The Black Tunnel
Monkeys stare at me. They don't often see others running uphill for enjoyment, especially someone with bright red short shorts and a fur deficiency. Sitting in the trees, they line the road and chat about the hairless creature moving past them, at least I I think they do.
Being deep in the mountains of Japan, there is only one road that I can consistently run on because the others are too steep. This road is level because instead of going over the mountains, it uses a series of tunnels to go under them. Every day after teaching English in my town, I run through these tunnels. Most are well lit, but there is one that has poor lighting. Every day, I enter it's darkness.
The exit of the tunnel is easy to see, but I am engulfed in darkness. It would be easy to trip. Instead of exercising caution, I just keep running. I can't see where my feet are going to land, but I maintain my speed and continue running.
A couple days ago, I asked myself why I do something so irresponsible. Why do I thoughtlessly run through a dark tunnel? How am I confident that I won't trip? Why don't I just walk through the tunnel instead of potentially injuring myself? Why do I do it? My answer to such a random question revealed to me why I run.
Do I use will power to push my legs forward? No, it feels light, and will power feels heavy.
Am I certain that I won't trip? No, I could easily trip even if there's nothing to trip on.
Will my faith in God keep me from tripping? No, that isn't what God is.
Is it the light at the end of the tunnel that propels me forward? Is it my goal? No, I'm perfectly content running in the darkness.
Then what could it possibly be!? How am able to run through the darkness so casually?
It's because I know that if I trip, I will just get back up.
Every step is a risk. Fully exposed, I am led by my heart, and I could easily fall into a puddle and have to wring it dry through tears. But my confidence doesn't come from being sure of my success. My confidence comes from knowing that regardless of how terrible my fall is, whether I land in a puddle, or slip on a banana, I will still love myself; I will always be learning.
I keep running because it teaches me that at the very base of my being, there is someone who stands up and tries again. I run because God is not at the end of the tunnel, but because She is in every step I take. I run because it reveals to me who I am. I run because it teaches me that I don't have to try to be confident, I already am.
The Burning Fiery Furnace
One of my all time favorite Bible stories is the story of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego in the third chapter of Daniel. When I first read it, I thought of it as the story of three faithful underdogs miraculously surviving a 3000 degree furnace. However, after years of studying the text, I now see it as a testimony of four people entering a furnace by choice, and being naturally untouched by hypnotism.
I think we have all questioned at some point or another how such a story could possibly be true. How could they survive, let alone be untouched, by such a horrific fiery furnace?
It's because they had nothing to be burned.
It's because Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, weren't lying about who they were. They felt no part of identity which they needed to hide. They were satisfied being who God created them to be, and they didn't feel the need to re-invent themselves. In fact, the very reason they got thrown into the fire was because they would not bow down to thoughts of inadequacy. They were aware of the consequence, but still refused to worship the golden statue of Nebuchadnezzar. It was this demonstration of completeness that the envy of the world tried to burn. Yet, instead of being burned, the fourth person was seen, and the true idea of being was witnessed. The idea that we are already complete; we don't need to worship golden statues.
Figuratively and literally, running is a furnace.
"I'm on fire," is a Will Ferrell quote that accurately describes what competitive running races feel like. A burning chest, weighted arms, and a dizzy head are just some side effects of going all out during a race. Especially on a hot day, racing can feel similar to being in a furnace.
When I look back on my experience as a collegiate runner, the moments that I remember are not the ones where I won. I don't remember crossing the finish line or being recognized. Apart from hanging out with my team, the moments that I remember are actually the moments when I was hurting the most. I remember the moments when I was in the furnace.
We all wear masks: false expectations of identity that limit us from expressing ourselves freely. Little lies about who we are supposed to be, or who the world will accept us as. They are heavy burdens. When I run, these masks are too heavy to carry. The furnace burns them away. All the lies I believe about who I am are unable to survive the purifying heat, like purifying the dross from gold.
In the moments when I am hurting the most, I come face to face with myself. I am forced to let go of any sense of identity that burdens me. And then, in the worst possible bodily condition, I realize how great I already am. I realize how much I love myself. Not the me that I tried to create, but the man God created. The person I tried to be burns away in the furnace, and I stand in awe of the person I have been the whole time. I stand in awe of who God created me as. I look back on moments like these to be reminded of who I am, to be reminded that when everything is taken away, I am still complete.
