Right around the time period when Forrest Gump donned his first pair of Puma’s, my friend, Tom Holinga, invited me to do a thing he called, “jogging.” At the time, I was understandably reluctant as it had been several years since I had done anything truly athletic.
While I had signed no formal letter of intent, nonetheless, at the start of my high school career, I had made an informal commitment to the RJ Reynolds Tobacco Company. I agreed to smoke a pack-and-a-half of Marlboro’s a day throughout high school. In turn, they agreed to take my money and my childhood passions of basketball and soccer away from me. By the time I was nineteen, I felt as old as Fred Sanford. Even moderate physical activities made me feel like Elijah’s sweet chariot was coming for to carry me home.
The invitation to jog came the summer after high school, when I had severed all contact with RJ Reynolds. Nonetheless, the call to run beside and between cornfields on a hot, sticky, rural road for no apparent reason, conjured up painful memories of gym-class coughing, hacking, and pounding headaches.
On that 1980 Saturday in June, Tom manifested a latent talent for sales. “Come on, just one mile! We can walk whenever you’re tired. I’ll take it slow…just to the creek and back….” When all this failed, he took out the big guns. “Come on you wuss! Maybe I’ll get your little brother to come instead. No wait. I’ll bet your mom could do a better job running than you. Hold on. What’s your grandma’s phone number? I’ll ask her.” After the insults failed, came the offer to treat me to a post-jogging blueberry Slushie. That sealed the deal.
It would be hard to hear the Gospel proclaimed in mainline Christian churches this Sunday (John 6: 51-58) and come away believing that Jesus, like my friend Tom, had any latent talent as a salesman. If his intention was to get a large throng to start running with him, then all that talk of eating his body and drinking his blood was no way to seal the deal. Later in the chapter, the crowd that had previously jogged alongside him, peeled away and “returned to their former way of life” (vs. 66).
My friend Tom hung up his last pair of running shoes last summer, but his legacies of athleticism and spirituality still live within me. Here on a Sunday in August, 2021, forty-two pairs of jogging shoes after that fateful summer’s afternoon, I find myself reflecting on how Creative, Divine breath blows through seemingly small, subtle, insignificant events to change the course of a life. On a lazy, otherwise unremarkable day, the simple elements of a friend’s hobby, along with his willingness to persuade and cajole me, turned into an opportunity to give me back my body along with my forgotten love for athleticism.
One of the lessons of this Sunday’s Gospel is that transformation is not found in the grand gesture. It is found in the tiny things…like daily bread…like a good habit practiced over and over again…like communion received week-after week until the nightfall of life. God leaves the most profound and transformative fingerprints on the subtle, small things of life. In what small way could you cooperate with God’s plan to pour more joy, and more love into your days?