By Roberto Ferrari from Campogalliano (Modena), Italy (Wikimedia Commons)

Running Into Prayer

For me, running is something spiritual

When I moved to Mississippi, someone told me that every 20-something transplant to Jackson does one of the three M’s: marriage, mutt or marathon.

I laughed skeptically. My fellowship only lasts for two years, and I certainly wasn’t planning on getting married by 24. I didn’t have a schedule that allowed for a dog. And while I had run a marathon before, I had no intentions of doing so again.

Fast forward a year and a half. I’m not married. And I didn’t adopt a dog… but I did adopt a cat. And at the end of the month, I will be running my second marathon.

I swore after my first one that I would never run another – the race itself is painful, and the training felt as though it took over my life. But a year ago, the idea of a marathon began to appeal again.

This spring marks a full decade of running, and it has been one of few constants in an otherwise tumultuous 10 years. I love the feelings of strength and accomplishment I get from running, and I love the chance to explore the outdoors. But above all, I run because it centers me. My thoughts, which otherwise move at lightning speed, slow down and leave my brain as I run. Almost every dilemma I have faced in the past decade has been solved on a run. It is how I check in with myself, how I reflect on my life, and how I keep myself steady.

My brother attends Shabbat services every Saturday. In the past two years, during the weekends that we have spent together – whether in Louisville, or Connecticut, or Memphis – he has gone to synagogue. While he does that, I go for a run.

The routine and reflection that some people find in prayer or meditation or yoga – I find that in running. If prayer is a chance to connect with our needs and our wants; our successes and our shortcomings; our goals and our relationships – to be frank, it does not do that for me often. Running does not do it for me every day. There are days where I can barely drag myself out of bed, and where my legs are heavy. There are days where every mile feels like three. But it is the closest to prayer that I get.

For the past five months, I have been training hard for the Mississippi Blues Marathon. It has been a time of decisions and uncertainty: what do I want to do after the ISJL Education Fellowship? Where do I want to move? What is important to me? Who do I want to be? What type of Jewish community do I want?

The questions synonymous with one’s early 20s are constantly on my mind. Through it all, my weekly long runs – building up from six miles all the way to 20 – have been a place to think about potential answers.

When the ISJL Education Fellows run programs on prayer, we often teach students that there are three main types – “oops,” “gimme,” and “wow.” “Oops” is when we reflect on our shortcomings, and resolve to do better. “Gimme” is when we think about what we want, and ask for it. “Wow” is when we praise God and the world around us. When I run, I think about mistakes I have made and how I can do better. I think about what I want, for myself and for the world, and how to get there. I feel gratitude for my life, for the limbs that carry me while I run for hours, and for the natural world that I enjoy when I run outside.

It may not be traditional, but it does the trick for me.

The Mississippi Blues Marathon is this weekend – wish Rachel luck!

Discover More

Prayer as Spiritual Practice

Ask most people about their long-term goals for prayer and they often lack even the vocabulary to venture an answer.

When Prayer Fails Us

Tisha B'Av, the saddest day on the Jewish calendar, is testament to the failure of prayer to avert national catastrophe.

Jewish Genetic Screening

How to find out if you are a carrier for a Jewish genetic disease