodstream, of how the electrical connections are firing in the heart, how the mitochondria are racing to supply enough ATP and trying to avoid switching to anaerobic respiration. Its like your consciousness is at the command of the Starship Enterprise, monitoring and adjusting systems.
I was very thankful to complete that first Mini-Marathon. The last three miles were pure torture–every stride was work and pain. My body definitely let me know there were parts that needed rest and repair, but we made it. In many ways subsequent races were easier, now that I knew what to expect. But there was never one that was actually easy.
Running became much more than physical exercise. When I decided I had to get rid of having a personal automobile for environmental and materialistic reasons over forty years ago, running became one of my main modes of transportation. Since I wore medical scrubs at work, I could take the city bus to work, then change into running clothes to run home. That meant I was running at least every work day. When I began this, I lived seven miles from the hospital. Each time I moved, the requirements were living on a city bus line, close to a grocery store, and closer to the hospital.
About five years ago I suddenly was no longer able to run, which was a major blow. I had to move to bicycling for my main transportation. And for the first time in 23 years, I had to miss running in the Mini-marathon. Huge disappointment.
I realized that I hadn’t really believed in my own mortality, until this happened. Especially because of my rigorous physical training, I was probably even more surprised when my body began to age. I remember reading once, “all those fitness addicts are going to be surprised when one day they wake up dead for no reason.”
If you’ve been reading this blog lately, you know I’ve signed up to participate in the First-Nation Farmer Climate Unity March, which begins this weekend. This is a 94 mile walk to bring attention to the lawsuit that will be decided by the Iowa Supreme Court soon. The suit is about the improper use of eminent domain to force farmers to allow the Dakota Access Pipeline to be built on their property.
Now I find myself in a situation similar to facing my first Mini-Marathon some thirty years ago. This time I am even more unsure whether I will be able to complete the march. I was astonished to find it is more difficult to walk five miles than to run it!
I don’t know if I’m wiser, but I have learned some things over these years. One of the most difficult to learn, and that I have to keep re-learning, is that faith is not hoping what you want will occur, rather asking what the Spirit is asking of you. The Spirit has asked me to begin this journey, so I will. What happens next is in God’s hands. Perhaps I will be given a message, likely through my aching, physical body, that I will not finish the march.
We grow physically, emotionally, mentally, and spiritually when we push our limits. I believe we all have a lot of untapped potential. We don’t know what a limit is until we push up against it. If we push past it, all the better. It wasn’t a limit after all. How many times do we mistakenly believe in untested limits? How often do those turn out not to be limits at all?
I look forward to finding out what the Spirit has in mind for me and the rest of us as we march to Fort Dodge together.