The Injured Body

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By: Martha Tatarnic

I have spent the better part of my thirties on a runner’s high. In a decade jam-packed with family and work responsibilities, running has become the “Big Marble” that has to go into the jar first in order for all of the other marbles to fit. And while, as a Christian leader, I know that my Big Marble is supposed to be God, I have to believe that God dropped the gift of running into my lap, tied up with a bow and signed with love, for the sake of making every other demand on my life and time possible. When I run, I have creative ideas and energy for ministry. When I run, I reflect rather than just react. When I run, I have a voracious appetite for the delicious and intriguing things of life. When I run, I am not just scraping by, I am embracing God’s promised abundance.

In celebration of leaving my thirties this fall, I decided to train for a 30km race. Aging wouldn’t be synonymous with inevitable decline for me. I put together a training plan. I followed it methodically over the course of summer travel, running on hotel treadmills, over the red roads of PEI, through pea soup humidity in Ontario and smoky west coast air. Three weeks out from my race, I knocked out an exhilarating 28km run and finished feeling ready for September.

The endorphins were pumping so strongly that I didn’t realize I was injured.

Whereas I had planned to coast into my forties my strongest and best self, instead I descended into a spiral of pain and worry, which was significantly amplified by the occasional google search of symptoms. What was wrong with me? Why wasn’t I getting better? How can pain be so tiring? What if this damage was permanent? WHO AM I IF I CAN’T RUN?

As usual, coping became easier when I began talking with others, those who also know what it is to equate moving with living. “It takes greater discipline to recover from an injury than it does to run in the first place,” a wise running friend told me. I miss that constant presence of endorphins to lighten my mood; I miss devouring good food with a well-earned appetite. But her words gave a sense of purpose and power to days that have otherwise felt flat and aimless.

“Injuries will happen,” another mentor said. “So it seems to me that running is about figuring out how to be a healthy body, and also an injured body. Then it is about figuring out how to again be a confident body.” In other words, if you want to run, you have to expect to sometimes get hurt. Then you have to be willing to heal and to find the courage to run again.

Surely that, my friends, is not just a word to the athletes but to all of the walking wounded who choose to love and live with open hearts.

St. Paul offered this stirring image to the Corinthians: “do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, which you have from God, and that you are not your own?” (I Corinthians 6:19). With these words, he encourages a strong set of moral guidelines in this fledgling congregation, and the verse has almost exclusively been used ever since to command everything from a code of sexual purity to refraining from tobacco and drugs. But I hear in these verses not instruction but promise—promise that cannot be separated from the resurrected body of Jesus. Wounds and all, Jesus’ body is raised by God to reveal the indwelling of the Most High. Correspondingly, my body, limps and injuries included, is loved and held, beautiful and sacred in the eyes of God. Along the way, and at some point in the future permanently, my body will fail me, and in my body I will be raised up—in all my weakness, with every wound—and it is through my body in all of its hurt and healed manifestations that the presence of God loves and blesses me.

I didn’t end up blazing into my forties as I had planned: with my longest distance and best time. Instead, I hobbled over the finish line of a 5km race, the mechanics of my body significantly impacted by the hurt and stiffness of my injured leg. But God’s Resurrection promise was present to me (and maybe in me) too. My nine-year-old son was inspired at the last minute to run with me. It was his longest distance and best time.

We were both on that runner’s high for the rest of the weekend.

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About Martha:
I am an ordained Anglican priest who loves talking religion and politics with friends, eating (and sometimes baking) cake, running half marathons, and playing bridge and the French Horn. I am always on the look-out for new music, new challenges, and hearing new connections in an ancient word. I parent two wise and creative children with my husband Dan and am grateful for the many churches who have taught me something of why Jesus used food in order to build community and reveal the love of God. My current ministry charge is at St. George’s, St. Catharines, and my book, The Living Diet: A Christian Journey to Joyful Eating, will be published in the spring of 2019.

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