Wednesday, July 28, 2010

The meaning of life as illuminated by running and photography

Excerpt from Oswald Chamber's My Utmost for His Highest
After Obedience, What?"
God's end is to enable me to see that He can walk on the chaos of my life just now. If we have a further end in view, we do not pay sufficient attention to the immediate present: if we realize that obedience is the end, then each moment as it comes is precious.
It is interesting  that Christianity can often be viewed to be at odds with most other worldviews. Those who are not satisfied with the tenants of the bible, who continue to question the meaning of life and propose alternative explanations can be percieved as a threat even to a point when the church, like a cornered and injured dog begins to lash out in fear at those who are not truly enemies. We can begin to view this time as a sort of extended pergatory, an entrance exam for heaven. We try to live transcendent, pressing on toward the upward call of Jesus Christ, hating the world and loving God. But often the calling to be "not of this world" translates to a complicated sort of insularism.
I'm reminded, as I often am, of an epiphany that struck me while I was running. Distance running was the bane of my existence during my teenage years. I was a sprinter who preferred the flashing burn and explosive energy of, at most, 200 meters. Cross country runners were sad and confused masochists who in need of pity and ostracism. Why would you choose to prolong that pain, to revel in it? To my thinking, there has not been reason to run a marathon since 500 BC.
Yet, for reasons I can't quite remember now, I began dabbling in those dark waters in the wee small hours of my twenties. Still resistant to the idea of running for more than 45 seconds at a time, my pace was plodding and laborious. Still, without my knowledge or consent, my body began enjoying these 30 minute jogs and even extending them! What was happening to me? I was morphing into one of "them!" I should add, however, that I am still not really one of "them," those fanatics who enjoy long distance races or those who are actually good at running, but I do actually enjoy myself for 30, 40, even *gasp* 60 minutes at a time!
The epiphany came during one of these runs as I was contemplating this very transition, why do I now enjoy a practice which was close to torturous only 5 years earlier? The difference was, I discovered, that I used to treat distance running the same as a sprint, the goal being to finish it as quickly and impressively as possible. Of course you're going to hate running a mile when you jam it into six or seven minutes (God help those who run it in less!) but stretch it out to nine or ten and it becomes positively mellow, a leisurely stroll through a rose garden. Well maybe not quite that mellow, but the contrast is similar. When you run for pleasure instead of competatively your focus broadens from that distant finish line to the slowly passing scenery. Sprints are zoom lenses while runs are wide-angle.
The parallel is obvious, if you're too focused on the end, as many of us who anticipate heaven are, we forget the present. This can even seem hyper-spiritual, as if we are living fully in the coming Kingdom of heaven. But  Sadly, the scenery is the point. Why are we here if not to participate? Yet God's purpose for his kids in this life is not simply to enjoy the ride or to make some kind of sense of the confusing mess around us, but, among other things, to see him through that wide angle lens.

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