April 14, 2004, Wednesday, BC cycle
Running feeds Texas seminarian’s body, mind, spirit
SECTION: Domestic News
LENGTH: 841 words
Associated Press Writer
AUSTIN, Texas (AP) – In what he calls his “Mother Teresa Run,” Roger Joslin looks for the divine in the faces of everyone he meets. When “Running With Alms,” the Austin seminarian takes along a few dollars to help those in need.
In Joslin’s view, a spiritual experience – even an encounter with God – is as likely to occur along a wooded trail as in a church, synagogue or mosque.
The 52-year-old master of divinity student at Episcopal Theological Seminary of the Southwest relates his experiences in the book “Running the Spiritual Path: A Runner’s Guide to Breathing, Meditating and Exploring the Prayerful Dimension of the Sport.”
Published last year by St. Martin’s Press in New York, the book combines Joslin’s insights from 30 years of running with the spiritual journey that guided him toward the priesthood.
Joslin maintains that through chants, visualization and attention to the most obvious aspects of the present moment – the weather, pain or breathing – the simple run can become the basis for a profound spiritual practice.
“When running, search for the divine in the ordinary,” he writes. “Each run is not a pilgrimage to Chartres, to Mecca, to Jerusalem, but it is a pilgrimage nonetheless. … If the intention is to converse with God, you are a pilgrim. It is the very ordinariness of the run that enables it to become a central part of your spiritual life. When God appears in the midst of the mundane, we are making progress toward him.”
In a recent interview, Joslin described how he prepares for a workout, trying to get himself into a state in which he is keenly aware of everything around him.
“Before I go for a run, if I’m driving, I’ll turn off the radio on the way, so I can begin to prepare,” he said. “When I’m putting on my T-shirt and my shorts, I’m going to do it very methodically, very consciously, in the same way that a priest might put on his vestments in preparation for celebration of Mass.”
In California, a group from the Rev. Jimmy Bartz’s church gathers each Thursday at the Santa Monica beach to run and pray based on the guidance in Joslin’s book.
Bartz, associate rector at All Saints’ Beverly Hills, an Episcopal church, said Joslin isn’t the first to combine meditative spiritual practice with physical exercise.
“I think there are a lot of people that have thought about it, but it just hasn’t been quite expressed the way Roger does pretty clearly in his book,” said Bartz, a longtime friend of Joslin’s.
Joslin’s book advocates “running meditation” as a way to quiet one’s mind and engage the body.
In times when most people engaged in physical labor, sitting meditation made sense, he said. That’s not the case, though, in a society where many spend all day at computer screens or on the phone.
“Their bodies cry out to be used, to be active, to be physically challenged,” he writes.
Hunt Priest, a friend and fellow seminarian, said Joslin’s book “just really blurred, in a necessary way, the line between the sacred and the everyday.”
“It helps you understand that you can be praying or meditating all the time,” said Priest, 39. “It doesn’t have to be one hour on Sunday.”
Joslin’s spiritual path to the seminary was more a marathon than a sprint.
He entered the seminary two years ago after 20 years in the architectural woodwork business. He’s not alone in pursuing the priesthood later in life; many of his fellow seminarians are in their early 40s.
“I am sure that I will be a far better priest now than I would have been had I entered the ministry at an earlier age,” he said. “I may not be wiser, but I am more compassionate. I have a better sense of how difficult life can be.”
Perhaps fittingly, running helps Joslin deal with that difficulty. But that wasn’t always the case.
As a high school football player in Alvarado, south of Fort Worth, he viewed running simply as punishment. In his 20s, he ran just to keep in shape.
Then in his late 30s, the father of two dealt with a painful divorce. Running became an escape – but that escape gave way to a transformation.
As Joslin paid more attention to his immediate physical environment, he started seeing God, he said. A running journal that he kept from 1993 to 2001 formed the foundation for his book.
“God exists in the present, and to the extent to which you can find yourself fully engaged in the present, I think you can call that an experience with the divine,” he said. “It’s not always spectacular and mystical, although it can be on occasion.”
Joslin said his “original encounters with the divine” occurred in natural settings such as Big Bend National Park and the Pecos Wilderness.
“But I probably wouldn’t (want to) be a priest if I couldn’t experience God’s presence through the sacraments in the sanctuary,” he said. “I can’t say that one’s easier than the other. God exists all around. It’s a matter of being intentive and being receptive in either setting.”