The Penny and the Prayer

P1100416The young boy looked on enthralled as his Dad spun the dented penny on the table in their poor Cardiff home.

“This is my lucky penny” he said, a gleam dancing in his eye.

The penny in question had attained such an elevated status through a remarkable incident. As a newly married young man at the outbreak of the First World War he had joined up with the hordes of other eager young men keen to fight the Germans in France.
Life in the trenches, far from the heroic idealism they had cradled, was traumatic and cruel. It was his turn to face the hellish hot lead of the machine guns and “go over the top.”
He didn’t last long, and after ploughing a few crazed steps through the blood thickened mud he himself received a deadly bullet to his heart. His young Welsh heart, fresh with the love of his new bride, should have been mortally shattered…but some guardian angel had been playing cards with him the previous evening. He had broken even in the game and hurriedly gathered up his remaining “penny” before retiring to the barracks. He had placed the penny in the jacket pocket of his uniform, which, through some divine chance, hung neatly over the muscle which pumped life into his body. When the bullet thudded into him it first hit this penny and then ricocheted into his shoulder leaving him bloody and maimed yet still very much alive. The “propitiation penny”, like some copper scapegoat, had taken the hit so he might live, return to his young wife and raise up seven children. Surely this was so much more than luck.

The “luck” of the penny seemed to have beP1100423en used up as life was very hard for them. A semi-invalid because of the war wound he found it hard to get employment and his pride bent like the penny as he saw his family slowly plunge into poverty. As they survived through another war his wife became ill and he wondered how he would bring up the kids should she depart. “Little Alfie” the boy who was mesmerized by the spinning penny, cherished the memory of his mum mending his ragged old coat. As she sowed the cuffs she would push her hand up the sleeve finding the little hand of her son and squeezing it affectionately. Such moments of contact meant a lot to the young boy who, after her premature death, found himself seeking for memories to immortalize intimacy. As his crying eyes saw her buried in an unmarked pauper’s grave in Ely cemetery, memory was indeed the only treasure left to him. At the tender age of ten he found himself playing a lead role in maintaining the family as head cook and bottle washer. He gave his everything to keep the family together, but as his own Dad’s health declined and the old protected heart finally stopped beating two years later, he faced the cold unknown. His first ride ever in a borrowed motor car took him once again to the windswept grassy plots of Ely where his dad, hero of the war, slipped anonymously into another communal and unmarked poor man’s grave. His tears this time were of grief but also of anger as the bitterness of his poverty and abandon bit deep into him.

A sister ran away on the advice of the church to join the land army, another older brother scorned all responsibility fP1100424or the younger siblings while the remaining elder brother struggled to cope with his own epilepsy. They had become a derelict family. Whatever assets remained were shared between distant opportunistic relatives – the “lucky penny” was never seen again. The family was separated and little Alfie was sent to a Barnado’s home near London. In the space of an afternoon he was asked to strip off his old clothes – including the warm love-sown coat, and standing naked in preadolescence, was deloused, given a uniform and whisked away to a land of strangers. He owned absolutely nothing…except the growing rebellion in his heart.

At the age of just 12 the weight of the world seemed to be on his shoulders as he struggled to find some meaning to it all. They had been a poor family, but at least they had been a family. He remembered how he used to look down on the “Barnardo Boys” because he felt he was at least better off than they were. But, oh the shame and the pain to find that he was now himself a “Barnardo’s Boy!” He hated it. The five-pound note he received as his part of the family inheritance seemed to add insult to injury. In the middle of one rebellious night, holding the lighted match to the sum total of what his family had left, he watched the flames consume the paper and felt his own heart burning to a dry ash.

“Oh God, I feel so alone!”

he thought, turning his eyes heavenward. His soul hungered, and fuelled by the pain of life, a strange desire to pray invaded his heart.

“Oh God, when I grow up, will you give me my own family? I’d love to be a Dad, and to be the father of boys. In fact I’d like to ask you for twin boys.”

