I agree that unless you want to offend someone, you shouldn’t talk about money, politics, or religion.  So, I’ll leave money and politics alone and go for the super controversial and age old topic of religion.

Religion has different meanings in different countries and cultures.  Religion has and continues to be at the root of wars in our world.  And living in the Bible Belt, religion can be seen in the thousands of churches that’ve been built for religious people to come together for worship.

I promise I’m not writing this to give you a sermon on which religion you should follow, or even if you should follow one at all.  I am writing this to tell you about the experience I had yesterday that made me realize what true religion means to me.

Sunday mornings are when Charlie and I go for our long runs.  You might have noticed before, or maybe not,  but I often refer to my long runs or our outdoor adventures as going to “church”.  This isn’t to be funny, or to make light of actual churches, but rather identify that when I am doing these things I feel closer to my God, Higher Power, the Universe, whatever you choose to call it/him/her.  Long runs are often a time when I feel close to my HP, probably because there is little to be distracted with.  It’s just me and the open road, or trail. 

So, yesterday morning I set out for a 15-mile run.  We dropped off a water bottle on the side of the road, which happened to be by a cute little brick church, because I wouldn’t be able to carry all that I needed for the run.  I would be coming by this area at around miles ten and twelve, so it would be a great spot for necessary hydration after I drank the other 32 ounces in my fuel belt. 

I set out for the long, slow run.  Like always, I usually have music or a podcast on.  The music pulsing through my ears is like instant energy to my body.  I usually feel immense gratitude during the first few miles.  Grateful for feeling well enough to run.  Grateful for a body that allows me to run.  Grateful for the beauty of the world we live in.  After about an hour of gratitude and music, and six or so miles, I turned to the podcast “Master Class” by Oprah Winfrey.  Yesterday’s show was an interview with an actress I was unfamiliar with, but was super interested with.  The actress had been highly successful in the entertainment industry, but identified her biggest accomplishment, yet still working on, was her relationship with a power greater than herself.  

As I came upon the little brick church where my water was stashed in the nearby bushes, I stopped and refilled my bottles and tucked the empty one in my running vest.  By this time though, I was losing momentum.  The sun felt extra hot, I was about ten miles in already, and that little voice in my head started telling me it’d be okay to cut the run short.  Luckily, I’ve had some experience with this little voice before, so I dismissed it and kept going.  I ran about a mile down the road before it was time to turn around.  By this time, I was over it.  The gratitude was nowhere in sight anymore, I was hot, tired, thirsty, and ready to be done.  As I approached the church again, a man started walking from the church down towards the side of the road where I had had my water stashed in the bushes.  As I continued running in his direction, it was clear that he wanted to tell me something.  My mind thought “he’s going to tell me not to leave my water there” and “I bet he thinks I left my trash”.  As a person who hates confrontation, I apprehensively took out one of my earbuds as I continued running towards him so I could see what he had to say.  “Jesus loves you!  Have a blessed day young lady!” he said.  I responded with “Thanks, you too!” before I even had a chance to comprehend what had just happened.  As I continued running, I processed the brief encounter and laughed a little because of the irony and miracles this reminded me of.

The irony is that a few years ago I would’ve rolled my eyes at this kind soul for interrupting my run, and for his comments.  The irony is that although he might’ve seen a girl missing church to run, I was worshipping in my own way.  I was reminded of the quote by Fridtjof Nansen “It is better to go skiing and think of God, than go to church and think of sport”.  Instead of my feathers being ruffled and steaming over why this man felt he needed to seek me out to tell me this, I felt grateful for the reminder.  The miracle is that a few years ago my mind was so shut off from the sunlight of the spirit that even if someone had shown a super bright spotlight in my eyeball, I would’ve never even seen it.  The miracle is that one day my mind opened just a little tiny bit, and continued to do so, and because of it, my life is far better today than before.  

Jessica Hauser