Pray & Row

Tomorrow, I’m running a marathon in St. Louis with a friend.  It will be a brief, 30-hour get-away from our world in Kansas City.  My foot, which recently started protesting this race, has simmered down.  It will be annoyed at 26.2 miles of pounding, but I have faith it will maintain its cool.  This past week, I typed pages of schedules and directions to ensure my family survives my absence.  My husband appreciates it, but the primary purpose of the exercise is to satisfy my need for control.  As I trudged through the kids’ schedules and tried to avoid thinking about the anger my foot might express at mile 20, I started to wonder why in the world we sign up for these races.  We’re both into double digits on our marathon count – isn’t that enough?  I love a long run, but I could do a long run any Saturday morning.  Why do we race?

“There is something about the ritual of the race – putting on the number, lining up, being timed – that brings out the best in us.” – Grete Waitz, Olympian and one of the first female marathon runners

Rituals and ceremonies provide something our everyday, random activities do not.  Whether it’s a marriage ceremony the bride and groom experience once in a lifetime, a traditional Thanksgiving dinner a family enjoys every year, or the ritualistic way I fix my coffee every morning, the practice of doing something a special way causes us to pause and take notice.  It’s not about the systematic actions themselves, but rather how those actions prompt us to more fully appreciate and celebrate the object or activity of our focus.

O come, let us worship and bow down, let us kneel before the Lord, our Maker!  Psalms 95:6

Attending church each week is a ritual for our family.  At church, we kneel at specific moments, sing certain songs, listen to readings from the Bible, and profess our faith in the Nicene Creed.  Most Sunday mornings look very similar.  Each week, however, if I pay attention to the meaning of our rituals, I leave church different than when I arrived.  They bring out the best in us if we let them.

Tomorrow, I will practice all my race rituals.  They may not affect my performance, but they will make me pause to cherish my love of running and the excitement of racing.  And, they will remind me of my gratitude to God for the ability to go to the starting line.  I think I need more rituals … not to create monotony or lists to conquer, but to cause me to pause more often and appreciate more deeply.  I could say “I love you” out loud to the many I love even though they already know it, express a “Thank You” to God even though He already knows how I feel, or devote a quiet moment each morning for prayer or a favorite scripture.  Those simple acts, done in special and purposeful ways, could become rituals that bring out our best.