The wind blew through the playground, as the disciplined bell rang out its orders to go in for lunch but somehow things were different. A sense of eternity hung in the air, and almost despite himself, a heart seemed to warm slowly to life again in the inspired environment of a prayer.

The folks were kind enough at the orphanage but the boy could never get over the sense of being a victim of charity which he resented strongly. The resentment boiled over into lots of fighting and shouting and even to an attempted arson of the school!

“We’d better batter the rebellion out of him,” thought the authorities.

So, he found himself learning to box. Unfortunately, he was up against a rather large black man who in a few lethal punches knocked him out. The freezing cold water, which was thrown over him, may have brought him back to his senses but it also gave him pleurisy which nearly sent him to the grave.

So “little Alfie” grew up in the school of hard knocks and became “Alf”. As soon as he could he left “Barnardo’s” to work in a dairy and a shredded wheat factory. One night, walking the streets, homeless, he was taken in by a family who gave him lodgings for the next few years.

Military Service came and went, as did an apprenticeship with the Eastern Electricity Board to become a cable jointer. And the romance! At a dance one evening he saw a young lady and said to his friend in a prophetic premonition.

“The lady I’m going to dance with will be my wife.”

He danced with her and a whole year went by before they met again. They began to go out together. However Alf had another love in his life; not another woman, but a love, or rather a compulsion for gambling. One night at the cinema he told his girlfriend that he had put all their money on a horse. P1100426

“It’s bound to win,” he said confidently.

Thankfully it didn’t win, and the loss brought with it the revelation of the utter waste of gambling. The choice was made, no more gambling. His heart was set free to marry.

On the night of the honeymoon, remembering his orphan prayer, he said to his new bride,

“We are going to have twins.”

Three months later his wife realised that she was indeed pregnant. On a visit to the doctor for a check up she was told.

“No, it’s not twins, there is only one heart beating…”

However, Alf, spurred on by a heavenly conviction and a lifetime’s hope proclaimed.

“I’m sure it’s twins!”

Later on the doctors discovered that there were indeed twins and that the one heartbeat they heard was in fact two hearts beating together in unison. However, around the seven month period – and still living in the curse of poverty and ill-health, there were some complications and the new mother needed to give birth prematurely. Two tiny, identical twin boys entered the world weighing no more than a bag of sugar each. Even at the very dawn of their lives death seemed to be trying to smother away the breath of life. One of the boys had great difficulty breathing as his lungs were not fully working whilst the other would not eat, seemingly being too weak to even have the will to live. Both boys were put into incubators with various breathing and feeding tubes.

On hearing the news of the birth, the father rushed to the hospital. Through the corridor window he saw the two little babies under the antiseptic glass of the incubators. Not knowing that they were his children his heart went out to them. He turned to a nurse and asked,

“Where are my boys?”

“Over there!” she replied, pointing to the incubators.

“I’m afraid there’s not much chance of them surviving.”

Because of a religious tradition of fear, a priest was quickly called in so that the two baby boys could be christened. He baptised them there and then in the cold hospital room with the hope that they would be fitted for heaven.

Another life challenge now arose for “young Alfie” who, remembering his previous losses to death, and at the very point of seeing his own life’s prayer coming to fruition, was suddenly face to face with its very destruction.

Quietly, with determination, he bent over to the incubators, opened them up and took the two tiny little hands in his own.

“Live, live!” he willed in the inner recesses of his soul.

A greater sacrament was taking place. A ragged working man in blue overalls, an orphan priest, was baptising his boys into prayer – into hope, into the grip of life. The struggle began. He returned to his run down home and threw himself face down on the floor before God in the agony of prayer. He lay there for three days and nights not eating or drinking but caught up in a longing beyond mere words.

“Oh God! Give me the life of my boys. Let me love them. Let me feed and provide for them. Let me give everything for them, and then when they are old enough to look after themselves, then you can take them. Just give me time to love them now.”

Well, did God answer his prayer? What do you think?

Thankfully yes…since “little Alfie” was the father of the present writer, and his dad, my grandad.

