Life has never been normal

Human life has always been lived on the edge of a precipice. Human culture has always had to exist under the shadow of something infinitely more important than itself. If men had postponed the search for knowledge and beauty until they were secure the search would never have begun. We are mistaken when we compare war with “normal life”. Life has never been normal. 

~CS Lewis, Learning in Wartime

 

Pandemic Intensity

I re-injured my right hamstring on a glacial Tuesday evening while running almost two months ago. My recovery plan was regrettably clear: I had to shut everything down. Rest, no running, no stretching. I blush to remember how discouraged I was. That weekend, after a few feeble attempts at light jogging I accepted my fate. I brought my 22 mile per week regimen to a complete stop. Running had become key for me, so I warned my wife that my life would soon be falling apart. One reputable source suggested that I should avoid running for 8 weeks.

During an episode on dealing with injuries, Running Rogue host Chris McClung recommended looking to the broken training cycles as an opportunity to challenge myself. Every injury is a chance to anchor myself and gain new skills. He gave examples of famous athletes who made breakthroughs during injury cycles. He was urgent- don’t mope, don’t get complacent, don’t waste your injury.

I took this to heart. I started getting up at 4:30 am to make time to swim laps at my local YMCA. Realizing that I had no idea what I was doing did nothing to diminish my intensity. I spent my lunch breaks watching Youtube tutorials and learned how to breathe and to freestyle. I was baptized. My three lap near-death experiences became regular ½ mile workouts. That’s thirty-two laps, in case you were wondering. After a month, swimming laps restored the familiar rhythms of prayer and reflection. I also began walking two to three miles a day.

I began to observe that life is full of similar opportunities to pivot and I often waste them. Consider the current COVID-19 pandemic. Everyone is facing their own private stash of anxieties. We can’t waste our God-given chance to see into the life of things.

I have set the LORD always before me; because he is at my right hand, I shall not be shaken. Psalm 16:8

Instead of manically scanning the news for hourly (!) updates, we will say: “O LORD, in the morning you hear my voice; in the morning I prepare a sacrifice for you and watch.”

James K.A. Smith reminds us: “Your deepest desire is the one manifested by your daily life and habits.” What is your current crisis revealing about your deepest desires? Don’t go with the flow, don’t keep pace with social media. Don’t mope, don’t get complacent. Rather, with God-earnest intensity and prayer-saturated effort learn something new, read that book, get down on your knees and pray. Don’t waste your pandemic.

BL

Under the Sun

C.S. Lewis answering the question- which of the world’s religions is most likely to give it’s followers the greatest happiness:

Which of the religions of the world gives to its followers the greatest happiness? While it lasts, the religion of worshipping oneself is the best.

I have an elderly acquaintance of about eighty, who has lived a life of unbroken selfishness and self-admiration from the earliest years, and is, more or less, I regret to say, one of the happiest men I know. From the moral point of view it is very difficult! I am not approaching the question from that angle. As you perhaps know, I haven’t always been a Christian. I didn’t go to religion to make me happy. I always knew a bottle of Port would do that. If you want a religion to make you feel really comfortable, I certainly don’t recommend Christianity. I am certain there must be a patent American article on the market which will suit you far better, but I can’t give any advice on it. (God in the Dock p.58)

Perhaps our problem is that we often consider happiness and comfort to be synonymous. On this way of thinking, my pursuit of happiness boils down to something like, ‘do what feels good.’ This is how you trip over your own happiness and stumble into an existential hangover.

What if, as Lewis recommended elsewhere, we look beyond what lies ‘under the sun’?

“We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at sea. We are far too easily pleased.”  (Weight of Glory)

The first quotation shows that our view of what constitutes happiness can be shallow and banal. The second reminds us that our pleasures are echoes of a greater reality spoken of by the Apostle:

“For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal.” (2 Cor. 4:17-18 ESV)

Far too easily pleased indeed.

BL

Feet

“Now before the feast of the Passover when Jesus knew that his hour had come to depart out of this world to the Father, having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end.”
John 13:1

You never said what I should be doing right now. You didn’t tell me whether I should stand and watch or stay away. I look up to you and at eye level I see the blood dripping off your toes. I don’t have the guts to keep looking at your suffering but when I shift my gaze I see my own dirty feet. My toes were clean a few hours ago, you washed them for me. Somehow it didn’t cross any of our minds in the moment to wash yours for you. You went to the garden with filthy feet and stood before Pilate on filthy feet. You walked on filthy feet to this place and now, bloody and exposed before the world, all I see is your feet and mine.
I don’t understand anything right now. You washed my feet, fed me and invited me to pray. Why did I spend those last few hours falling asleep? I can blame the drowsiness on all the food and the wine, but I feel terrible about it now. You did everything for me and my response was to wake up from an ill- advised nap and run away. I call myself “the one who Jesus loves” but my feet wouldn’t follow you when you most wanted a friend.
Why did you wash our feet? You knew what Judas was scheming and you knew Peter better than he knew himself. You must have known that when my feet got still in the garden that my head would begin to nod. You knew that when they came for you there my feet and my fear would carry me away. You knew then that when my feet finally found the courage to come back and stand at the foot of this cross they would already stink again.
We both have filthy feet and I don’t understand. Was there purpose in the washing? Or is the lesson in the dirt? What is the message you have for me? Should I look at the new dirt on my feet or at the blood and grime on yours? Why did you ever bother to wash me when you knew what a mess I would make of your work so quickly after you were done?
You told us you were here to redeem us, you came to seek and to save. You said they would take and kill you. We couldn’t tell until this Passover evening how those three were connected. We didn’t see that what, and how and when were linked so closely that redemption counted on it. I see it now in the blood dripping off your toes and mixing in the mud around mine. I see my redemption in this death on Passover, but I still can’t see why. If my feet didn’t even deserve the water you washed them in, why God, would you buy them with your blood?
You have put your terrible plan into action. This is what you meant to do all along. But I’m stuck right now. I don’t know whether I should step closer to you or to back away from the horrifying thought that you came up with this as the best way to save the world. My feet don’t have the courage to do either. My feet are scared to run away from you, you’ve always had the words of life, and my feet scared to run to you, your words brought you to this death. I’m stuck here in my tracks. I wish I could go back to the room and ask you so many questions, and I wish I had thought to wash your feet.

~MB