A wonderful thing happened on my run which hasn’t happened since I was training for a half marathon in 2010: I lost myself in the run. I reached that moment where I stopped paying attention to how far or how fast I was going, I was just running, and my brain was busy working things out. Things like “Do what thou Love shall be the Will of the Law.” Granted, there are some of you who know what this refers to, but for the rest of you, you can look up “Do what thou Wilt shall be the whole of the Law.”
I’m not sure exactly what my bastardization means to anyone but myself, but it came from the other day when I watched Kumare, a documentary about a false prophet, and Jeff Who Lives at Home, a film that, oddly enough, seems to be an “answer movie” to M. Night Shyamalan’s Signs. Kumare is a man’s quest to understand faith, studied the phenomena, and asked if just anyone could be a prophet, including himself. He creates an alter-ego prophet, sets up an ashram and religious practice, finds devotees and then unveils himself. Though Vikram (aka Kumare) maintains that he was not *actually* a religious leader, I found myself wanting to argue with him that he was, and also, a legitimate spiritual teacher. Jeff Who Lives at Home, features the tension between the two brothers, one who is terribly unlikable with a crumbling life, and another, stoner “loser” brother (Jeff) who sees the world through the lens of fate. Jeff wants to believe, and through the movie, made me believe (though frankly, only within the confines of the film.)
The easiest explanation I have for what I believe in is that I am an atheist. Like Vikram Ghandi, the director and creator of Kumare, I was drawn to religious study hoping that it would help me understand and perhaps solidify my religious leanings. By age thirteen, I had a spiritual calling for ministry, one that despite my religious non-affiliation, I still have and see my vocational choices as being complimentary. My study of religion (both academically and through social circles) led me to abandon orthodoxy in favor of what I have always essentially believed: there is no magic. The caveat being that each person is a creator and divine, and creates the god of their belief and the magic according to their system. There are no gods, and there are all the gods. I see it as strange and powerful stuff, but only real to those who see and believe.
That being said, I think that religion and religious practice are necessary and part of the intrinsic fabric of many humans. I’m not about to take that away, especially if they respect my unwillingness to share in their devotion. During times of tragedy, people often feel helpless, especially when far away, and offer thoughts, prayers, lit candles and other rituals, most of which are materially useless, but enriching (I’m told) for believers.
My magic was that I went on a run, and fell into that brief euphoria that running can give a person. I engaged with an ecstatic moment, noted each runner as I passed them by, wondering if they were in a similar devotion today, thinking on the people of Boston, the runners, the observers, the city. Running, like many other body-punishing activities, lends to an ecstatic experience that is otherworldly. The Boston Marathon is a gathering of ecstatics some “True” others “False,” but all sharing in a grueling experience that many will never take part in.
Though it did nothing, I ran. I thought of Boston. And perhaps like I accuse Kumare of being more of a prophet than he realizes, I show how much like Jeff I want to believe that putting myself out there with ecstatic intention means something more than sore quads in the morning.
This “renewal of faith” within the confines of the film was done far better in Jeff Who Lives at Home than in Life of Pi. Life of Pi had beautiful special effects, but was in the end a spiritually hungry white person’s quest for meaning with the help of magical brown-person.
All practices have their True Believers, those who will claim for whatever reason that no TRUE runner would do x, y, z. And those True Believers will disagree with what’s True. At 200 lbs, jogging a slow 2.5 mile, am I a true runner? At 155 lbs, and running 13.1 in 2:15:21, was I a true runner?