Dad 001The proof of answered prayer is this story being written now! Both myself and my twin brother survived, thanks to the passionate prayer of our Dad.

I remember how I got the story. I was explaining to him how I had encountered a wild, overpowering love in my life which had completely changed my world’s direction and was birthing in me a vocation to live on the edge following a man called Jesus. My twin brother was also with me having also experienced the same Holy fire in his life.

We were worried that our Dad, who having come out of his own dire poverty and lack of opportunity, and who was so ambitious for his sons’ futures, would be disappointed at our sudden change and “Damascus road” experiences.

A tear slowly falling from his cheek, he began to unfold his story and prayer.

“I understand now he said, God has not taken you to die but to be a living sacrifice for him.”

I pushed the conversation and asked how he prayed in those difficult three days.

“I went deep” he said, “to the very depths. And there at the very bottom I touched a heart….The heart of God.”

And he concluded:

“I thought God had forgotten.”

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From the Magnificat to Mama Mia…

P1100875How do you make the most of a cold rainy bank holiday Monday and Tuesday in London? Definitely not the weather for lounging leisurely on a boat trip down the Thames.

Start by joining thousands of others on the pilgrimage to South Kensington tube station to emerge at the Natural History Museum…and join a huge crowd queuing in the torrential rain. No way! Take an intelligent deviation into the wonderland of the Victoria and Albert Museum just next door.

Hours of pleasure hunting through the gathered treasures of ages, and plenty of interactive stuff too. Feel the goosebumps as you see the first edition of William Shakespeare’s plays, the doodles in Da Vinci’s note-book and the icons to our religious and theatrical past.

From there still avoid the ever-growing, continually drenched queue to the History Museum and take a quick tube to the glorious monument which is St Paul’s Cathedral.

An excellent virtual tour via i phone interprets the architectural glory and rich historical density. Passing by the statue of John Donne you hear his stricken heart crying:

“Batter my heart, three-person’d God, for you
As yet but knock, breathe, shine, and seek to mend;
That I may rise and stand, o’erthrow me, and bend
Your force to break, blow, burn, and make me new.
I, like an usurp’d town to another due,
Labor to admit you, but oh, to no end;
Reason, your viceroy in me, me should defend,
But is captiv’d, and proves weak or untrue.
Yet dearly I love you, and would be lov’d fain,
But am betroth’d unto your enemy;
Divorce me, untie or break that knot again,
Take me to you, imprison me, for I,
Except you enthrall me, never shall be free,
Nor ever chaste, except you ravish me.”

Such exaltation leads to the elevation of climbing the 528 steps to the Golden Gallery via
the mythic Whispering Gallery with its paintings of St Paul’s life dominating the dome.

An even greater descent into the crypt reveals the very heart of the nation, where,
subdued before Nelson’s tomb, England expects everyman to do his duty.P1100893

Emerging into the lighted altar for evensong, the raised fingers of the risen Christ beckon
worship. Cranmer’s age-old liturgy resounds once again as Mary’s Magnificat and
Simeon’s Nunc Dimittis marry the Jewish Psalmic tradition and humble the heart to the universal DNA of devotion.

Begin the next day, relatively queueless (or even clueless?) and certainly less soaked, at
the unmissable Natural History Museum. Relive “A Night at the Museum” in the famous
entrance hall and then do the dinosaurs with the growling T. Rex. Guy the gorilla – a
stuffed relic from London zoo, brings back childhood memories while the huge model
whale never fails to thrill.

P1100956After such a fossilised morning, stimulate the artist in you with a visit to the National
Gallery. Another superb building filled with the masterpieces of history. A synergy of
visual genius unveiled to hungry hearts and eyes.

Van Gogh’s Sunflowers, Van Eyck’s Arnolfini couple, and Rembrandt’s rendition of
Belshazzar’s feast – where the writing is really on the wall, weigh us all in the balance.

Escaping into the dynamic Covent Garden, seeking a more prosaic “Evensong”, the
Novello theatre offers the universal panacea of Abba and the “Mama Mia” musical.

