People in New York City cheered last Sunday as thousands crossed the marathon finish line. This reminded me of an equally impressionable experience I had at the Chicago Marathon last month.
While the reports of that race took on a negative tone because of the unseasonably hot weather and the problems it posed for runners, I learned some valuable lessons while I was watching the race.
It's not every day that a city closes its streets to allow for thousands of people to run in and to watch a 26-mile race. I was seeing a marathon for the first time, and this day was particularly special because a close friend was in the race. He'd been training for many months, and I looked forward to cheering him on from the sidelines.
In addition to our mutual love of athletics, my friend and I share a deep love for spirituality. As students of Christian Science, our daily study of the Bible and "Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures," by Mary Baker Eddy, brings insight and meaning to our various endeavors.
That morning, when I read the Lesson outlined in the "Christian Science Quarterly – Bible Lessons" and prayed to prepare for the day, one idea that caught my attention was particularly helpful. "Be of good courage, and he shall strengthen your heart" (Ps. 31:24). I knew that my friend could feel strengthened, not fatigued, throughout the race, because his ambition was to glorify God, not himself. And I could see as the day wore on that spiritual preparation – whether you're a participant or an observer – embraces the whole activity in God's love.
The very nature of divine Love is to pour out to others, so you can't really offer a prayer that says, "And this goodness and health will only go to my friend." God's nature is infinite, and when we call upon infinity in prayer, it naturally brings some measure of good to everyone involved in the activity.
The marathon is a huge event, and I can recall many mental "snapshots" as cowbells clanged, signs waved, and fans cheered for all runners, even strangers, like old friends. Racial differences disappeared as runners from all backgrounds ran side by side through a variety of ethnic neighborhoods.
The scene brought to mind a statement in Science and Health: "Take away wealth, fame, and social organizations, which weigh not one jot in the balance of God, and we get clearer views of Principle. Break up cliques, level wealth with honesty, let worth be judged according to wisdom, and we get better views of humanity" (p. 239).
To me, this says that while outward details such as the size of our bank accounts and the cut of our clothes might seem most significant, what matters most is what's left after all those things are gone. Spiritual qualities such as humility, honesty, and wisdom are a better measure of a man or woman than those outward signs. The outer things, being material in nature, can and do change; but the spiritual qualities that we include can never be lost. They are constantly revealing themselves in new and more beautiful ways.
If you think about the mental, and even spiritual, discipline it takes to run a marathon, it's easy to see that spiritual qualities such as strength, intelligence, and purity are going to play a vital role. Turning to God, divine Mind, as the source of all intelligence enables us to better discern the right steps to take, before, during, and after any major effort. Uplifting our thoughts about ourselves and others enables us to appreciate everyone's contribution and to really value the spiritual nature God has given us.
That day, each runner – fast or slow – received the crowd's respect and encouragement, but behind that respect I could feel the presence of God with all of us. As each of us prays for our communities and for its activities, it's only natural that peace, satisfaction, and healing will result.