My default place to run on a rainy morning is on the treadmill in the gym. I of course miss the feeling of the earth beneath my feet and the smell of The Hague’s urban forest where I run in friendlier weather. When I run in nature, the worries or preoccupations crowding my mind slowly release into the atmosphere, as if the leaves are not only oxygenating the air, but cleaning the clutter from my mind, creating space for grace and God to enter.
But this morning, as I look at the red blinking triangle tracking my progress around the imaginary track, my mind is in overdrive, running its non-stop commentary. It doesn’t seem to matter that I just finished a Body Balance class which ended with a short meditation; my mind wants all the attention. It wants to strategize about marketing my novel, and make a checklist for work–don’t forget you need to send that one client a confirmation of their reservation. It has taken over, already throwing me into work instead of letting me be here, in the gym, in the moment.
Sometimes I tame this mind with prayer as I run. Each lap is dedicated to a friend or family member and the red blinking light guides my thoughts to my friend: I envision him or her as happy, in perfect health, that her children are well, that she has time to read. It goes on and on with each blink of progress and then I switch to another friend as the next lap begins.
But then the view pulls my mind into other thoughts. The modern gym with walls of glass windows is located above a supermarket on the corner of a busy intersection. The treadmills lining the east-facing windows look over the street below. It is from this bird’s eye perspective that I can run and people watch at the same time. From this perspective all people become children in my eyes. The man with the large belly in a black and white striped shirt who blends into the crosswalk, the old woman with puffy white hair blowing in the rain, the young girl bicycling next to her mother in the bike path, the Muslim woman with a headscarf pulling a cart of groceries down the street, the people in the bus sitting in their seats, gazing out at the world.
From this elevated perspective, unnoticed and sequestered away behind the glass walls in the warmth of the gym, I feel an inexplicable warmth toward everyone. My judgments of others diminish. These are simply people like me–all expressions of what is possible in the world at this very moment. I wonder how it would feel to be an omnipotent presence, a God, some guiding force of the universe recognizing each and every one of these people in all of their grace and uniqueness. I try looking at each person and sending them a blessing. My head spins by the sheer number of people going by. It’s hard enough to keep up with the people just in the cross walk and on bicycles. Then the light changes and cars and buses full of people wiz by. So how would God know each and every one of us? How could he or she keep track of all of that? Just trying to track the numbers of people at this one intersection in a medium sized neighborhood in one city is mind blowing.
I think of bored math geniuses who have done the calculations to figure out just how fast Santa would have to travel across the entire world and how big his sleigh would need to be to bring every child in the world a toy on Christmas eve–and how by presenting the facts, they pronounce Santa as dead.
Such musings could also be a fatalistic blow to the concept of God as a force working in each and everyone’s lives. Take this excerpt from Teju Cole’s OPEN CITY for instance. In this part of the book, a young Nigerian doctor who lives in the U.S., is vacationing in Brussels, Belgium. He has befriended a young Muslim who is an academic and free thinker. The Muslim, named Farouq, has the following to say:
I am sure you know what Paul de Man says about insight and blindness. His theory has to do with an insight that can actually obscure others things, that can be a blindness. And the reverse, also, how what seems blind can open up possibilities. When I think about the insight that is a form of blindness, I think of rationality, of rationalism, which is blind to God and to things that God can offer human beings. This is the failure of the Enlightenment.
I’m not suggesting we all just give up rationalism to let God (or Santa for that matter) into our lives, but to say that sometimes the world isn’t rational and the things that matter most–love, attraction, kindness, compassion, serving others, faith–have nothing to do with rationality and everything to do with making the world a better place.
Many people who categorize themselves as religious describe their faith in terms of “the bedrock, backbone or foundation” of their being. I find that God for me is constant only in a sense of constant change, always evolving in expression and meaning. My mind plays at knowing God, but it is only when that mind shuts up and allows space, that I feel grace and God come through.