I have become increasingly more attracted to various endurance sports. Something about pushing one’s body to its utter limits in unique and challenging ways has found its appeal. Marathons, triathlons, decathlons. Perhaps my newfound fad has to do with the immense mental stamina required for these events, or possibly the strategizing and planning that goes into the preparation stages, or maybe it is the plain physical element that captivates me. I, in child-like fashion, look to the athletes of these events with awe-glazed eyes and admiration and think to myself that simple and humble phrase, “How cool!” in the unlikely hopes that I too, within the short span of a lifetime, will complete those physical feats for myself.
Having successfully finished my first half marathon in the spring (in less time than the national average, I might add), I looked ahead to the fall to complete its big brother, the full. With goal in mind and shoes on feet, I have rather faithfully been training for that 26.2-mile stretch to be attempted this fall.
One of my favorite artists to listen to while on a run is that old legend, the man in black, Johnny Cash. I particularly enjoy listening to his gospel and Christian songs and have put together a running playlist consisting almost solely of that sort of selection. Just the other day, I had missed my early morning run and was too busy during the day to complete it. Frustrated and not wanting to skip a day of training, I decided to go for a night run. As I was running, Johnny Cash’s rendition of In the Sweet By and By came on through my headphones – a most lovely rendition indeed. Right from the onset of the song, in the first line, the lyric reads, “There’s a land that is fairer than day…” Having listened to this song innumerable times and by an equally innumerable number of artists, I never could have suspected it would impact me as it did that night.
My mind quickly focused on that line as the rest of the train of lyrics ran quietly along into a blur. I pondered why Bennett, the hymn’s creative lyricist, decided to liken the fairness of heaven as superior to that of the day itself. “Is day even fair?” I thought to myself. And all of the sudden, as in an instant, it all harmoniously clicked together.
Nighttime brings about a sense of hesitance, angst, doubt, fear, and illusion. Though many great things can be gained in those dark hours, the reality of its uncertainty stands sure. A fact I was most keenly aware of while running under the shadowy cover of night. Even the safest of neighborhoods are not exempt from the genuine and necessary screen of caution one develops when running at night. Something I realized in that moment was my previously unknown desire for the day. One can enjoy, appreciate, and grow from the night most certainly. But one cannot live there. The day, though at times dull, provides stability that the night, even with its waves of enchantment, can never provide. One can live in the day and visit the night, but one cannot live in the night and only visit the day. This is early recognized in what is commonly the child’s first major fear: the fear of the dark.
This all, of course, is not to say that no good, no enjoyment, no nobleness, and no fun can come from the night. It is to say, however, that the night cannot sustain us – that we internally yearn for the day. The night, in its deep wonder, may bring moments pleasant and thrilling, but the day brings these in greater abundance. The light brings these seasoned with clarity, with joy, with élan, with true wonder. Under the shadow of darkness, the good may be seen with much strain of the eye, only dimly. In the day’s brilliance, the good is seen with ease and real enjoyment. The blessings of night not only exist in the day but thrive there, and that absent struggle. There, one finds that the good things are free flowing and mutual, ceaseless and real.
About another pace and a half down the street, in that quick, instantaneous glimmer of a thought, I had understood quite well the meaning of that first line that departed Johnny’s lips and entered my ears. We are all living in the night, the dark and cold dominion of this world. We, as babes, have that restless and present fear of the dark, of that sinister mixture surrounding us. In hopeful expectation, almost counting the hours, the minutes, the seconds we wait for those first rays of morning light to burst into our black bedrooms like a horseman leading a mighty charge. Those rays of light, when they come, we know will put an end to our fears, confusions, and doubts. When that light, that glorious light, invades the room, filling and surrounding every crack and crevice of our dwelling, it will remain permanently. We shall never see night again.
When those celestial shores are finally reached and our wearied feet dimple those golden sands, we shall rest assured that the struggles of night will cease, never to creep in again. We look with hopeful expectation for the day when heaven is touched and we partake of its splendor. It will be as glorious as the light of day, of the day itself. But as the song quickly reminds us, it truly shall not be as the day. It shall be fairer, much fairer.