Monday, July 09, 2007

When the Spirit Moves You

I've tried to write this post several times, but it never comes out right. Trying to describe an incredible, larger-than-life experience is always difficult. The moment is so meaningful, so vivid, but when I try to capture it in words, it turns to cardboard and sawdust on my fingertips. If I try to transcribe it directly out of my journal, it sounds hokey and overblown, yet those were my exact emotions at the time. But at the same time, it was so important to me in the moment that I grabbed my journal the second I got back from a run and wrote furiously until it was all there on paper. And try as I might, I can't turn my back on it so here I am trying to put it into words once more.

It helps to understand that I'm not a very religious person. Spiritual, yes, deeply so. But the insides of churches have very rarely felt to me to be full of the spirit of God. Instead, God seems to descend on me at odd moments and I can feel as full of spirit on a sidewalk bandaging my child's skinned knee and wiping tears as I can in the most glorious cathedral with choirs singing like angels. God always seems to take me unawares, like he's sneaking up on me as an ambushing cat, ready to take my feet out from under me and my breath away. That's certainly how it felt this last week when I was camping with some friends. My kids hung out at the campsite with them and I decided to take a little run up a trail that ran along the river. The elevation was over 3,500 feet, and the trail went uphill first before I'd turn around and come back. So I anticipated that the run might be difficult (as a lifelong anemic, elevation is particularly taxing for me)

I wasn't really prepared for a God Moment as I started out. True, the river is beautiful. Perhaps one of the most beautiful in the world. And as the trail wound beside it, the sparkling white of the foaming rapids and the ice-cold blue that lay just under the surface began to take me out of my body to a wondrous place. Here is what I wrote when I tore back into our campsite:

The trail is downhill in both directions. It's not rational, but it's the only explanation for how fast my feet are flying along. I'm not normally a runner but a plodder, a mid-pack shuffler whose all-out sprints don't approach a true marathoner's average mile pace. But today I am flying down the trail like a wild galloping mustang, like a cheetah in full stretch, like Jackie Joyner-Kersee pounding down the track, my feet flying behind me in giant fluid strides. The path winds over roots and rocks, twists and turns, ascends and descends, but my feet never falter. They are as sticky as the pads of mountain goats' hooves, as sure, as steady. On my left is the Mackenzie river, a fern-wrapped flow of turquise-iced water of such astonishing beauty and power that we named our firstborn child after it.

At the start of my little jog, I stopped to gaze at the roar of a falls, the water foaming away beneath me into dells so greened with moss that you couldn't paint such a scene without it looking unbelievably garish. My heart was struck with a joy so overwhelming that tears sprang outwards from my eyes. I am sobbing. "My God, my God, my God", the only words my lips could form. And then, as if called, the Spirit infused my body and I began to truly run. Run in a way I have never run in my life. So fast, so fluidly, as if the rules of gravity and motion no longer applied to my body. Thogh I had been panting as I jogged along before in the thin air of 3,500' of elevation, now my lungs fill easily and completely with no audible sound. My feet effortlessy form to the rocky contours of the trail. A hymn flows full-force into my ears: "And he will lift you up on eagle's wings" and the words make total and complete sense. I am being lifted, borne on a tide of spirit I have only rarely experienced. I close my eyes and continue to run, down the rock-tumbled trail, and I know I will not fall. I cannot explain it in any other way: I am surrounded and filled and borne up by God.

I've meant to go for a short run on this trail. I have meant to turn around at twenty minutes and head back to camp. On an impulse, I open my eyes and look at my watch: forty-three minutes have passed. I realize I have no idea if I have been running this whole time, or whether I stood sobbing by the waterfall for longer than I thought, or whether the entire space-time continuum has ceased to apply to me. All of a sudden, I worry that my friends will wonder where I am - I will be gone double the amount of time I told them if it takes me the same amount of time to get back. Reluctantly, afraid that the feeling will stop, I turn around and head back the way I came. But I am still this amazing spirit-person hybrid. I fly back down the trail, remembering that many times running in my hometown (otherwise known as Track Town USA) I have watched Olympic hopefulls and record-setters blast by me on the trail and wish that just for a moment I could know what it feels like to run like them. To run as if running is what your body is meant to do. It's how I feel when I swim at times, as if I was especially designed to do this one perfect action. And now I do know. Now my body is the best running machine in the world. I'm all legs and stride and rhythm and it's simply beautiful.

I slow as I approach camp. For once in my life, I know I could keep on running for hours. I would never tire, I could keep this feeling going, prolong the moment. But I veer off of the trail toward our campsite. Above all else, I am a mother, and worrying my kids is not worth even a moment of utter perfection such as this. Once I see them playing happily in the forest, I grab my journal and begin to write. I don't want to forget any of this, how it felt in the moment. I am afraid it will fade away from me and I will even begin to doubt its truth.

So that is what I wrote. I would have doubted that I had run so fast but for the fact that the next day I had incredible soreness in all-new muscles in my legs. The backs of my hamstrings were very tight as if I had been running with a full-stride like after a day of sprints. So I have no doubts that for that hour or more on the trail, I was for once a runner in every sense of the word. For a few days afterwards, my legs retained some of the memory of that run. I was faster, more fluid, running came easier. But it has faded away, and I have returned to what I always am: a middle-pack shuffler doing my best out there. Like Charlie in the book Flowers for Algernon, I have only vague memories of what it felt like.

Just for a moment though, my legs were filled with spirit and I ran in the most magical place in earth.


stronger said...

Wow- that was beautiful, as though you took our hands to run with you. You should get it published somewhere!!

TRI-ROB said...

Holy COW! What an amazing post! Nicely done!


TriGirl 40 said...

Beautiful, amazing, post. We should all have the fortune of a similar experience even just once in our lifetime.

All the more so, because of your committment to get back to camp - and your family. Your kids can only benefit from this experience as well.

Thanks for sharing.

Ginger Breadman said...

'my legs were filled with spirit' - great quote to take away from your post. The whole post though, was truly amazing - a really beautifully written journal entry - thanks for sharing it. Spirituality, and experiencing it so powerfully is a really personal thing, and it's pretty cool to be a part of it when it's someone else's I know what you mean how it's hard to put down in words an experience you had that is so amazing, and sometimes it's frustrating that words don't do it justice. I think you did a great job.

hak said...

Beautiful story!


Oh 2 Run said...

Wow - wonderful story of a run. You say you struggled to get it down on paper - but it didn't show on your post. Thanks for sharing.