The Fellowship of Runners

When Rolling Stones magazine interviewed U2 singer Bono, and asked which kind of music turns him on, Bono answered in a surprising and self-revealing way. “The music that really turns me on is either running toward God or away from God. Both recognize the pivot, that God is at the center of the jaunt.”[1]

Music that runs toward or away from God. I would imagine Bono would choose songs by their rhythm, by their catchy chorus, by their ability to move a stadium with its melody. Maybe he would be attracted to romantic lyrics, peppered with sensuality and longing, or maybe to music that resounds in people’s hearts and influences a generation. Yet Bono goes for our existential core: our gut reaction before ultimate reality, our instinctive surrender to God’s presence or haunted flight from his face.

I, for one, am more of a surrender type of guy, but I’m fascinated by the fellowship of runners. You know, by that anguished avoidance of God, stubborn and defiant, which tries to outrun infinity and outsmart omniscience. I admire this kind of persistence – it feels almost like a little dwarf’s rebellion – and, if I may confess some sadistic impulses, I enjoy seeing people avoid the inevitable and fight until the last breath against God. It is entertaining. It is like children kicking and struggling against a spoonful of chocolate, only to enjoy it the minute it enters their mouth. I’m not quite sure why I enjoy this final struggle, maybe because I see it as the final tantrum of sin before the flood of grace, but when I see someone running away from God, I smile, and try to stay around long enough to see God catching up.

Can I share some scenes of my sadistic voyeurism? Let’s start with red meat, you know, a good sinner of old, a mighty oak falling down. Augustine narrates in his Confessions how he tried to run from God, and revels in the foolishness of it: “I would only hide thee from myself, not myself from thee.”[2] Augustine’s is a fascinating journey, elaborated by a great soul-physician in the Confessions, until he comes to the decisive moment: “Thou didst call and cry aloud, and didst force open by deafness. Thou didst gleam and shine, and didst chase away my blindness. Thou didst breathe fragrant odors and I drew in my breath; and now I pant for thee. I tasted, and now I hunger and thirst. Thou didst touch me, and I burned for thy peace.”[3]

Good stuff, eh? I like C. S. Lewis’ final struggles too, and the silent resistance he tried to muster to the last, even against a palpable sense of God’s presence. Lewis narrates in his autobiography:

“You must picture me alone in that room in Magdalen, night after night, feeling, whenever my mind lifted even for a second from my work, the steady, unrelenting approach of Him who I so earnestly desired not to meet. That which I greatly feared had at last come upon me. In the Trinity Term of 1929 I gave in, and admitted that God was God, and knelt and prayed: perhaps the most defected and reluctant convert in all England.”[4]

But let me acknowledge it too. Maybe I enjoy seeing these moments in others not much for the agony’s sake – though that is fun, I admit – but maybe, if I may face my own resistance, because I enjoy the moments when God finally wins me over, and overflows my opposition, and reluctantly I let myself kneel and pray. I like seeing it in others because I see that this reluctance is not only my own, and even a stubborn like myself is within the reach of grace. I see David trying to make his bed in the depths, and feel I’m not down there by myself – there’s God, and there’s David hiding too, who tells me to shush and go hide somewhere else. If these dwarves dared to resist God, my own short arms and legs don’t seem to so foolish either. I can rest, and open myself, and let God arrive, and thank him for seeking such a small-minded fool as I.

René Breuel

[2]     Augustine, The Confessions of St. Augustine, ed. and trans. Albert Cook Outler (Mineola, New York: Dover, 2002), X.II.2.

[3]     Ibid., X.XXVII.38.

[4] C. S. Lewis, Surprised by Joy: The Shape of my Early Life (Orlando: Harcourt, 1955), 228-229.


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