Running Without Fear
Tomorrow is Marathon Monday in Boston. I’m not a marathon runner, nor do I aspire to be. When I was in high school I learned about Pheidippides, the runner who announced “Nike!” (that is, “Victory!”) to the Athenians regarding the Battle of Marathon against the Persians in 490 B.C. He ran roughly 25 miles from Marathon to Athens… and then dropped dead. The marathon is named after that ill-fated runner. The question in my mind is: who was the second runner to attempt it? It seems like marathons never should have become a thing. A more reasonable people would have said, “Well, now we know the limit for long-distance running. We won’t be doing that again!” Instead, we have not allowed fear to dictate our limits, and as a result, marathons are only one of many athletic endurance events throughout the world.
The bombing at the Boston Marathon in 2013 likewise could have instilled fear and trepidation. It could have put an artificial limit on freedom and put an end to a festive and hallowed tradition. Instead, from the start, the people of Boston looked terror in the eye and refused to allow it to dictate their lives. Far from living in fear, they chose to be Boston Strong.
I have a friend who will be running in the Chicago marathon, hoping to qualify for Boston next year. He is visually impaired, but I have never known him to allow that to limit his life. He has a law degree, multiple awards for running, an active political life, a “little brother” he mentors, and a great love of both beer and donuts besides! He may not be able to see perfectly, but his vision is inspiring.
St. Paul compared our spiritual journeys to a race. “Do you not know that the runners in the stadium all run in the race, but only one wins the prize? Run so as to win. Every athlete exercises discipline in every way. They do it to win a perishable crown, but we an imperishable one. Thus I do not run aimlessly… I drive my body and train it, for fear that, after having preached to others, I myself should be disqualified” (1 Corinthians 9:24-27). Likewise, he said to Timothy, “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Now there is in store for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award to me on that day—and not only to me, but also to all who have longed for his appearing” (2 Timothy 4:7-8). Running a race is a great metaphor for the endurance and discipline that faith require, and for the great reward that awaits us.
When we bring Paul’s inspired insight into the reflection on marathons, we highlight the essential element of faith, which is trust. “Fear is useless,” Jesus said, “What is needed is trust” (Mark 5:36, NAB 1970). Fear would have kept anyone from running a marathon after what happened to Pheidippides. Fear would have shut down the Boston Marathon forever. Fear would have kept my friend from getting involved in running. Fear creates artificial limits and breeds anxiety. Fear is the enemy of faith. Of course, fear is also natural, and having fears is not a sign that we lack faith. The spiritual question is whether we allow those fears to limit us and to keep us from running the race, or whether instead we confront fear like Jesus did in the Garden, ultimately trusting in God and saying “not my will, but yours be done” (Luke 22:42).
Faith is radical trust. Without necessarily feeling like everything is going right, we trust in God’s loving care. When all signs seem to indicate otherwise, we trust that Godalways reigns supreme. We entrust ourselves to the Father—“into thy hands I commend my spirit” (Luke 23:46)—without knowing how everything will be made right. As St. Thérèse teaches us, we have the trust of a child, confident in the arms of a loving Parent. Faith is far more than intellectual assent to articles of doctrine: Faith is fundamental trust in God. It defeats fear.
The reward, even here, of this faith is peace. “[H]e stood in their midst and said to them, ‘Peace be with you.’” It is “the peace… the world cannot give” (John 14:27, NLT) because it comes from encountering the Risen Christ, and knowing that God is trustworthy, that we have nothing to fear. It is the peace the Psalmist knew when he wrote, “As soon as I lie down, I fall peacefully asleep, for you alone, O LORD, bring security to my dwelling.” Being at peace, trusting that no harm can ultimately befall us, knowing with Julian of Norwich that “all will be well, all will be well, all manner of things will be well,” we also find the grace to keep running the good race and the hope for the crown of victory!
Photo credit for marathon photo: skitterphoto.com