Distance running is a very simple sport, and that simplicity is what I like best about it.
It really just comes down to leaning forward and moving your feet to keep from falling. About 180 times per minute. For a whole lot of minutes.
Of course, it is also important to pay attention — to the path, to how you are moving and breathing, to other runners, walkers and riders who are sharing the path, and to many other things.
It’s all pretty simple, though: Lean forward, keep moving and pay attention.
Now, life in general is more complicated than running, but at its core, isn’t it pretty much about doing these three things? If so, we need to lean forward toward some finish line. Where are we going, and where should we be going?
A few years ago I participated in a management training course, and in one activity we were supposed to come up with a personal vision. Many seemed stymied by the question. But we’ve had pretty clear answers for millennia now. It really isn’t that complicated.
Aristotle taught that our life’s goal is true happiness, and that happiness is achieved by living a life of virtue. Likewise, the followers of Christ once knew that this true happiness lies in nothing less than our becoming saints, which we have been clearly told is our target: “Be perfect … as your heavenly Father is perfect.” (Matt. 5:48)
So our ultimate goal is known and is quite simple, although it may seem impossible to achieve.
We also know what we are to do to keep moving toward this goal. St. Paul tells St. Timothy, “Train yourself in godliness … For to this end we toil and struggle, because we have our hope set on the living God, who is the savior of all people.” (1 Tim 4:7-10). In other words, practice makes perfect.
Holiness is both the means and the end. Not that we have reached this goal, we must say as St. Paul did, but “Straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on towards the goal for the prize of the heavenly call of God in Christ Jesus.” (Phil 3:13-14).
Sacred scripture is full of admonitions to pay attention.
Attentiveness is necessary to know whether we are on the path to our goal and are pressing on toward it, and to be aware of and minister to the needs of others on the same path. “We must pay the most careful attention, therefore, to what we have heard [of Christ], so that we do not drift away.” St. Paul tells the Hebrews this (2:1) just before describing the perfection to which we are called (2:10-11) and telling us to “encourage one another daily” to press on to the very end (3:13-14).
Too simplistic? Sure. But these are three critical imperatives. If we are not leaning forward, continuing to move and paying attention, we are neither running nor living.
Life has a purpose and one giant goal, toward which we must continually be moving. Let us press on together toward the goal.
Ken Jarman is a scientist at Pacific Northwest Laboratory and member of Christ the King Catholic Church in Richland. Questions and comments should be directed to editor Lucy Luginbill in care of the Tri-City Herald newsroom, 333 W. Canal Drive, Kennewick, WA 99336. Or email firstname.lastname@example.org.