December 9, 2014
It’s dark. The sky to the east is just beginning to glow. I’ve been running for an hour. I’m tired. I’m sweaty. And I have many miles to go before my journey is complete. I am running not because I have to, but because I want to. I am training for a marathon. To be ready, I must prepare. Slowly, methodically, sometimes painfully.
For a long training run, I must begin in the dark. The sun will be well above me before I am done. But now at the advent of a new day, I am in the tentative moment of the dawn. The overlap of beginning and ending. Neither fully dark nor light. Somewhere in the middle. Amid the sweat, the hunger, the aches, it is a beautiful and tranquil time of quiet.
Running in the dark quiet of the morning offers so many venues for spiritual encounter. The rhythmic pace of foot fall after foot fall provides the baseline for a harmony of sights, sounds, thoughts, prayers along the way. Stanza after stanza, breathing becomes praying. Praying becomes breathing. Unpaid bills, to-do lists, family responsibilities, deadlines are sidelined by the cadence of simply moving one more step forward.
Sometimes the best way to finish the run is to slow down. On a long run, I must slow my pace to fortify my endurance, so that on the next long run I can go even further and be even stronger.
Advent is a seasonal overlap of beginning and ending. Jesus said, “I am the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end.” Christ came, Christ is here, Christ will come again. And so we journey forward, again as we did the year before, in an annual cycle of training, preparing, slowing, readying, aching. Always somewhere in the middle, always in the tentative moment of the dawn. And we undergo this spiritual journey not because we have to, but because we want to. And God always travels with us.
The Rev. Scott Slater is the canon to the ordinary for the Episcopal Diocese of Maryland.