Lent, Running and Connecting with a Hurting World: Part 1

This year, I tried to commit to two seemingly unconnected devotions during the season of Lent. One was to be more intentional in exercise by training specifically for a half marathon. The second was to give up “technology” (computers, smart phones and television) after sundown so that I could be quieter in my own mind throughout the Lenten season. On Friday, March 11th, my devotions changed with the sound of an early warning siren just down the street.

At around 8:00 pm Hawaii time, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration issued a tsunami warning for the islands as a result of the massive 9.0 earthquake that struck off the coast of Japan. As the sirens went off, it seemed important to suspend the discipline of turning off the TV while my family and I checked on whatever caused the sirens to go off. I was also pretty sure that I’d need my smart phone and the Internet to get information and check in with loved ones around the world.

Earlier that day, I spent the better part of the morning getting ready for the Georgia Half Marathon by running eleven miles. It felt a little bit selfish to make my Lenten devotion all about my own physical fitness, so I had decided that I would temper my training with an attempt to raise money for Episcopal Relief & Development. I would run the half-marathon, but the effort would be designed to raise some awareness of the work that the organization does around the world. Somewhere in my own mind, I figured that by raising awareness, I could somehow be connected to the Church’s mission and ministry in the world and the observance of a Holy Lent.

Oddly enough, that act of connection made me more aware of the work that Episcopal Relief & Development is associated with all over the world, not only in times of disaster, but also in the everyday work of alleviating poverty. By thinking about this in my daily training runs (and during the race), I felt like I was holding that holy ministry in my prayers and love mile after mile.

Every time I ran, I posted my mileage on Facebook in an effort to expand my “reach” and raise some awareness among those who are connected to me in the digital world. Those training posts gave way to links to Episcopal Relief & Development’s home page, which showed others the wonderful work that they have going on a regular basis.

On Episcopal Relief & Development Sunday, I took the opportunity to talk about “failing” miserably at my Lenten disciplines—and the wonderful grace of allowing that failure to serve as a chance for a new start. I may not have totally avoided technology or even devoted myself to new levels of fitness, but I did find some deep and holy connections in the work of the Church and how we’re reaching out to people living in extreme poverty around the world.

Father Ben Nelson is rector of All Saints Episcopal in Kapa’a, Hawai’i.