Some men exercise their religion for a little while in the morning, or in the evening; walk it out for a few moments and let it take the air, or give it a turn on Sundays; but this is all. What an emaciated, dyspeptic, valetudinarian sort of religion is this! This great gospel is not a cramped, feeble, narrow thing of times and seasons, but wherever God can be worshipped or humanity be served, or the spirit of love manifested, there is the work of true religion…These are but the chances of a single day; but how numerous and how pregnant would they become if we would but set our hearts upon their discovery.” – E.H. Chapin, “Chances in Life”, Providence in Life.
Edwin Hubbell Chapin was one of the great late Nineteenth Century Universalist preachers; the way he expressed his love of life and our very human opportunity to discover daily both the chance to serve humanity and to worship the Beloved moves me every time I reread him.
Every act of kindness is an act of loveliness. Every person is the presence of Love waiting for us to act. Every moment of human caused pain is a moment for us to be midwives to transformation. But to be present in that pain is strenuous labor, and why Chapin reminds us that practicing our religion – our values and what we worship – is muscular, large, and sacrificing.
Guide my feet, while I run this race. Guide my feet, while I run this race. Guide my feet, while I run this race, for I don’t want to run this race in vain.
That traditional spiritual bubbles up from inside me when I’m being called to practice my religion and my spiritual muscles are sore, my heart tired, my lungs aching. We know we are exercising our religion when the going is tough. It is easy enough to focus on the loveliness, to bask in the loveliness, to submit to the sublimity. But the test of any person and any religion and any value is when we are marathoning at the edge of our endurance.
Search my heart, while I run this race. Search my heart, while I run this race. Search my heart, while I run this race, for I don’t want to run this race in vain.
The service of humanity is noble and large and given how much of humanity expects things to be easy and come easy and yet stay truly, we need our spiritual friends with whom we exercise these values. We need to be with people who can observe us kindly and slow the pace when necessary and spur us on when necessary. These are the people we cherish, the relationships formed in training on the road, strengthening as our spiritual muscles are exercised, exerting for justice and mercy and love and then, panting, exulting in the glorious gifts of this life. To our spiritual friends, we sing.
Hold my hand, while I run this race. Hold my hand, while I run this race.
Hold my hand, while I run this race, for I don’t want to run this race in vain.
This great spiritual arose from the experience of slavery and not knowing when the suffering would cease, but in listening to Paul’s words of encouragement to Timothy, taking those words and extending the metaphor. Fight the good fight, finish the race, keep the faith.
Every day we rise to celebrate the beauty and goodness of this life, we also rise to the suffering in this world, some of which we undoubtedly created, often inadvertently, often with better intentions. One does not have to read the paper or see the news to encounter the many opportunities for us to exercise our spirit and values in justice and mercy and love; one merely needs to show up and observe and listen what is going on in one’s own heart and in the people with which one lives, in the city and the country, in the school and the workplace, in the long, long lines of sadness by the soup kitchen and under the overpasses, in the quiet desperation of kitchens and roadsides. Each of us alone cannot possibly do everything, carry this entire world alone. But each of us does not have to. All of us together make a difference, slowly and sometimes imperceptibly, until evidence is made real in smiles and tears and hope and another person striving for joy.
Stand by me, while I run this race. Stand by me, while I run this race. Stand by me, while I run this race, for I don’t want to run this race in vain.
Beloveds, the song guides us on our way, and though the way may be long, what we do does indeed matter. May you find blessings in your marathon today.