Running Without Arriving

“If one could run without getting tired, I don’t think one would often want to do anything else.” (C.S. Lewis, The Last Battle)

The weather gods have been good to little Omaha, Nebraska this week. We began with classes called off for two “ice-days” in a row and have closed up the weekend with three days that reached the high 40s. Spring broke the rules to speak to our sun-deprived faces. Do you ever sit back and wonder at the weather? Truly miraculous, I tell you.

So, there I was on my jog today, carried away in the game where I imagine where each person is going, and what they are going to do with the rest of their lives. Perhaps you’ve played it before as well. The sun began to set, and my exuberant thoughts turned to where I was inevitably going, formulating a vague gameplan for the evening. I didn’t get very far though, because as I explored the mental catalogue of potential delightful activities, I began to wonder at why I enjoy my hobbies so much. (And now you know why I’m so absentminded 90% of the time.)

What is it about running? What is it about writing? Why music? Why painting? Why reading?

Five strides later, the answer came to me as clear as day: at the end of it all, I never truly arrive anywhere. Whenever I lose myself in my hobbies (a welcome loss indeed), there is a lingering sense of “almost, but not yet.” That’s precisely why I always reach for more– one more beautiful jog, one more enlightening book. Prolonging the runner’s high is like begging that gloriously orange sun not to set, trying to escape the inevitable swallowing-up.  “For this world in its present form is passing away” (1 Corinth. 7:31). All races, essays, songs, artworks, books, hours, years, and even lifetimes must come to an end.

Ernest Hemingway has said it thus: “For a true writer each book should be a new beginning where he tries again for something that is beyond attainment.”

That is how I found myself bumping into yet another paradox of our humanity. Though I cannot (yet?) enjoy the perfect jog or write the perfect essay (and goodness knows every five-year-old is closer to the perfect painting than I am), the fire inside still urges me to pursue these things.  My hobbies cannot teach me perfection, but that can teach me about beauty and goodness. The higher builds upon the lower. As nearly always, St. John Paul II fulfills my reflection by guiding me to the things I knew that I was missing, but couldn’t see clearly enough to name:

“Saint Bonaventure, who in introducing his Itinerarium Mentis in Deum invites the reader to recognize the inadequacy of ‘reading without repentance, knowledge without devotion, research without the impulse of wonder, prudence without the ability to surrender to joy, action divorced from religion, learning sundered from love, intelligence without humility, study unsustained by divine grace, thought without the wisdom inspired by God‘ ” (John Paul II, Fides et Ratio)

In other words, I’m not running for nothing. I’m doing it so I can be a better gift.

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On Friends: Clive Staples vs. Ernest

“Is any pleasure on earth as great as a circle of Christian friends by a fire?” – C.S.Lewis

“Writing, at its best, is a lonely life. Organizations for writers palliate the writer’s loneliness but I doubt if they improve his writing. He grows in public stature as he sheds his loneliness and often his work deteriorates.” – Ernest Hemingway


The above lines reveal tension. Though incomplete, it is palpable enough to bear fruit upon contemplation. For the first author, friendship (particularly that of Christian friends) is an experience worthy of rhetorical awe and thanksgiving. The other argues that even if community can temporarily alleviate our islandhood, the best writer will refuse such pleasure for whole-hearted devotion to his work. There no difference in the object of reflection, and hardly one of context as both are prolific writers, so the true divide must come from the interior orientation of each. The second author sees himself and his work, while the first is most concerned with sharing a marvel. There is a difference of focus.

The question then remains: What is the best thing to focus on? The clearest way to answer this giant question is to put it into perspective– universal and inescapable perspective.  The answer arises from another question, the one that I firmly believe we will hear in the stillness of our last day: How much did you love? If loving is primarily accomplished through one’s writing and work, then very good! However, it is only as good as it is true. Every moment we get closer to the day when we can no longer comfortably deceive ourselves about how efficiently the scarcest resource has been spent.

Lewis has chosen the better part.

