Light for a Dark Path

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Life can be a very dark path, frightenly uncharted. Inching through life often finds us hesitating in dark places, afraid to take even one step into an unknown future. The darkness can be daunting. Still, for me light has at times eased the darkness, and with even a tiny ray of light, I was able to move forward.

Brother Curtis Almquist writes of the grace-filled presence of beacons of light.

There have been people in our past who have been beacons of light, and whose life still shines into the present . . . and we remember them because they help us find our way and know our place in life, which is otherwise so terribly uncharted.

– Brother Curtis Almquist
Society of Saint John the Evangelist

How fondly I remember and give thanks for the people who were beacons of light for me.

Yiayia, my beloved grandmother, who was my faithful and loving protector and whose energy nurtured me.

Thea Koula, my favorite aunt, who was like a mother to me and who brought joy and lightheartedness to my life.

Ethel, my forever friend, who was a constant beacon of light, always helping me find my way.

In the darkness, the light of faith endured and made the journey possible. Most certainly, the people in my life strengthened my faith and were for me a welcomed light for a dark path. And yes, I stumbled over more than a few nasty obstacles and rough spots. But even when I languished in the darkness of an uncharted path, my faith was enough. My faith was my brightest light.

I will be forever grateful for the beacons of light that helped guide me on the journey and for the enduring, constant presence of a faithful God.

The Lord will guide you always;
will satisfy your needs in a sun-scorched land
and will strengthen your frame.
You will be like a well-watered garden,
like a spring whose waters never fail.

– Isaiah 58:11 NIV

Change and Hope

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Change happens always, but not always for the better. It is simply a reality of living life. Change comes to us; we try our best to navigate it; and with any luck, we will end up stronger for it. In the best of all worlds, going through change will strengthen our hope and bolster our faith. To be sure, best laid plans change all the time, often leaving us shaken. But it is good to know that God knows all about changes and what they do to our equilibrium.

For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope.

– Jeremiah 29:11

Change does not always feel like hope to us. What we face tomorrow, and all the tomorrows to come, is always an unknown, an unknown that causes fear in us. And yet, so much of our contentment depends on our outlook, how we see change, how we move ourselves through it, how we end up on the other side. I like the outlook that journalist, Linda Ellerbee shares in this statement.

What I like most about change is that it can be a synonym for hope. If you are taking a risk what you’re really saying is, “Ibelieve in tomorrow and I will be a part of it.”

– Linda Ellerbee

So if there is any good advice here, it is to hang on to your life even in the face of change. Try to see change as hope. Navigate those life risks, all the while proclaiming, “I believe in tomorrow and I will be a part of it.” Living that way is the way of God, the way of faith, the way of hope.

Life’s Narrow and Wide Gates

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Life is full of narrow and wide gates, beckoning us to choose which gate to enter. On one hand, the idea of gates — narrow ones and wide ones — is a Biblical idea describing the kind of life a Christian person might choose. On the other hand, narrow and wide gates are simply a part of our life pilgrimage.

The Scripture reference is found in the Gospel of Matthew.

Enter through the narrow gate. For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it. But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it.

– Matthew 7:13-14 New International Version (NIV)

The pilgrimage that we call life is, most certainly, a series of challenges we must face. How common it is for us to complain when the gate before us is narrow and the road ahead is rocky. Why do I struggle financially? Why must I endure failing health? Why am I in the middle of a failing relationship? Why did I lose someone I love so deeply?

Didn’t I choose the narrow gate, God? Did I not commit my life to the way that leads to life? Then why? Why the suffering?

God seldom answers us when we ask these questions. We listen constantly for God’s voice and a satisfactory explanation of life’s suffering.

We hear nothing.

Just relentless, ominous silence. It can try one’s faith.

Gratefully, I came across an encouraging quote. Before collapsing on my life’s dusty road, I found a place to lean in the words of Brother Luke Ditewig. Here’s what he said:

After making much fuss about our great accomplishment at having found a narrow and obscure gate and walked through, we’re often surprised at the ordinary challenges of life that follow, again and again. I’m embarrassed by how much I say: β€œWow, this road is hard!” or β€œWhy are we still in the wilderness?” But if you look around right now, you’ll notice divine love in the ordinary stuff of life.

