Years ago, I attended a church retreat at a facility called The Mountain in Highlands, NC. This beautiful rustic camp complete with twisted oak trees and panoramic views of the mountains of Western North Carolina was a spectacular setting for a period of personal contemplation and discernment. One of the activities planned at this conference was a trust walk at night. The participants were driven were driven to a state park not far from the conference center. I remember hearing the roar of waterfalls, being blindfolded and being led by another person at 10:00 PM at night over a rocky trail. All of a sudden, I remember that we stopped. I didn't know what to expect next. My blindfold was removed and I recall looking up into the clear night sky and seeing it filled with brilliant fireflies. The sight of these creatures was breathtaking, it left me in awe and my reaction was that in trusting to walk blind-folded I was able to come to this clearing in order to see this dazzling light.
Faith is a journey that is marked by periods of great light and enlightenment and then there can be times when there is darkness and turbulence. The times in life where there is an absence of light can be manifested in human experiences like the death of a family member or friend, dissolution of a marriage or a significant relationship, rupture of a relationship with a child or a parent, financial struggle and difficulty or dealing with a chronic terminal illness.
Darkness can come to our doorstep in all shapes and sizes. Having faith to reveal light into those dark places can be a great challenge.
Barbara Brown Taylor in her book Learning To Walk In The Dark talks about James Fowler and his stages of faith. She writes:
Religion, faith and belief are not the same thing, Fowler says, though we often speak of them as if they were. In the sixteenth century, "to believe" meant "to set the heart upon" or "to give the heart to", as in,"I believe in love." But in the centuries following the Enlightenment, secular use of the words "belief" and "believe" began to change until they said less about the disposition of one's heart than about the furniture in one's mind. By the nineteenth century, when knowledge about almost anything consisted chiefly of empirical facts, belief became the opposite of knowledge. A person's belief in God was reduced to his or her belief system -- the unprovable statements of faith that person judged to be true.
I can have faith that just as there will be fireflies that light up the night sky, that there will be the companionship and love of family and friends in my life. Faith can really be manifested when someone, in human flesh, really delivers their presence and commitment to care for another person. When someone visits a person who is incarcerated, you proclaim that God is concerned about those who are imprisoned. When you feed the hungry and clothe the naked, you are again testifying to the God who is concerned about the poor. When you work for establishing a just livable wage for all, you are declaring that God is concerned about justice being made manifest for all people.
Barbara Brown Taylor again notes that:
I have simply announced my readiness to listen, but all I hear are the normal sounds of a summer's night in the north Georgia woods. It is not that I expect to hear an actual voice, but I have courted the Beloved long enough to know what it is like to receive a divine visit: it is like coming home after a long time away; it is like being held by someone with all of the time in the world; it is like remembering a dream that opens a door.
What are those divine visits that you need ? What are your dreams remembered that can open doors in your life ?
Faith is an ever-changing process, it is not stagnant. As Joni Mitchell observed:
"Every picture has its shadow,
and it has its source of light"
(Shadows and Light)
Like a painter who wants to open up the canvas, may be open to the divine visits in our lives that can reveal light to penetrate the shadows of our darkness, may the road be made clear, may our resolve for healing and strength be made strong and may the divine, however known, be made known in our lives through human contact and divine grace.
May it be so.