I run because it teaches me that just like Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, we are all immune to the flames of the world. The only thing that is burned is our false sense of self.
I live by myself in a small village in the mountains of rural Japan. Out of the 500 residents in my village, only four speak conversational English, so I frequently struggle with loneliness. To satisfy my heavy heart, I repeatedly turn to social media to connect with other people, yet it never helps.
Portfolios and pictures let us present a prettier version of ourselves, so when I turn to the internet seeking real friendship, I only find an illusion of connection. Instead of satisfying my longing to connect with others, I am momentarily distracted from my problems, and then left feeling like my own life has a hole that can only be filled by something else: a woman, money, adventure, a better body, confidence, friends.
After seeing other people's profiles, I try perfecting my own. Monkey see, monkey do. After all, I am in a pretty adventurous place, why not take advantage of it? I try posting an artsy photo of my backyard and a short thought on life. Distracted from my original intent, I count likes and comments to measure my success. They will never be enough.
After going through this process, I've found that my life is just as ordinary as anyone else's, and trying to frame it as an adventure only makes me feel fake. It's tiring. In reality, I'm just hoping that someone will see my photo and pick up the phone and call me, not because they want to hear about my adventure, but because we are in each others lives to grow together.
The more I think about it, the more I realize that this cycle existed before I came to Japan. I have always struggled with loneliness. The only difference now is that I can't hide from it. I have to face it every time I return to an empty home.
I can call friends and family whenever I want, but I am quickly learning that relying on them only provides a temporary release. I am not saying that it's wrong to call or hang out, but I know that the purpose of hanging out shouldn't be to fill a void. Just as medicine doesn't provide lasting results, talking to friends doesn't address the insecurity at its roots. The purpose of friendship is not to fill, but to share. The purpose of friendship is to strive together.
The situation reminds me of hypnotism. If I were hypnotized into thinking I needed something to be complete, then pursuing that mirage wouldn't actually let me feel complete. I'd be stuck in a cycle of needing something that doesn't exist. The problem doesn't lie in me or in the object I am pursuing, but in the fact that I am unknowingly hypnotized. Hypnotized by what? By the idea that we are incomplete.
The book of Genesis is an incredible metaphor. The first chapter tells the story of how God made us: who we already are, of who we are unfolding to recognize. The second chapter tells the story of how we are tempted to think of ourselves as incomplete.
Genesis is often thought of as the creation story, or the beginning of the world. And it is. It's just that this creation isn't finished, but ongoing. Genesis is not the story of the world being founded, it's the story of how we continue to find the world. It's the moment by moment story of how we discover our relationship and place.
In the second allegory, God put man to sleep and then removed one of his ribs. I can only imagine how empty he felt, and how he must have tried to fill that hole by eating from the tree of knowledge, only to learn that he was not only empty inside, but also naked to everyone else.
I feel as if the cycle I am repeating is comparable to that of the characters in the allegory. Trying to fill a hole in my heart, I turn to the tasty fruit of social media. After eating of the fruit, I realize that I am also naked compared with everyone I see through my screen. My cycle sounds identical to the second story in Genesis, and it leads me to ask: What if I am still sleeping?
Loneliness certainly is a problem, but the problem isn't the seeming lack, it's the expectation of happiness from something other than God. It's the disappointment of not feeling better after chasing a mirage. I believe Mrs. Eddy referred to that as erroneous prophesy in a rule for motives and acts. Instead, I have been living to the fullest in every moment, and expecting nothing. No bad days, no good days. Just days when I am governed by God, and they end up being pretty good.
I have learned that the only way to fill my holes is to realize that I don't have any holes; the only way to break the hypnotism is to realize that it's just hypnotism. Instead of having holes, I am overflowing with an endless supply of Love. And the best way for me to realize this - is to prove it. That's why I run.
All the thought above is my interpretation of some of the writings of Mary Baker Eddy in her book Science and Health with key to the scriptures. She says: "Rise in the conscious strength of the spirit of Truth to overthrow the plea of mortal mind, alias matter, arrayed against the supremacy of Spirit. Blot out the images of mortal thought and its beliefs in sickness and sin. Then, when thou art delivered to the judgment of Truth, Christ, the judge will say, 'Thou art whole!'"