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I am certain of nothing

Discipleship & the way of lifelong learning

I was listening to a podcast on the habits needed to be a life-long runner. More than getting faster, or hitting certain mileage goals, this is what interests me. I want to keep running. I was anxious to get all of the magic bullet secrets that the experts have compiled to keep us on our feet.

I expected to hear nutrition tips and to be lightly shamed into stretching more. But instead, the number one thing needed in order to be a lifelong runner is to be a lifelong learner. You need to be able to draw on the collective wisdom of the running community and the ever-evolving science of how the human body moves. You need to treat your body as the living document it is; we only ever run in aging bodies, and those aging bodies forever have new things to teach us. You need to come through injury, and the only way of doing so is for pain to be your teacher.

I talk about running a lot. I do so not because I assume that everybody wants to run. I have a healthy respect for anyone who thinks that aside from the terrors of grade school gym class, they would only run if something was chasing them. That was me too. Running was something to which I came accidentally and that I count as one of the most mysterious graces of my life. Rather, I talk about running a lot because running provides any number of important life lessons. More especially, running provides many crossover lessons for the journey of faith.

When Jesus launches his public ministry with the words, “Turn around, the Kingdom of God is at hand,” his first order of business is to call disciples (Mark 1). The word disciple simply means “student,” and throughout the accounts of Jesus’ life, his followers consistently recognize him as “rabbi” or “teacher.” Jesus, often depicted in gentle and pastoral imagery, shows a sharper edge when it comes to those who think of themselves as finished products. His affinity is not with the pious, the smug, the figured-it-all-out experts, but rather with those who recognize that they need and don’t know. Jesus’ disciples are the ones who are willing and able to pivot, to ask forgiveness, to touch and be changed, to have unseen gifts called out of themselves, to be invited to try a new thing. Jesus models this invited stance of awe and wonder with a surprisingly responsive ministry for one who would be recognized as God’s incarnation — acting not merely according to some master plan but also routinely attentive to the things he sees and hears from those around him. Jesus is willing to be changed in response to what others have to offer.

I remember endless hours spent in school classrooms, fidgeting and doodling on the corner of my lined binder paper, watching the minutes inch by gratingly. It felt like I was going to be stuck in some of those classrooms for the rest of my life. One of the great things about growing up is coming to realize that being stuck in the classroom — either metaphorically, or even literally — is a goal to which we should always aspire. Most of life’s greatest joys are found in never being done learning. It’s just like that podcast said, if you want to run all your life, you have to keep a beginner’s mind. You have to learn how to navigate injury, how to get broken and bruised and to come through it not the same, but changed. You have to learn how not to be alone, how good and important it is not to know everything so that others can teach you. If you’re lucky, you get to learn how to get old, how to live and love in bodies that get shabby and wrinkled and fall apart and have an expiration date on them.

I was listening to another podcast, this one specifically about Christian leadership. At the end, the interviewee, Ryan Burge, was asked to name someone to whom they look up as a person of faith. Their selection was surprising. Ryan chose Anthony Bourdain and quoted the famous words he tattooed on his body: “I am certain of nothing.” This, Ryan argued, is the stance to which we as Christians are called. We can hope. We can believe. But we should always remain unfinished, ready to be challenged, open to hearing, seeing, experiencing and learning something new.



MinistryMatters is a space for Canadian Anglicans to share stories on the ongoing work of the Anglican Church of Canada, its life, ministry and mission.

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Martha Tatarnic

Martha serves as priest at George's in St. Catharines. Her new book, “Why Gather?” is now available to order