I remember running in the darkness. Headlamps and heatwaves in the cold, striding down a mountain a few years ago. We rounded a corner, I recall and, coming quick with the gravity, we were stopped by eyes staring out at us from the dark. They seemed to be those of a fairly large mammal, ominous and there, in the void. No noise to be known, just our heavy, anxious breathing. And, streams of heat rising up and swirling around. The darkness is easier to endure when there’s someone there with you. I wasn’t alone that night running down the hill. I was with her. I ‘think’ she loved me.
(I’m not ready to go down that trail, yet.)
Of brokenness and life, a couple of the things the trails have taught me over the years. Running on trails, I have had the chance to learn about ‘listening to my body’. Enduring on the streets and, thriving life in the midst of any community/organisation, may also inspire a ‘body-listening’. Renner and D’Souza regard this as yet another imaginative phenomenon of Not Knowing, the body as gateway, ‘a useful resource to tap into when our heads and brains fail us in the confusion and anxiety of the unknown.’1
The body responds in different ways on the trails, especially over long distances and extended periods of time. My first long run was twenty-six kilometers, completed without a hydration pack and nutrition of any package-up type, completed thanks to berries and the encouraging voice and gracious presence of someone ‘who knew that I didn’t know’.
On this long run, I began to listen to my body. It was my body that helped me to learn what was possible on the trails, only possible if I listened closely. I had to listen to when it was hungry and, then respond. I had to listen to when my body was thirsty and, then respond. My body also taught me that it wanted more than what it needed, that my response to its needs had to be appropriate, controlled. When my body felt pain in a certain place, it taught me how to adjust so as to keep going safely and, not to quit.
It was my body, showing my mind what was possible, that enabled me to perceive its ability to endure long distances and time periods moving forward at the right pace, fast and slow, dancing on rocks, hopping roots, powering up mountains and letting loose down the other side. There is less darkness or lostness that I feel out there now than when I first began.
My body has felt gross pain. My heart has been broken, utterly shattered. In this period of time, of excruciation, my brain failed me ‘in the confusion and anxiety of the unknown.’2 The pain was foreign, to the point of my soul feeling uncomfortable, to the point of identifying the real, presence of soul and its delineation from my body. This was a new kind of awareness that I was being drawn into, through pain. Carlo Carretto, in his book In Search of the Beyond, describes the potential impact of such confusion for a poor believer like me that ‘as everything becomes dark ahead of us and His light is obscured behind the storm clouds of trial, we cry out that we no longer believe in Him.’3
I was more than surprised by this experience. For the pain, belief seemed totally unreasonable; it was the unanswered question, ‘why?’, that kept me stuck. Indeed, this was a dark place, radically unfamiliar to me but, not so to Job, to Moses, to Abraham (to the last drop of faithfulness). My grace is quite insufficient.
We are so much more than what can be seen. Consider the way ‘image’ is conveyed in our culture and how people portray themselves, what they do in order to make themselves look good and to stand out from the crowd. Could this be a Zen ‘koan’ for our vain (regardless), self-first surface-culture to consider with more-depth-than-usual, ‘Is beauty is really only skin deep?’
As I consider the vivid reality and revelation of the presence of ‘soul’ through recent experiences in the darkness, may it be that ‘beauty become soul deep’. Carretto continues his exploration of God’s gift and intention of the horrific circumstance, ‘that we may penetrate them, but through the dynamic process of becoming, we come out on the other side of them towards the Infinite, the Eternal, the Unchangeable.’4 This calls for our trust through the ferocious wasteland of non-resolution and, eventually renewed belief. After all, Job did not receive an answer.
Yet, there is the deception and, even the (mountain) lion waiting in the dark, to be wary of. Intimidation, eyes in the dark, ‘we come out on the other side of them towards the Infinite, the Eternal, the Unchangeable.’5Remember, the encouragement of Paul ‘If God is for us then who can be against us.’ (Romans 8:31, NIV). And, deeper still to our soul’s consolation, “Little children, you can be certain that you belong to God and have conquered them, for the One who is living in you is far greater than the one who is in the world.” (1 John 4:4, TPT).
- Renner, Diana and Steven D’Souza. 2015. Not Knowing: The Art of Turning Uncertainty into Opportunity.New York, New York: LID Publishing Limited, 200.
- Not Knowing, 200.
- Carretto, Carlo. 1966. In Search of the Beyond.London: Darton, Longman and Todd, 37.
- In Search of the Beyond, 46.
- In Search of the Beyond, 46.