That’s a quote from one of my old favorite movies, Chariots of Fire (1981), a quote which has stayed in my heart and brain these long years and which, in the past few days, has taken on a more vivid meaning for me and a greater urgency in my life. No, don’t be concerned…I am not about to decide that I want to “bike a century” like one friend or to take up triathalon training like another. Being a muscular Christian in the Eric Lidell sense of the phrase means something totally different to me. That is what has become clear to me over the past week.
I didn’t realize when I watched this movie the first time (or the 25th time) that muscular Christianity was an actual social
movement in Victorian Great Britain, that it was considered to be the foundation of the British Empire (the world conquered by Man going forth with a rifle in one hand and a Bible in the other), and that, while not terribly influential in the United States, it did lead to the development of such originally evangelical organizations as the YMCA (Young Men’s Christian Association). Or, of course, that it did not ever apply to the female sex. Typical.
While these are all interesting facts that I will file away for my next game of Trivial Pursuit, my response to that phrase and that particular scene in the movie (if you want to watch the clip, click here) has little to do with exercise. What I hear in those words is a call to take the message of faith into everyday life, into the life of the world that needs that message so desperately.
As is so often the case for me, during this last week of “retreat”, I learned exactly the opposite of the thing that I thought I was going to learn. I went to a retreat to learn the finer skills of leading groups of seekers into the ways of contemplative prayer; I learned that my days of withdrawing from the world into the depths of that kind of exclusive communion with the divine are long past me. Oh, I certainly can do it, I do it daily — in fact, many times a day. But what a view of the changes in my theology I got from sitting with people who believed contemplation to be the superior form (and perhaps the only form) of relationship with God. And in seeing these changes, I now truly understand my dilemma and my discomfort over the past year. I have had no idea who I had become.
I have been kicked out of the nest, and I didn’t even know it.
Along with a faith of radical acceptance and love, I have developed a faith of radical living, a faith that is intricately entwined with everything that I do and say and think and live every single minute that I draw breath.
I no longer need to seek the nature of my calling; my life is my calling.
Right now, that feels empowering, freeing. I’m sure tomorrow or some day soon it will feel frightening again. But not now.
Do I really have any more answers about what my next right step might be than I had a week ago? No. But can I keep going for a while without the weight of doubt tied to my every step? For a while, yes.
There is another quote from this wonderful movie, a quote which did not stick in my brain for all these years, but a quote that hopefully will guide my steps in these next days: “Don’t compromise…compromise is the langauge of the Devil,” says Eric Lidell’s father. “Run in God’s name and let the world stand back in wonder.”
A new quote, for new times.