Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Danger the Stranger

I'm not a thrill-seeker. I don't consider it brave or wise to run towards danger for the sake of bravado or to prove something. As a youngster, I never went out for football or hockey, though I like both sports. I mean why would I when all the thrills of hard-hitting journalism could be experienced as an editor of The Ram's Horn, the official student newspaper of Clarkstown High School North?

I find it nuts that grown-ups play tackle football, without pads (Yes, these are my friends). I am not sure that "patent attorney" breaks the top 50 of any Most Dangerous Professions list. I drove a Toyota for 235,000 miles and then traded it in - for a Toyota. Trail running? Rocks and ticks! Forget it. A little nippy out? Was that a snowflake in my window? Treadmill!

So, how do I account for my impulse to run marathons, particularly Boston, in the wake of what happened this past Patriot's Day?

Call me impressionable, but I am drowning in inspiration these days. When fundamentalists bombed my cathedral in Cairo, I saw people running towards the danger. I saw the same courage the day they bombed my cathedral in Boston. I do not feel so much brave as I feel buoyed and swept along by the mettle of those around me.

The words that come to me again and again are those of Jesus: "I have come that they may have life and have it more abundantly." (1) I interpret that as touching my earthly and eternal life. God has made me a runner, and if, in fear, I only half live, burying my gift in the ground (2), I cannot say that I trust him or that I am honoring him. Standing in a church and reciting a creed can't be all there is to it. Only mobsters, molesters and demons (3) believe that.

Better days: Pope Kyrillos and President Abdel Nasser (1968)
Courage is more than stupidity dressed up. Quite the contrary, it is the first virtue. Without it I cannot stand up to what is bad, ugly or lacking in me. And so St. Gregory of Sinai wisely observes, "Anger is tamed and becomes transformed into benevolence only through courage and mercy" (4).

Of course, courage means going to places that are underserved and dangerous. But, it must also have something to do very fundamentally with how we exist every day. It must touch very the way in which we decide and behave in small things; whether, in those small moments -- when we're insulted or tempted or threatened -- we act from a position of life or of fear. Isn't it true, haven't our lives told us, that so often being "sensible" is really just another way of being afraid? We often console ourselves that we're acting wisely and prudently, when in fact we are just scared to do what is harder or more perilous. A person might spend hours with fake sex (e.g., porn or in strip clubs) or get piss drunk every night rather than face his real-life wife and marriage. "It's better than cheating or fighting. It is for the peace of the family" he may reason.

When we succumb to something that is weak or sinful, we are essentially acting in fear. We have decided that we do not want to stand firm, by the grace of God, and let that anger, that lust, that greed, wash over us and pass through. We want to appease it, always hoping that this will be the last time. But history and experience tell us that all bullies, visible and invisible, will come back again and again as long as they know that we are afraid of them.

Fear is why weak men in weak cultures throw rocks at adulteresses and prostitutes. They are afraid of lust and so opt for violence. Jeff Edmonds hits it:
We opt for violence when we can no longer endure the difficulty of living with others, the difficulty of recognizing our limits, the difficulty of being vulnerable ceaselessly to pain. To endure is to keep going in spite of those limits and the pain of life. To endure is to expose ourself to the world, to others, to the ravages of time and effort. To endure is to risk loving, to risk being loved. A marathon doesn't always have to symbolize this. Sometimes it is just a race that runners run. But this year it is more -- it is a symbol of endurance (5).
And so when Jesus stood bravely in front of the violent rock-bearing men, he did not protect the woman with yet another rock. He did something that scared them even more. He made them look inside: "He among you who has not sinned, throw a stone at her first." (6). And when Judas went out to meet them, he did so under the cover of night (7).

"The glory of God," wrote St. Ignatius, "is the human being, fully alive"(8). I never feel so alive, so un-neurotically penitent, so exploding with joy and hope and love and LIFE as when I am out running. I know it and God knows it.

There's no running from that.
(1) John 10:10
(2) Matt. 25:18
(3) James 2:9
(4) Texts on Commandments and Dogmas no. 13
(5) Edmonds, Jeff "A Bomb is the Opposite of a Marathon."
(6) John 8:7
(7) John 13:30
(8) AH IV, 20, 7


ace said...

well thought out, as usual. good stuff, lots to think on.


NaderAlfie said...

Thank you. I always appreciate your encouragement. Really.