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“Dancing Queen” and “Waterloo” herald the end of a brilliant couple of days.

“See that girl, watch that scene…”

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Temporal Kenosis

P1100806Does the fact of millions of years of just stone, tectonic movements, fire and lava – before man’s brief existence, somehow put into perspective our lives, wars and sufferings?

Where was God and what was He doing as the tectonic plates slowly moved, made mountains and created continents? Was it His slow, long work of creation – His day? Was He communing and delighting with His Son, the Holy Spirit and Angels?

Such a patient, long weaving of the context for the brief breath of mankind – and yet God Himself sent His Son to suffer for such. Temporal Kenosis!

“When I consider your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars, which you have set in place, what is man that you are mindful of him, the son of man that you care for him? You made him a little lower than the heavenly beings and crowned him with glory and honour.” Psalm 8:3-5

But before all the millions of years, before the “Big Bang” – whatever that was/is, before time itself…there was love, identity and redemption…There was a Lamb…there was a wounded God.

P1100881There was:

Wisdom –  “No, we speak of God’s secret wisdom, a wisdom that has been hidden and that God destined for our glory before time began.” 1 Corinthiens 2:7

Love –  “Father, I want those you have given me to be with me where I am, and to see my glory, the glory you have given me because you loved me before the creation of the world.” John 17:24

Glory“And now, Father, glorify me in your presence with the glory I had with you before the world began.” John 17:5

Grace –  “God, who has saved us and called us to a holy life – not because of anything we have done but because of his own purpose and grace. This grace was given us in Christ Jesus before the beginning of time,” 2 Timothy 1:9

Choseness“For you know that it was not with perishable things such as silver or gold that you were redeemed from the empty way of life handed down to you from your forefathers, but with the precious blood of Christ, a lamb without blemish or defect. He was chosen before the creation of the world, but was revealed in these last times for your sake.” 1 Peter 1:18-20,

“For he chose us in him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight.” Ephesians 1:4

The Promise of eternal life –  “…a faith and knowledge resting on the hope of eternal life, which God, who does not lie, promised before the beginning of time…” Titus 1:2

A Slain lamb - “All inhabitants of the earth will worship the beast – all whose names have not been written in the book of life belonging to the Lamb that was slain from the creation of the world.” Revelation 13:8

P1100856

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God and kids…The prosperity of Africa

God and kidsOn a recent visit to Yaoundé and Douala in Cameroon I was overwhelmed with the absolute poverty of Europe.

Even though we boast a strong Christian past with our Anglican and Catholic creeds coupled with the cathodic charisma of multiple God channels, we tend to lack a basic passion for the Almighty.

In our lands of insurance and double glazing we seem to have lost the fear of God.

Churches are often empty or filled with the aged, the media mocks or conjures up some nice “Songs of Praise”, and the Bible is a fairly unread book for the majority of young people.

The average birth rate for a German woman is 1.3 kids – many women choosing never to even exercise their biological right to bear a child. The womb of Europe is slowly drying up – only mass immigration can save it.61725_4563535282074_309650646_n

The sound of happy kids playing simple games in the streets is becoming a thing of the past. Children’s laughter and wide innocent eyes are an increasingly rare gift to the passer-by.

By comparison, I am overwhelmed with the fecundous generosity of the markets of Yaoundé. Myriads of kids and babies are everywhere, draped over busy, hard-working backs, or running in a chaotic rag-tag band of vitality through the narrow streets. Mother earth supplies a rich, abundant source of nourishment for such an emerging future as happy, healthy and humble black faces beam the rising black sun of the future.

I’m aware that not all African nations are as bountiful as Cameroon, and that feeding the many mouths can sometimes raise a challenge in the more desert areas of the Sahel. Providing proper education and jobs is a Herculean task for all future leaders. However, I still feel that the challenges facing fecundity are less daunting than the tragedy of a drift into dry sterility.

