I am a runner. And this post was written on the run. Literally. During my morning workout.
Ok. Well, I’m not actually a “runner”. More like a “jogger”. Ok. I’m a “plodder of a BMI-inflated carcass on a treadmill”.
I’ve been a “plodder” for probably 15 years now, and I hate it as much today as when I began. It hurts. It’s hot. It’s boring. I want to quit half-way through every single time I do it.
But, I do it. Because, for me, it’s the best bang for my buck in getting some needed cardio and sweatin’ out some stress.
It’s also a great time to think – if I can stay conscious. I have some of my best spiritual epiphanies when I run (plod). And here’s one that came today:
First, I should say that it’s beginning already to get hot here in the South. Temps are rising and the humidity is predictably disgraceful. So, my morning runs the past few days have become even more, let’s just say, ‘challenging’ (can’t wait for July!). At the dreaded halfway-point in my run today, the pain hits. My legs feel like lead. I’m sucking air that’s heavy and stagnant. I can’t breathe. I might puke. I’m sure my body temperature and heart rate are in the stroke zone right about now. I wanna quit. Maybe I should. And then…..
This puff of cool air swirls around me. A surprise of a breeze. A breath of fresh air, literally. Meteorological mercy. It didn’t last long, but just long enough for me to be able to hang in there and finish this run I started.
Which gets me to thinking how it’s the same with God. Right about the time we think we can’t go one more step in whatever we’re dealing with in life, He provides the breeze, the air, the oxygen we require to keep going. And not only keep going, but finish.
That’s lesson one. But, I’m even seeing a second spiritual application here in this “air-apparent” encounter:
If I hadn’t been sweating, hurting, and dying to quit, this breeze would likely have gone unnoticed. It meant so much because I needed it so much. It was significant because I was miserable.
I just wonder how many times we miss out on receiving a restorative breath from God because we won’t push ourselves past our spiritual comfort zone. We won’t run where it’s scary or uncertain or it might even hurt. We don’t let ourselves get to the point of panting for Him. Maybe we should get out of breath more often.
I open my mouth and pant because I long for Your commands.
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In the last few Letters, the young man had been starting to slip a bit, getting more lax and relaxed in his daily walk, particularly in comparison to his fervency at the time of initial conversion. And the demons were loving it.
Well, in this Letter (13) there seems to have been somewhat of a spiritual renewal, and it’s making the demons crazy. Screwtape is really giving it to Wormwood for letting this happen. Apparently, the guy has experienced “repentance, renewal and grace” which, as Screwtape says, constitutes a “second conversion” that is probably “on a deeper level than even the first”. To me, this characterizes the complexity and depth of our spiritual growth over time, through life experiences, crises, ups, downs – all the things that, perhaps ironically, make us more receptive to (and more serious about getting ahold of) God’s care and grace. (Screwtape talked about this in an earlier Letter, in how we are closest to God when we are in a spiritual ‘pit’, yet none of us ever pray to be in a pit).
The dude in the story, it seems, has spent some time lately in commune with God - whether intentionally or inadvertently is not made clear. But, through this actual ‘quiet time' in reflecting and soul-searching, he has reached a point of spiritual renewal and re-focus. And – this is the best part – his assigned demon could do absolutely nothing to stop this from playing out because the Holy Spirit was present with the guy. Booyah! I love this! Now, I should say this is my interpretation of what happened. You see, Screwtape describes this “asphyxiating cloud” that prevented Wormwood from “attacking” the patient during this quiet and thoughtful time. This cloud, according to Screwtape, is well-known to the demons as God’s “most barbarous weapon” that appears when He (God) is “directly present” with a human. I'm saying this has got to be the Holy Spirit. And this “certain mode not yet fully classified”, as the demons call it, is driving them nuts! They hate it. They don’t completely get it, but they absolutely know that they have no strength, no power, in the presence of the Holy Spirit (I'm picturing the spirit world equivalent of kryptonite). Screwtape laments, “Some humans are permanently surrounded by it (the Holy Spirit) and thereby inaccessible to us”. Too bad, demons. You lose.
So, going back to why Wormwood is in trouble with Screwtape..... The ‘patient’ has been able to experience this quiet spiritual renewal because Wormwood has allowed (hasn't been able to stop) him to indulge in some real and “positive” pleasures. Godly pleasures. Not sensual pleasures, but those things that feed the soul. Like reading for enjoyment instead of because you need to be "well read". Or like spending some quiet time – alone, literally – in the middle of nowhere because you love it. The demons’ agenda for us is the exact opposite - to keep us busy, vain, in pursuit of “the best” things, detached from ourselves (existentially) and from God. But now, the patient has what we might call “re-found” himself and who he is in God, and Wormwood was supposed to prevent that from ever happening. Whoops. I like when Screwtape laments that once this happens - once we become “wholly” God’s - we are “more of (our)selves than ever”. This tells me that the things of this world are more than distractions – they are barriers to being what God made us to be. What we can be. What we are.
Screwtape ends this Letter by telling Wormwood that the only thing to do at this point is keep the young man from acting on his newfound ‘repentance’. “Let him think about it all he wants”, Screwtape tells Wormwood, as long as he doesn’t "convert it into action".
Lord, help me to find and then lose those distractions in my life that are barriers to being who you made me to be. Amen.
Oh, and P.S. Thank you, God, for sending us the Holy Spirit, the ultimate super hero.