Erin Thomassen | Thursday, February 9, 2017
God wants to speak to you when you run. I discovered this when one of my earbuds stopped working. I tugged both of them out with frustration, only to find they were better in my hands than in my ears. Then I discovered: they were best of all when I left them at home.
A running enthusiast since high school cross country, I used music in college to motivate me to run faster, and eventually, to run at all. I never needed this motivation in high school. When I was running on a team, working out was not voluntary. Every weekday at 3 p.m., I ventured out with 20 of my closest friends to explore trails in the name of sports.
It was harder to run hard and long by myself, for I had no one to entertain me with stories about their calc teacher or challenge me with maddeningly longer and longer strides. My schedule lacked regularity, and it rarely seemed a good day to wake up early or shower and redress later. There was also the question of energy level, which seemed more depleted every semester. I didn’t like coffee, so what was I to do?
One day, I discovered I didn’t need coffee when there was music. I was about to fall asleep on my futon, blanketed in solid mechanics notes, when my roommate put on Taylor Swift. I jolted up, shedding free-body diagrams and trampling them in a flash dance party.
Almost dislocating the sink from the wall, I had exhausted the moves that could be performed in my Mod Quad quarters. I needed more space to expend this instantaneous energy. With sneakers hastily laced, I went out, intent on sprinting to South Quad, Saint Mary’s and downtown South Bend. Yet my energy was zapped by the time I got to LaFortune. I walked home sipping chocolate milk instead of completing the half-marathon that seemed inevitable 10 minutes prior.
When I realized that maintaining sudden bursts of energy required constant musical input, I invested in snazzy earbuds to stream snazzy songs. Running was transformed from a solitary slog to a mobile jam session. Mumford & Sons were my personal trainers, Stromae my “Frenchspiration.” Now I craved my fresh-air reward at the end of class, my pre-dinner musical adventure.
Yet these music-filled moments were contemplation-barren. I hadn’t managed to perform an Ignatian Examen while grooving to Kesha. But that was okay, because running time was “me time” — time for an activity I loved. I didn’t need to bring God into it.
I was soon reminded that God wants to be in everything. He does not want me to keep parts of my life separate from Him — not because He is a hovering, meddling busybody, but because all parts of my life will be better when I allow Him to transform them.
I resisted, pushing God to the back of my mind as I pushed repeat on Shakira. Her hips may not lie, but I was lying to myself that it was good to block out God’s voice with pop music telling me what kind of woman I should be and what kinds of actions should bring me pleasure. I couldn’t keep Shakira on at Jesus in the woods or the Grotto, and I would feel weird returning to her after reflective moments in holy zones. So I pretended that taking a prayer break hadn’t occurred to me and kept pushing myself faster, further from these landmarks that reminded me of who I was supposed to be.
The left earbud eventually blew out, and I gave up on blasting music through my right ear only. I found myself at the Stations of the Cross, a far cry from my stations on Pandora. Without the music urging me on, I listened to the voice calling me to pause and pray before continuing on my journey.
I do not run as fast without music. However, without the distraction of constant stimulation, I am able to hear what God wants to say to me and what I want to say to Him. I am able to think for myself, an active contemplative, instead of absorbing what the music industry wants me to consume.
It is not bad to run with music. It can be fun and motivating. If you hear God urging you to take a break from the tunes to listen better to Him, though, I urge you to pop them out, at least for a while. You may not want to put them back in.
The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.