This is quite heavy, but I like to remind myself of this very, very often because I’m a natural Hemingway getting caught up in my books, and work, and solitude, and coffee, and melancholy stormy nights. But fortunately, with good friends and twinkly-eyed writers like Lewis, I usually come out on the other side, laughing at myself.

Piccoli Passi Possibile

Life has been a whirlwind lately. A powerful, exhilarating whirlwind– and better than I deserve to be sure. I’ve been fighting to maintain the delicate balance between my classes, internships, teaching, other positions, and the consistent presence of writing, reading and sheer spontaneity that I am fond of upholding throughout my weeks. Guess which portion has been sadly neglected? Though I know beyond a shadow of a doubt that my duties come first, especially those that involve the trust and reliance of others, my brain has been collecting thought-essays which have the stubborn habit of arising to the forefront of my mind, time and time again. Like little children tugging at my skirt begging to be picked-up, they beg to be written down. So, it is the day of rest, I have a free hour, and I submit!

I have picked a little, shining one to unburden first:

Piccoli Passi Possibile

(literally, “small, possible steps”)

I first encountered this phrase in this article about St. Chiara, an Italian mother who recently passed away after choosing her child’s life instead of aborting the unborn babies within her– three times.* The saying really struck a chord with me, since it was similar to a familiar phrase that my dear housemate Lexi often encourages me with, saying: “little victories.” Both revolve around the idea, “give us this day our daily bread.” Our human nature strongly tempts us to fixate on the future, anxiously making sense of the whole picture immediately so as to predict and control it. I have felt myself become paralyzed when I think of all the tasks I must accomplish, even just for the week. Leaving faith aside, there is clearly a sane logic in taking each day for what it’s worth. When you perform each action to the best of your ability, for example, spending the extra minutes to craft concise, clear and cheerful emails, people notice. There is something irresistible about a soul who lives life consciously.

If there is any grace that I have been taught this semester, it is to understand that this rich life is packaged into 24-hour portions for a reason. The genius is that each day brings the perfect amount of happenings that we can handle (though somehow still always flowing over with blessings, when we have the eyes to see.) Although I cannot write an economic research paper in one day, teach my confirmation class all I would love for them to know, or even learn a chapter of finance all at once, I have the daily power to spend an hour or two toward the desired goals. We trust that one day it will all make sense. Until then, piccoli passi possibile along this breathtakingly beautiful path.


And still, the best news is yet to come: at the end of the daily battles, our eyes will be opened to see that our goals were too tame, our sights set too low, and that there were unimaginable miracles in store for each of us all along.

cs-lewis-quote-we-are-far-too-easily-pleased

*Upon finishing the article with brimming eyes, I immediately ordered her biography (fully aware that an imperfect, yet enthusiastic essay-to-be lies in store when I finish it.) Stay tuned!

~A Sunday Well Spent~

“Angels can fly because they can take themselves lightly”

-G.K. Chesterton

As my fondness for writing has resolutely forged itself into an enthusiastic, habitual coping mechanism, so I find myself at the keyboard this hour – while visions of accounting dance through my head. First, I must admit that I have begun no less than three new posts this week, but unfortunately Time has not been so kind as to grant me her refuge. In plain, collegiate vernacular: I don’t want to sound like an idiot by posting incomplete thoughts. Hopefully you can bear with me, come to appreciate my foresight, and exercise patience – as I have no doubt that you are in full command of such a refined quality. Luckily, this post right here was somewhat of an early Christmas miracle as it was nearly written for me. I heard the seeds of it today in a most cheering sermon. Three main insights I would like to share tonight:

1. You have a great work to prepare for right here, right now, that will make the world very proud of you. As you labor toward that finis, find the present beauty and fulfillment in a hard day of work done well.

2. As you go about this work, remember you have been given another layer of responsibility: being an occasion of joy for others. See every interruption as an invitation.

3. Having said that, you’re not Jesus (thank goodness). Always be humble enough to know that you cannot do it all, and everything will still be alright.

n.b. ALWAYS say yes to funny Christmas card photo-shoots with friends. And teddy bears.

Here’s to the things more important than sleep!