Why Lent ‘race’ is all about the taking part

PUBLISHED: 10:28 12 February 2018

The Bible has things to say about running and being in the race of life. 

The Bible has things to say about running and being in the race of life. Picture: ANTONY KELLY

Archant Norfolk 2017

Sister Penelope Martin on taking part in the Lenten ‘race’ this year.

“That is how I run, intent on winning; that is how I fight not beating the air. I treat my body hard and make it obey me.” (1 Cor. 9 v.24 )

For years this short passage from St Paul’s letter to the Corinthians, read as part of the Monastic Office on certain saints’ days, had me squirming in my choir stall. Surely, as psychologists have been telling us for years, we should be treating our bodies kindly, listening to whatever they are telling us?

Then visiting friends introduced me to a semi-retired professional couple passionate about running. Running determined their diet, their rest, their conversation – their entire lives. These were not merely converts, they were zealots. Now, whilst I genuinely admire the sheer grit and determination of the runners I pass when out and about, I have to admit that I never run, being of the opinion that running is unnecessary, except in cases of dire emergency. Fortunately our couple’s enthusiasm was such that once they started talking, they ran on without stopping, and when I realised that they were never going to have the breath to ask me if I too ran, I relaxed and applied my mind to the shorthand. 5K? 10K? Thousands of pounds worth of prize money within easy reach of beginners! The mind boggled as I tried to calculate price per metre around the monastery. Oh, but surely, kilometres! My dream of earning easy money evaporated.

However, although not converted, I had to admire their enthusiasm and singleness of purpose. Did I feel the same way about my lifestyle? St Paul reminds us Christians that ‘we should keep running steadily in the race we have started, our eyes fixed on Jesus’ who is, if you like, the runner-up ahead in the marathon; we won’t overtake him, but he keeps us going.

Yet this is a marathon with a difference. We do not have to compete; we just have to stay in the race. As our enthusiasts suggest to those joining their beginners group, you don’t need any special skills to run: just the ability to place one foot in front of the other and the determination to keep repeating that action. In our Christian living, all we have to do is repeat ‘taking the next step’, trying our best to live loving and unselfish lives day by day. The big plus of our race is that Jesus our leader gives us his strength as we run, for, as Paul also tells the Corinthians, ‘he has become our wisdom and our virtue, and our holiness, and our freedom’ – a point worth remembering as we strive for our Lenten P.B. ‘Personal Best’ if you hadn’t guessed!

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