Sunday, November 07, 2010

In Heaven There Is No Beer

"Is this heaven?"
"No, it's Iowa."
     --Field of Dreams

In heaven there is no beer
That's why we drink it here
And when we're gone from here
Our friends will be drinking all the beer
     --from the "Iowa Victory Polka," played after victories by the U of Iowa football team

In Iowa, there is plenty of beer. In addition to the annual RAGBRI (Register's Annual Great Bike Ride Across Iowa), a weeklong group ride across the state in which beer drinking plays a prominent role, Iowa also boasts several microbreweries. One of the newest--if not the newest--of these is the Peace Tree Brewing Company, which opened last year in Knoxville, IA. Knoxville happens to be the home of my Uncle Mike, Aunt Connie, and cousin Stephen as well as the hometown of Stephen's two older siblings, Courtney and Andrew, both of whom now attend college elsewhere in the state, Courtney at the College of Pharmacy at the University of Iowa in Iowa City and Andrew at Wartburg College in Waverly.

I spent last weekend in Knoxville along with my mom, her sister, and her middle brother (Mike is the baby of the family). Actually, we started and finished each day in Knoxville, but spent the bulk of each day on the road across the state. On Saturday, we attended Andrew's football game in Waverly; Andrew is a senior safety and led the Knights in tackles last year (good for his stats, but having a safety lead in tackles usually means the defensive line and linebackers are not making those tackles); this year, the Knights are 9-0 and have qualified for the playoffs for their division in the NCAA. I was surprised at how different rooting for a family member changes the way I watched a college football game...rooting for an individual first and the team because of him changes the emotional tie to the outcome: sure, I was still hoping the team would win, and I was "into" the game as much as I've been into one for my own alma mater, but I found myself wanting the win for him first and for me (as a fan) second. I'll come to no general conclusions here about the nature of fandom; I did find the contrast interesting, though.

"If one could run without getting tired I don't think one would often want to do anything else." 
     --C.S. Lewis, The Last Battle 

I 'm still training for the Route 66 Marathon, which will take place two weeks from today. To maintain the abbreviated training schedule that will hopefully allow me to complete that race, I did a couple of moderately long runs in Knoxville, getting up before breakfast so as not to interfere with my family's overall plans. I ran on Saturday and on Sunday, enjoying both the physical challenge (Knoxville, and much of that part of Iowa, is pretty hilly) and the quiet beauty of my surroundings. I took a fairly similar route both days--I ran past my youngest cousin's high school, the football stadium, the town square, and the Peace Tree Brewing Company, as well as through my family's neighborhood. I was mainly alone, passing only a couple of other runners. In those moments, it's easy to think things like, "I'm the only one out here doing this...the locals may be kind of impressed!"--easy until I remember the story my uncle told me of the local man who ran 100 miles in 24 hours, ending his trek at the football stadium at the start of one of the high school team's games. If running is a competition, it's with oneself, mainly. At least for me it is.

Running on a Sunday morning is not something I'd done since, well, before I became an Orthodox Christian. I find it impossible to run without breaking the fast (with both food and water) preceding receiving the Precious Gifts at the Divine Liturgy; even if I were to somehow wait till after Liturgy to eat or drink, though, I think that running beforehand might dilute my focus and add extra "busy-ness" to the morning. Not that I'm trying to pontificate: I'll miss church altogether the morning of the marathon. But running before church seems to be trying to have things both ways, to avoid making a decision, a commitment. 

I really do love to run. If I had to choose only one or the other, I'd give up beer forever and re-title this blog, "Run/Run." Well, maybe, anyway. 

When I was not yet a catechumen but had started attending Inquirer's Class fairly regularly, my (to-be) pastor, who was leading that session, asked each of us, "What is your favorite activity on earth?" Having just finished my first marathon 3 days prior, I blurted out, "Running." Father then stated, warmly but firmly, "Well, you know eternity is not going to consist simply of running over and over and over." Of course I knew he was right. His words reminded me of C.S. Lewis's regarding chocolate, sex, and heaven:

"…I think our present outlook might be like that of a small boy who, on being told that the sexual act was the highest bodily pleasure should immediately ask whether you ate chocolates at the same time. On receiving the answer ‘No’, he might regard absence of chocolates as the chief characteristic of sexuality. In vain would you tell him that the reason why lovers in their carnal raptures don’t bother about chocolates is that they have something better to think of. The boy knows chocolate: he does not know the positive thing that excludes it. We are in the same position. We know the sexual life; we do not know, except in glimpses, the other thing which, in Heaven, will leave no room for it."
      --C.S. Lewis, Miracles (p. 160)

In heaven there is no beer, as far as I can discern; there may be no running, either. That may or may not be why I give so much attention to them here. 

Or maybe I have not really learned to desire Heaven for its own sake. Or the one who makes Heaven heavenly, for His Own sake. 

Lord, have mercy.

God Bless you, whoever you are who may be reading this.