God is alive and well in Africa. He moves, not as a geriatric monument, but as a wild, naked warrior. He is dangerous and passionate. He is growing deep in the culture and mind of Africa – He is black.

PrayerChurches abound like a full mango tree in each town and village. Men and woman dance and whoop it up on Sundays clothed in a dignified and beautiful Sunday best. Young people and kids spend hours with their hands raised in worship to a God who is as real as their mobile phones. Pastors are respected like tribal chiefs and the name of God is rarely taken in vain.

Africa is rich. God and kids thrive in this future Continent of blessing.

While I was walking around the grounds of the place I was staying, admiring the early morning birdsong and waxing lyrical about bounteous nature, a piece of that nature decided to rise up in the form of a huge black snake that tried to sink its fangs into my leg. Depending on instinct and adrenalin I just managed to avoid the fangs and run away!

Fecundity is wildly promising – but dangerous…and their has always been a snake in God’s garden.

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Levin finds faith

LevinThe end of year saw me going back to one of Tolstoy’s classic novels – Anna Karenina. How could I ever have understood this as an undergraduate? Anyway, with a few more of life’s seasons having passed over me, I was intrigued and encouraged by reading the account of Levin’s dawning faith.

Unlike the glorious heroine who finally, almost by accident, fulfills her suicidal wish – the inevitable outcome of her supreme passion for life, he turns away from strife and suffering, surprised by life, surprised by joy.

Here are a few glorious snippets to inspire your own journey into 2014. Happy New Year! Be surprised!

“He felt something new in his soul and took a delight in probing it, not yet knowing what this new something was. ‘Not to live for one’s own needs, but for God!’…Fiodr declares that it is wrong to live for one’s belly; we must live for truth, for God, and a hint is enough to make me understand what he means!…

And I was surprised that in spite of the utmost efforts  of my reason in that direction I could not discover the meaning of life, the meaning of my own impulses and yearnings. But the meaning of my impulses is so clear that they form the very foundation of my existence, and I marveled and rejoiced when the peasant put it into words for me: to live for God, for my soul. I have discovered nothing. I have simply  opened my eyes  to what I knew. I have anna-kareninacome to the recognition  of that Power  that not only in the past gave me life but now too gives me life. I have been set free from fallacy, I have found the Master…he had been living rightly, but thinking wrongly…The miracle that made it possible for the world with its millions of individual human beings, sages and simpletons, children and old men, everyone, peasants,…beggars and kings, to comprehend with certainty one and the same truth and live that life of the spirit, the only life that is worth living  and which alone we prize….’Can this be faith?’ he wondered, afraid to believe in his happiness. ‘My God, I thank Thee!’ he breathed, gulping down the sobs that rose within him and with both hands brushing away the tears that filled his eyes.”

“I shall go on in the same way, losing my temper with Ivan the coachman, falling into angry discussions, expressing my opinions tactlessly; there will be still the same wall between the holy of holies of my soul and other people, even my wife; I shall still go on scolding her for my own fright and being remorseful for it; I shall still be as unable to understand with my reason why I pray, and I shall still go on praying; but my life now, my whole life apart from anything that can happen to me, every minute of it is no more meaningless, as it was before, but it has the positive meaning of goodness, which I have the power to put into it.”

Last Paragraphs from Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina

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Name him Benoni…

Mary & JosephWe all know the scene. A pregnant Mary, seated on a gentle donkey and led by a doting Joseph, make their way to Bethlehem. It is a “Silent night, all is calm, all is bright.”

However, lurking in the dark background of the rising moon we see a distance shadow of a tombstone. All may not be so calm and bright.

As they pass the sombre remembrance pillar, the baby in her womb kicks painfully and Mary stifles a groan. She remembers her distant mother Rachel, pregnant like herself, who passed this way centuries earlier. As tradition demands she makes her own prayer for a safe delivery and journeys on reciting from memory the ancient Torah verses.

