By Eric Rucker
December 3, 2020
“Jeremiah, if you have raced with foot-runners and they have wearied you, how will you run with horses?” (Jeremiah 12:5)
As the catastrophe of the Babylonian exile approached, Jeremiah lamented to God – about the people’s self-centeredness, about Israel’s disregard for vulnerable people and the land. Jeremiah was fed up with it all. And then God spoke to Jeremiah this question:
“If you have raced with foot-runners and they have wearied you, how will you run with horses?”
In non-pandemic America, many of us were taught to live on the surface. Dominant cultures encouraged us to invest in and identify with our ego-selves. By “ego-self” I mean the masks we wear, the temporary facades we have created to please others and succeed in our cultures. The “ego-self” is the armor we wear to hide our darkness, our vulnerability, and even our gifts.
We learned to believe that “I am what I have, I am what I do, and I am what others think of me.” Living on the surface insulates us from facing mortality, and keeps us from wading into the ethically complex realities of human life and suffering. Living on the surface affords us the delusion that life is black-and-white, and that what “faithfulness” looks like is apparent.
But 2020 has assaulted us with a marathon-length challenge to our ego-selves. We can no longer get by over-identifying with our crafted self-images, because the routine answers to “what I have” and “what I do” have for the most part been taken from us.
We are thrust into ongoing dilemmas of ethical complexity: we grieve as children struggle with their stunted development due to COVID restrictions, while knowing that the restrictions might be saving lives. We witness friends saying goodbye to loved ones over screens, instead of holding hands in a final moment. We feel the fractures in our communities over politics and wonder whether violence will break forth.
Living on the surface, we cannot stay truly present amidst the ongoing loss, fear, and strife. Dwelling in the shallows, we lack the capacity to remain true to our convictions while also maintaining the disciple of nonviolent love toward our fellow humans.
Before this season, we might have run with people, but now we are being asked by God to run with horses.
This work is only possible if we cultivate new levels of spiritual maturity. We must center down into God in whatever ways we know how. We must sink down below the surface, where we find our true identity solely in the love of God. We must swim from the shallows into the deep. We must take off our masks before God.
We must draw from a serenity that is not contingent upon having answers nor external validation. As Christian mystic Thomas Merton advised:
“There is a pervasive form of contemporary violence to which the idealist most easily succumbs: activism and overwork. The rush and pressure of modern life are a form, perhaps the most common form, of its innate violence. To allow oneself to be carried away by a multitude of conflicting concerns, to surrender to too many demands, to commit oneself to too many projects, to want to help everyone in everything, is to succumb to violence. The frenzy of our activism neutralizes our work for peace. It destroys our own inner capacity for peace. It destroys the fruitfulness of our own work, because it kills the root of inner wisdom which makes work fruitful.”
To center in God in this moment is not at all easy. Our families, our coworkers, our parishioners, and our own harsh inner-critics might demand of us constant action, quick solutions, or even perfection.
But to lead in this time – to be able to “run with horses” – we must diligently seek our gracious God in silence, solitude, and Sabbath moments. Only when we develop habitual contact with the divine love can we bring back to our active lives the wisdom, insight, and courage necessary for this moment.