Sophie and I have just been to NYC for an entire week. It was terribly exciting. While she danced and sang her way through a week of musical theatre training I got to shop, sightsee, write and spend some much-needed me-time. Towards the end of the week I decided to do something I love to do in places I haven’t been to before. I love to head out for a long run, see where I end up and just explore. Rather oddly I find it exciting if I get lost on these runs.
I find it wonderfully freeing to have absolutely no goal other than to relax and see where my feet take me. So, with no set distance or time goals, and certainly no aspirations of running the whole time, my plan was to take the metro to Central Park and just start running, or more accurately “jogging”, my way around one of the most iconic parks in America.
(That’s the joy of being a runner and not a gym bunny. All you need is a good pair of shoes and a stout bra and you can exercise anytime, anyplace, anywhere while saving some money on sightseeing tours!)
The plan was foolproof until I got off at the wrong metro stop. I emerged from the subway and popped my head above ground only to find my self about eight blocks from the park. Being a Londoner born and bred, the concept of not knowing where I am, and knowing that where I am is not where I intended to be, and that where I am is deep inside the bowls of a 470 square mile metropolis, didn’t faze me. Weirdly enough my heart started to beat a little faster with excitement and anticipation … I could smell adventure in the air!
Admittedly, the fact that I was fully equipped with my iPhone 6 strapped to my arm, with its state of the art GPS system and Google maps, relieved any momentary panic I felt. I even had my ICE (InCase of Emergency) contact highly visible to any emergency service personnel that might find me in a couple of hours lost, dehydrated and crying in the gutter.
And so I ventured forth at a comfortable walking pace into the depths of the city, in what I assumed was the general direction of the park. I took in all the sights that my unexpected warm up walk had in store for me. The tall brown stone buildings, the upscale florists and cupcake shops, where a single cupcake will cost you a small fortune but buy you eternal peace and happiness, and the general “boy you must have to be well heeled to live here” atmosphere of the Upper Eastside.
Soon I found myself in front of a church that seemed so small and unassuming compared to its surroundings, yet it was nestled so neatly into the neighborhood that it didn’t appear out of place. I immediately knew I just had to go inside. As I removed my cap and walked up the worn, stone steps an old man pushed open the heavy oak doors and headed towards me. He looked so familiar that for a moment I almost greeted him with a warm “Oh my goodness, I haven’t seen you for years, how are you?” hug. But despite the startling familiarity of his features, I knew for sure that I didn’t actually know him, so I just smiled and nodded politely as I carried on into the church. As we passed half way up the steps he leaned in close to me and gently said “Beautiful stained glass in side. Beautiful.” A moment later he was gone and I found myself inside the church. The noticeable chill and silent peace of the sanctuary a welcome relief from the noisy, hot, bustling street outside. I sidled into a pew at the back and just sat there, not entirely sure why I was there, and I wondered whether I had offended anyone by not bobbing and genuflecting adequately in what I know realized was a Catholic church.
I sat in the stillness until I realized that there were tears trickling down my cheeks. I hadn’t noticed that I’d started to cry and I had absolutely no idea what had moved me. I didn’t feel particularly sad, or particularly happy. I didn’t feel alone or lost. I didn’t feel much of anything to be honest, but I’ve hung around with God long enough to know that He was probably doing something. So I asked Him what He was up to. Are You showing me something Lord? Teaching me something? Healing something? Could it be something to do with the “familiar” stained glass window “stranger” I just passed on the steps? Could he be the reason I now found myself crying in the back pew of a Catholic church on the Upper Eastside of New York City? Never one to sit still for too long (I’m not great at being still and knowing He is God) I decided to get back to my run, confident that God would reveal anything He wanted to show me in due time. So I breathed in the cool sanctuary air that was heavy with His presence from the accumulated years of worship, and then stepped into the bright sunlight of Lexington Avenue. (Yes, I confess, I’d checked Google maps. I’m not that much of an urban Crocodile Dundee!).
As I meandered through Central Park and replayed my rather odd teary moment I kept being drawn back to the stained glass window admirer. His face and manner brought a smile to my face. The kind of smile where you lift your chin, engage your cheek muscles and exhale a sigh of contentment. And then the penny dropped! I knew where I knew him from!! I felt like I knew him because he was an exact cross between my maternal grandpa and Spike Milligan, the crazy English comic actor and poet. Both these men had affected my childhood by being slightly mad and crazy!! My Grandpa, who was institutionalized after WWII for PTSD and Schizophrenia, had always called me My dear Sweet Child as he lovingly checked the soles of my shoes for enemy spy equipment! He rode the line of genius:madness just off centre and firmly on the side of madness. But we loved him and he loved us. Spike Milligan was about the same age as my Grandpa and the author of my favorite book “Silly Verses for Kids”. It was just so full of nonsense that it made perfect sense to my childhood self. Here’s Spike Milligan …
As I plodded my way around the park I began to see what God was trying to show me. That I hadn’t belly laughed for a very long time. That I was wound up and taking life way too seriously. That I hadn’t been silly and full of nonsense for far too long, and I hadn’t felt His joy for a while. I’d lost my childhood wonder and creativity. It had been buried under a avalanche of worries, woes and being in control.
I know that sounds rather crazy and unspiritual but I’m not sure it is. I’m reminded of how ridiculously creative God is and how crazily He loves us. We are His Dear Sweet Children after all.
Proverbs (17:22) tells us that “A cheerful heart is good medicine, but a crushed spirit dries up bones.” and reciting some of my favorite Spike Milligan poems from memory as I jogged through the park gave me a cheerful heart, watered my dry bones, and made me laugh out loud. I think that’s what God wanted to do. Cheer my heart and water my bones. For me to lighten up and feel His joy.
Sometimes he uses profound, worshipful, spiritual moments to tell His children what He wants them to hear. Sometimes He says “My Dear Sweet Child, I know you love Spike Milligan. I do too. Do you remember On The Ning Nang Nong? Do you remember how we laughed?” How could I forget? I even have my beloved copy with its well worn pages!
If like me you’ve become a bit too serious for your own boots, let me encourage you that there’s joy in the silliness and nonsense and that our creative God loves us and wants us to laugh and drink His good medicine.