My chest is tight. My shirt is soaked with sweat. The path along the edge of the jungle bank is clear for the most part except for the large, jutting rocks at the joints of the hills. Water trickles down these boulders, so I slow down to cross the slippery rocks. I welcome the short respite, take an extra breath and continue running. My attention is usually divided between following the trail of pieces of shredded paper scattered along the path and keeping my feet moving smoothly and quickly through the obstacles that appear — waterways, overgrown weeds, slippery fallen banana tree leaves, bamboo bridges, trash-littered village alleyways, and one-foot-wide rice field footpaths. My screaming lungs, oxygen-craving muscles, and beauty of nature require equal attention and respect.
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I follow the small paper scrap trail marked by the hare. “Keep the paper on your left” are the instructions I follow. “If you come upon paper scraps arranged in the shape X, turn back and find the proper trail.” At times, there are gaps in these paper hints that cause the runners and walkers to second-guess their route. The rule-of-thumb is this: the paper scraps will reappear in the first 50 meters if it is the true trail; otherwise, turn around and try again. There are other logical, yet ridiculous, regulations to this trail running club, Hash House Harriers.
First, I meet nature face to face. As the paper trail weaves us through villages, down steep hillsides, up the other side, through fields of chili peppers and papayas, along the rice paddy pathways, over babbling brooks, through tall grasses, under fallen bamboo tree trunks, along cliff edges and over garbage dumps, I wheeze and realize that these are the spaces my soul craves when so many other facets of life are foreign to me.
Second, I meet people face to face. Many join in these wilderness walks and ravaging runs, so all of the pain and agony is shared. The group is composed of many cultures, religions, ethnic groups and professions. Like a team, sharp-eyed fellows navigate the trail in front and a jolly crew follows, continually providing commentary and comic relief. It’s a great system, and all benefit. At times, however, there is something spectacular and liberating about running solo through the jungle, down slick mountainsides and through rivers, relishing the respite from shouts and laughter. In fact, I most enjoy running out ahead of the troops of men and a bit behind another solo runner. That is the sweet spot, the perfect placement, the happy medium, the just right.
That is where I meet God. This is the third blessing. I meet Him, or rather catch a glimpse, a flash, of Him. Right there, in the middle of the jungle, in the sweet spot of the running pack, I am reminded of my journey with God. All is quiet (except for my gasping, mind you), yet I catch glimpses of the solo runner up ahead, his red shirt flashing through the gaps of jungle foliage. The runner leads from a distance, and I trace his general direction up the hill, over the river, or just straight on. I do not need to know how to take each exact step over the slippery rocks or through weed-covered paths, but rather keep my eyes on the flashes. And I see, like in my journey with God, although there may be no audible words exchanged between the two of us, He leads me in silent, colorful flashes. Just like this red-shirted man, our Father is the guide who sets the trail, travels alongside us, and comes up from behind when we are lost or disoriented. As we continue along this tight, narrow, sweat-filled, gasping trail through the jungles of Southeast Asia, the shivering sidewalks of Chicago or the stress-filled hallways of academia, let us train our eyes, fix our vision, plot our course after the silent flashes of the One who leads (Hebrews 12:2).