I ran my first marathon this weekend. It lived up to the billing. After the finish, I could relate to how Pheidippides must have felt after he delivered his message to the assembly in Athens. (Incidentally, this year is the quinviginticentennial of that first marathon.) The first 21 miles weren’t that bad. The last four miles were the longest miles of my life. I think they were longer than the previous 22. Time was agonizingly expanded and distances stretched.
Somewhere around mile 17, I experienced one of those periods of crisp moral and emotional clarity that I’ve mentioned before. I felt the presence of God. If my wife had been there, I might have wept at her feet out of love for her. As it was, the elation was relatively short-lived and followed not too long thereafter by increasing amounts of profound discomfort. When I finally reached the finish line, I eventually fell at the feet of my wife and children, however, that was because my legs were not at all interested in holding me up further.
Those periods of clarity are really worth the trip however. I wonder whether it’s the same clarity people experience as they face imminent death. After the race (and a shower), we were reading CS Lewis’ The Silver Chair, and came across the following passage, which takes place after Aslan explains to the heroine Jill Pole the signs she is to observe and what she is to do in Narnia:
“Here on the mountain I have spoken to you clearly: I will not often do so down in Narnia. Here on the mountain, the air is clear and your mind is clear; as you drop down into Narnia, the air will thicken. Take great care that it does not confuse your mind. And the signs which you have learned here will not look at all as you expect them to look, when you meet them there. That is why it is so important to know them by heart and pay no attention to appearances. Remember the signs and believe the signs. Nothing else matters. And now, daughter of Eve, farewell -”
On the mountain, the air and mind are clear. How unclear it sometimes becomes in the thick and tangle of events. As James reminds us, not only must we keep sight of what we are to do, we are then to do it. By God’s grace, we shall.