“Then they moved on from Bethel. While they were still some distance from Ephrath, Rachel began to give birth and had great difficulty. And as she was having great difficulty in childbirth, the midwife said to her, Don’t be afraid, for you have another son. As she breathed her last – for she was dying – she named her son Ben-Oni. But his father named him Benjamin. So Rachel died and was buried on the way to Ephrath (that is, Bethlehem). Over her tomb Jacob set up a pillar, and to this day that pillar marks Rachel’s tomb.” Genesis 35:16-20

Like Mary, as we consider the advent of Christmas, we may do well to meditate this same distant narrative. The harsh bedrock of the Christmas story has been sugared over with tinsel through the ages and we are apt to lose our grip on the epic battle that was being fought out in those dark plains as the plan of ages was being fulfilled – the years of stoney sleep about to be shaken to nightmare by a rocking cradle.

“Call Him Emmanuel – God with us,” we cry. “Call Him the ‘Little Lord Jesus’ asleep in the hay,” we sing.

But who calls Him “Benoni” ?Mother in CAR

The crying mothers of Central African Republic , like Rachel, in the difficult birth of their nation at this time, certainly know something of this “Son of Suffering.”

The depressed, the maimed, the bereaved, the ill and the  lost may also find comfort in knowing that a “man of sorrows” was also born on Christmas day.

Life is a struggle for all of us – a difficult birth. The Magi of Eliot’s poem also understood, like Rachel of old, that “this Birth was hard and bitter agony for us.”

Often we approach Christmas from the outside, like those pagan Kings, “an alien people clutching their gods” of wealth and humanism, yet wanting a gentle white christmas for the kids.

The true God-child subverts such a cheap longing, demanding a greater confrontation with life. At Christmas, like all days, we confront death as well as birth, suffering as well as joy.

Eliot puts it well:

“All this was a long time ago, I remember,
And I would do it again, but set down
This set down
This: were we led all that way for
Birth or Death? There was a Birth, certainly
We had evidence and no doubt. I had seen birth and death,
But had thought they were different; this Birth was
Hard and bitter agony for us, like Death, our death.
We returned to our places, these Kingdoms,
But no longer at ease here, in the old dispensation,
With an alien people clutching their gods.
I should be glad of another death.”        The Journey of the Magi   T.S EliotThree Kings

Glad of another death, another cross, another Benoni… we may also be glad of another life.

The final word is with the Father. The full stop of history is not at the end of death and suffering. The crying, bloodied child of the manger is also the triumphant risen King reigning at the right hand of God – Benjamin. The final naming of history is that of resurrection and life.

Humanity saw Christ, the “man of sorrows”, dead on a cross, but like Jacob of old, a greater Father intervened in love and overturned the naming in death with a vital new christening of resurrection, raising up His Son to sit at His right hand in heaven.

Our dreams and visions may well go through the process of death and suffering.
Benjamin is the son of resurrection – the ultimate triumph of life over death and suffering.

Benoni is not the final word.

Your own suffering this Christmas is deeply understood and meaningful – but it is not the definitive outcome. There can more pages to turn in your book of life. Be led by a star, discover the Christ laying in the straw of your heart and call him beyond your Benoni…

Call him new life, call Him Benjamin…and rise.

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Go slow, finish well…

imageI was reading an article yesterday that said if you take up extreme sports like running marathons it is a clear sign that you are in the midst of a mid-life crisis.

Well my “crisis” has been going on for well over the last ten years! It began with an innocent run in the Paris marathon in 2003, which I completed quite comfortably in just under four hours. I was hooked – the masochistic addiction was now in my blood!

The next marathon took me to Dijon. It was a slightly different set up, as the feeding stations gave out the famous Beaujolais wines and cheese. Clothed in fancy dress as a French priest I managed to get around on my own two legs despite being slightly under the influence – never again!Rob___'s Marathon 03 001 Copious servings of snails were also served at the end to lift the spirits.

My second Paris marathon enabled me to run my personal best of 3 hours 46 mins. After the race I had a speaking engagement to get to and finished the evening in a Korean restaurant.

