Creation as Icon, Imagination, Marriage, Metaphysics, Sacrament, Standing, The Nature of Truth, Theology, Uncategorized, Vision

The Sacramentality of Marathons

A central feature of the view of reality found in the bible is the interrelatedness of the visible and the invisible, of the natural and the supernatural, of what is created and what is not created. 

According to scripture, to be not-created is a reality that only the biblical God is and “occupies” – everything else falls under the category of creation and the created, including the supernatural angelic realm. The difference and distance between God and creation is real, yet there is also an intimate interrelationship between God and creation. This relationship between Creator and created is not that of a remote watchmaker who wound up creation a long time ago and then stood back to watch it all run; it is an always, ongoing gift of being, meaning and value.

In Genesis, the Creator gives being through speaking. The book of created nature is revelatory speech. Physical realities are a communication of the Creator, and they continue to communicate; they are signs, speaking of meaning beyond themselves. Each part of creation, each creature, no matter how small or seemingly insignificant, speaks of both itself and of something beyond itself.

The heavens declare the glory of God,
     and the sky above proclaims his handiwork.
 Day to day pours out speech,
     and night to night reveals knowledge.
 There is no speech, nor are there words,
     whose voice is not heard.
 Their voice goes out through all the earth,
     and their words to the end of the world.
Psalm 91:1-4

John’s gospel tells us that this speaking is also the Word, who is Jesus Christ, the only-begotten Son of the Creator Father. The relationship between Creator and creation is expressed most completely in the Incarnation and in the events that take place during Jesus’ life.

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. 
All things were made through him, 
and without him was not any thing made that was made. 
John 1:1-3
For by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, 
visible and invisible… 
Colossians 1:15

There are layers to how this interrelationship of seen and unseen, natural and supernatural, created and uncreated works and can be understood, but the most general fact about is the relationship. It is a relationship in which the natural and the spiritual co-illuminate each other, and since all things are said to be created through and for Jesus Christ, this relationship is always true in some sense. There is no such thing as “mere matter” or the “merely physical.” Everything – from the least atomic particle to the furthest galaxy, from the most basic DNA sequence to the most complex of life forms, from the most minute measure of time to the longest epoch, were all given to be by this Creator, who has an inherent relationship with each thing that exists. With human beings, this relationship has a unique and distinctly personal dimension.

As a child, I remember seeing easily and naturally through this lens in which created things and the Creator are intimately related, but as an adult, I have had to re-learn and re-appropriate this kind of perception. A growth spurt of relearning occurred when my life was impacted by a set of relational and vocational crises, but it was also helped greatly by my time studying at the John Paul II Institute, where I learned more about John Paul II’s Theology of the Body, which examines the theological language of the human body, human personhood, and human love.

As my eyes have increasingly reopened to this way of seeing, I now see relationships between the seen and unseen everywhere. Sometimes this involves simple things like the tadpoles that I “foster” every spring, or fascinating discoveries made in unexpected places, like seeing the way that the hypostatic union is explained in the being of a snail! Other times it is an insight that helps carry me through a trial (The tadpoles have done double-duty in providing both a rich source of metaphysical and theological reflection and surprising encouragement during a time of trial, but that is another story…). 

This morning, a reflection on marathon running and how important and significant physical races and race runners provided encouragement.  With the many and various stressors in American life and culture this past year, as well as having gone though a crisis at my church in the fall of 2019 and early 2020, I have been processing quite a few painful things, including navigating various levels of isolation and social disorientation.  This is on top of the normal loneliness associated with being an effectively single, middle-aged woman, which has its own challenges, but which is also compounded by the ubiquitous misunderstanding that one encounters when choosing to remain faithful to a spouse and marriage that appears to not exist from all earthly perspectives. (Just to clarify – the spouse still exists, it is the marriage that appears to not exist!) 

This morning as I was processing these things in my heart, and I reached a place of quiet, I began to sense something of the profound loneliness of Jesus on the cross. I was encouraged by the communion and solidarity he was offering me through his experience and my being invited to be with him there. At the same time, people who run marathons came to mind. I have never run a marathon, but from what I understand, running a marathon has some very long and lonely stretches, where there are few or no people around and little motivation to keep going. I remember a friend telling me about her first marathon, and how there was a point where everything hurt, there were very few people around, and she wanted more than anything to give up.

I thought about my friend and all the other runners who do not give up and was filled with gratitude for these very physical races and the people run in them. It also struck me that no marathon is ever “just a race.” Each one is a vitally important physical picture of spiritual reality, speaking of things we all need to see concretized about the nature of reality.  If everyone who ran in physical marathons simply gave up when it got lonely or painful, we would all lose that particular picture and physical analogy of perseverance, endurance, and overcoming. In this moment, I became so thankful for those who have run their races and finished. I could also see so clearly how no one who runs in a race, any kind of race, ever runs just for themselves. They run for all of us!  This picture encouraged me, and it increased understanding and insight regarding my current experience. 

This relationship between the concrete and the spiritual is also true with marriage. Just as a physical race cannot be reduced to “just a race,” for reasons that would take another post to outline, marriage can never be reduced to “just a piece of paper.” If we lose the picture of marriage and what it points to, we lose touch with the reality it participates in, and for which it is a vital and profoundly unique analogy. We lose touch with the way Christ loves us and with the nature of love itself, which ultimately derives from who God is and God’s nature as triune Love. Human love that keeps its relationship with this Creator depends on keeping promises even when it is hard, on faithfulness, perseverance, endurance and pushing beyond what seems possible.  Marriage can be a race that seems to take everything we have and more, just like a marathon, but it is a race we run for reasons that lies far beyond ourselves, even when we do so in a situation like mine. 

Because this Creator gives himself to us in his own faithful gift of self in everlasting love, it is also one we never have to run alone!  

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