(*For those of you who are regular readers of this blog, this is a bonus post written in partnership with InterVarsity Press' Formatio Spiritual Formation line. Enjoy!)
Oftentimes, one person’s desire is another’s definition of insanity.
In 2010, I ran the Chicago Marathon. It started out as an attempt to “run a little and get healthier” but when my love for the endorphin rush intersected with a friend’s bold challenge to run a marathon, a vision emerged. My training spanned the humid Chicago summer and into the fall, spurred on by the vision of actually finishing the race on my feet and not on a stretcher.
I’m happy to say – mission accomplished.
There is something about pushingourselves – something about testing the boundaries of our lives that creates a current that pulls us deeper and deeper into the pursuit of our limits.
The vision of something beyond ourselves and the desire to push against boundaries explain how I have read stories of the ancient saints and find inspiration, energy, and peace from stories where people pressed themselves far beyond their own boundaries.
St. Teresa of Avila – a strong influence of mine – is said to have had an encounter with the devil who ridiculed her for praying, using the bathroom, and eating her lunch all at the same time.
Apparently, the spiritual masters had an interesting definition of multitasking.
The confrontation led to St. Teresa’s calm retort to the devil saying, “The prayer is for God, the food is for me, and the rest is for you.”
St. Teresa casts a vision of a spirit set free to laugh, worship, and rebuke. It is someone who has pushed against their boundaries to find where the vertical axis of being present with God meets the horizontal axis of care for the self and the soul.
The ancient spiritual masters, if we let them, give us not a step-by-step playbook for spiritual practices but an inspiring and normalizing vision of freedom that comes when we push against the edges of what we believe we are, and what we are confident that we can do.
I need those saints to dare me beyond a conventional life, to help me press into the divine and push my boundaries, and to paint for me a new vision of what it means to live here and now in the image of God.
The long-passed saints are often that living dare - the implicit gauntlet tossed at our feet - that I need to see that which is just beyond my reach.