August 15, 2007

Walking in the Dark

2007 1523 page31 capbout 400 meters from our home are several dozen acres of wooded area separating our housing development from the next, bisected by a creek that runs year-round. After my morning runs I take our dogs there while I cool down and they get their exercise. In those woods, less than 20 miles from the White House, we share the territory with deer, fox, squirrel, owl, and other creeping and winged creatures.
While the dogs follow their noses and track down the freshest scents, I enjoy the early morning solitude, being alone with my thoughts far from signs of human activity and close to creation’s Creator.
Last spring, when Daylight Savings Time began, we entered the woods when it was still dark. At first I carried a flashlight so I could see the path clearly. Then I realized that knowing the path, and using the light offered by the waning moon, enabled me to walk without a flashlight.
When summer arrived I decided to try taking our evening walks in the woods, rather than on a paved path through a nearby park. We typically start around 9:00, when there’s still a trace of light in the western sky. Before we finish our three-quarter-mile circuit it’s completely dark, the only illumination coming from the ambient light that filters through the canopy of tree branches.
2007 1523 page31It’s a strange sensation--trying to remember each twist in the trail, each low spot, each fallen log that crosses the trail. I have to confess that I often depend on Zoey, the dog who most often stays on the trail and whose light brown tail I can barely see in the dark. I walk much slower in the dark, especially through those places where exposed roots and rocks wait to trip up the careless.
I find myself being more deliberate during our daylight walks as well. I try to commit to memory the different contours of the trail. I try to recognize places where I have to walk with special care. I move fallen branches and other obstacles from the path when it’s daylight, so that when I go that way in the dark they’ll be less likely to trip me up.
That’s kind of how it is in my life of discipleship as well. Although I’ve walked in “the Way” for several decades now, I’ve still experienced moments of spiritual darkness when all I’ve had to rely on is God’s promises, and the memory of how He has guided me in the past.
Walking by faith is oddly disorienting. Unless you walk in circles, you’re constantly discovering new territory, facing new challenges, and being exposed to new opportunities. Yet only the distance you’ve covered is clearly discernable. The future is a path yet to be walked, a country not yet explored.
We can’t possibly know what the future holds, nor can we predict every contingency. But we can equip ourselves for the trip ahead of us by using the daylight to prepare for those moments when our faith is tested (and it will be tested).
The path of discipleship is a path of forward progress. We can’t stand still and expect to reach our destination. Nor can we be content to stay where we are until the path is clear and all obstacles are removed. Sometimes we’ll have to step out in faith; and often that means walking in the dark, guided by our confidence in the One who walks beside us, and encouraged by memories of how He has led us in the past.
Walking by faith is not the same as “walking blind.” It means relying on senses other than sight. It means being sensitive to stimuli that might or might not be apparent when our senses are assaulted by man-made feelings, flavors, sights, sounds, and smells. It means being open to the promptings of the Spirit, whether they come from a Bible verse, a friend’s counsel, the trill of a songbird, an answered prayer, a lover’s embrace, or a newspaper headline.
“We live by faith, not by sight,” said the apostle Paul (2 Cor. 5:7). And while I prefer walking when it’s light, walking by faith--especially when I can’t clearly see the path--is a real adventure.
Stephen Chavez is managing editor of Adventist Review. From now until spring he’ll be doing his morning runs mostly in the dark.