Running Raw, Lizard Meat, and Lent

Some things are perhaps best left to fade away into the forgotten halls of history: the AMC Gremlin, leisure suits, and the ancient Greek Olympic practice of running nude.  Astonishingly, from 800 BC to 400 AD, nearly all of the events of the Olympiad were performed in-the-buff.  According to one account, “If the modern Olympic Games ran true to the strict customs of ancient Greece they might well today have been called the ‘Naked Games’. ”

These Olympic games were taken very seriously, evidenced by their dedication to the god Zeus, who in Greek mythology ruled as king of the gods on Mount Olympus.  Understandably then, the competition was fierce and intense.  In preparation for the events, the contenders strengthened and shaped their bodies by extreme discipline, marked by arduous workouts in the gymnasium.  Coincidentally, the word ‘gymnasium’ is derived from gymnos which means ‘naked’.  When they competed, as one writer described, “The only adornment on the athletes’ bronzed, muscular torsos would have been the gleam of olive oil with which they ritually anointed themselves.”  And, in order to gain any performance edge, athletes consumed the ‘superstitious steroid’ of the day – lizard meat!  

Athletic metaphors, such as running and boxing, consequently found their way into the New Testament letters of the Apostle Paul and the Letter to the Hebrews in particular.  For example, appealing to the commonly known Olympic customs of his day, the author of the letter to the Hebrews wrote:

“Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus the pioneer and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.” (Hebrews 12:1-2)

The Olympian runners were surrounded by a vast stadium crowd of fans cheering them on to victory.  However, we believers are surrounded by a great ‘cloud of witnesses’ (martyrs, saints) that have gone before us.  They intercede, cheering for us from heaven to, “Run the race!   Persevere, and don’t let up!”  Coupled with their intercession we must run our very best race, which requires laying aside every ‘weight’ – those detrimental things that slow us down.

More importantly, running our best race also demands that we shed every ‘sin which clings so closely’ and that we run unencumbered by our ‘clothing’ (self-righteousness), since through baptism we have “clothed ourselves with Christ”.  Finally, the vital principle in our race, and key to victory is ‘looking to Jesus’ – keeping our eyes on Jesus – not ‘Zeus’.  Otherwise, we set ourselves up for discouragement and failure.  

St. Paul reminds us that in our race we run to receive the prize – a prize not of this world.  We  do not run for a perishable wreath, as the Olympians did, but for the imperishable ‘wreath’ of eternal life.  He says, “So run that you may obtain it.”

And that brings us to Lent.  So, what kind of Lenten ‘race’ will we run this year?  What ‘weight(s)’ will we lay aside for 40 days?  What sin(s) will we strive to permanently eliminate from our lives?  What virtue(s) will we practice and cultivate?  In other words, what does our workout routine look like in the ‘Lenten Gymnasium’ of prayer, fasting and almsgiving?         

Whatever you do though, stay away from the lizard meat.  It tastes terrible and doesn’t work.  And when you run…well, you know.

Have a blessed Lent!

+Deacon Dave