The Rotterdam marathon was the first time I hit the wall and really suffered. I’d been suffering from bronchitis before the race and went off far too quickly. Around 30 km I had nothing left and it was the survival shuffle to get home. I remember meditating “Festina Lente” – make haste slowly, in my head as each painful, slow step got me nearer to the finish line. I was a complete wreck at the end needing to sit down in the street, like some devastated vagrant, to get my life back.

Lausanne was the wettest marathon. Intense rain and mist engulfed the entire course and I had to imagine the beautiful mountain views I was missing! The 30th Paris marathon followed and my Parisian trinity finished in puffed out pain.

The land of the Ch’tis is supposed to be flat…not when you run the Lille to Lens “marathon du Louvre”. There were more climbs than Lausanne! It was also an intensely hot day defying the traditional reputation for rain. Pain again crowned my efforts at the finish line.

Rob_______'s London Marathon 08 001I finally got a place in the famous “London Marathon.” The crowds and support were amazing and, as I trudged over Tower Bridge, I knew this would be a good day. I finished well enough to negotiate a trip home on the tube to dear friends in Finchley.

Like most runners, one of my dreams was to run the “New York City Marathon.” I was never able to secure a place and was not too keen on paying the enormous sums of money required to procure a place via an official travel agent. I stopped running marathons for over a year and wondered if my dream had died. Through my job I was invited to speak at a conference in New York. I accepted and then looked at the dates. It was exactly the time of the New York marathon. Spurred on by this, I was then able to secure a place by running for a charity. I was in! I trained hard to get my fitness back. I was also invited to lead an ecumenical service at the beginning of the race which was another highlight. The race is brilliant, but the bridges kill your legs! I was definitely suffering in Central Park. I took the plane home to France in the evening with some other fellow sufferers who were also wondering if they would ever be able to get out from their torturous economy seats after the night flight!2130 After a few groans and cries we all got up and waddled out like violated ducks.

Was there still life in the old dog after New York? Did I still have something to prove? Well the rust set in for another year until I rose to a final challenge. Years earlier I had missed out on the “Berlin Marathon” due to nearly dying from heat stroke and being in a coma for three hours thinking I had been kidnapped by aliens – but that is another story! I saw on the internet that it was the 40th year celebration of this marathon. I immediately logged on and reserved a place several months in advance hoping that my waist line would shrink and that I would get a reasonable amount of training in.

imageJust as I began to train I managed to severely pull my right calf muscle. You have to be a runner to realise how depressing that can be. You need to rest and wait, like some Beckettian character waiting for Godot. The training deadline of three months passed and I was still injured. I was speaking again for a month in America and I was thinking of all the wonderfully fattening meals I was going to be plied with. With two months to go before Berlin I ventured out of my guest house in Seattle, an aging, overweight man, and began to run up a hill. “This is make or break.” I thought. “May my calf muscle hold up!”

Well it did hold up and I managed to be more or less ready for the race. I took a 13 hour overnight coach trip to Berlin which was in itself a masochistic travel marathon. I collected my bib along with the crowds and was ready for the big day. The impressive Reichstag with the inscription Dem Deutschen Volke greeted the thousands of runners. After a night of feverish sweating I felt tired after the first kilometre and thought I might faint! Pulling myself together I carried on. The words of encouragement to an ancient Jewish King echoed in my ears:

“But as for you, be strong and do not give up, for your work will be rewarded.”image

I felt terrible but reasoned that I might as well relish the very experience of such pain if this was to be my last marathon. I went slow at the end so that I might finish well. This seems to be a metaphor for life. Pace yourself so that you may finish with joy and success.

The last couple of kilometres were exalting. My adrenalin kicked in and I was shouting and celebrating, greeting the cheering crowds and thoroughly enjoying myself. I ran through the Brandenburg gate like a god. A great way to finish. A wonderful cold beer was served to all and a warm group shower with fellow runners set me up for my marathon coach trip home.

image

Ten marathons in ten years – what a wonderful joy.

Will I do another?

 

 

 

 

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