– Brother Luke Ditewig
Society of Saint John the Evangelist

So let us persist, moving forward with even a tiny fistful of faith. And may we look around on the way, passing through the gates we encounter and always noticing the divine love that is ever present in the “ordinary stuff of life.”

A Winding Path

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I simply cannot see what’s up ahead. I know that the path is a winding one. I know that the path is strewn with rocks and a few obstacles along the way. I know that the trees provide shade on the journey. I know, most surely of all, that the path winds on into places that remain unknown to me. That could cause fear and a reluctance to walk forward.

I have known such fear at times. I have gazed at the path before me and have welcomed the kind of fear that stops the journey. I have trembled, deeply in my soul, because the path was formidable . . . a winding, crooked path that stretched before me farther than I could see. I have never known the destination, only the fear and the path.

JosΓ© N. Harris has written about this kind of fear. He writes of a remedy, in fact.

When you find your path, you must ignore fear. You need to have the courage to risk mistakes. But once you are on that road… run, run, run, and don’t stop until you’ve reached its end.

– JosΓ© N. Harris, MI VIDA: A Story of Faith, Hope and Love

That’s wise counsel. I must ignore the fear and bravely walk my path in faith, faith in the God that placed my path before me in the first place. The truth is that God has a long history of faithfulness, a long history of guiding folk on their journeys and protecting them on the pathways they were traveling. And that’s good enough for me!

Because of your great compassion you did not abandon them in the wilderness. By day the pillar of cloud did not cease to guide them on their path, nor the pillar of fire by night to shine on the way they were to take.

– Nehemiah 9:19 NIV

Bridges and Tunnels

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River bridge and tunnel over the White River at Cotter, Arkansas. Photo by Ray Brooks.

Life has its share of bridges and tunnels. I have traversed both. The bridges were nearly always open to the world and promised to take me to the other side of something. And although long bridges, old rickety bridges, and high-over-a-river bridges do present some measure of fear in crossing, bridges are pretty welcoming. They offer a wide-open promise to get you across.

Tunnels, on the other hand, are not wide open at all. They represent a more mysterious part of the journey, a few dark moments when you must enter the tunnel with faith that it won’t collapse on top of you and that there will be light at the end of it. Tunnels bury you for a time under rock, mountains, or water.

I’m prepared for crossing bridges and going through tunnels. So many life events have been my preparation, teaching me to move forward with confidence and courage. And God has proven to be present with me no matter how deep the tunnel or how long the bridge.

So I’ll keep moving, and along the way, I will enjoy the breathtaking vistas I see from the bridges. And I might even enjoy going into the tunnels, which could well be a time for me to experience the kind of darkness that touches the peaceful darkness inside me.

 

Celebrating the Journey

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We are travelers on a journey, fellow pilgrims on the road;
We are here to help each other walk the mile and bear the load.
I will hold the Christ-light for you in the night-time of your fear;
I will hold my hand out to you, speak the peace you long to hear.

– Richard Gillard (1974) Copyright: Β© 1977 Scripture In Song/Maranatha! Music/ASCAP

This hymn, “The Servant Song,” offers the image of life as a journey. It is a clear call to our interconnectedness as “fellow pilgrims.” It is a portrait of making the journey together, caring each for the other, holding up the light when the darkness becomes overwhelming.

So we are not wandering strangers, but instead brothers and sisters united by our mutual care for one another weathering the storms of every difficult hour. For me, the path has been steep and rocky at times, smooth and pleasant at other times. The brothers and sisters along the way gave me enough grace and courage to keep moving ahead when the journey got the best of me. Bishop Steven Charleston offers a tribute for journey travelers.

Here is the respect you deserve for all that you have done. You have weathered the storms of many difficult hours, kept going when others might have stopped, continued to believe despite all evidence to the contrary. Were you perfect in thought and action? No, of course not, none of us are, but you have tried, more than once, and tried again, admitting mistakes, growing in wisdom, learning the lessons of a life well lived. For all of this, from one other traveler walking the road beside you, you have my respect. I honor you and celebrate what you have accomplished.

Always celebrate the journey you have traveled. Always honor the wisdom you gained, the lessons you learned, the brothers and sisters you found along the way. May God bless you as you journey on.

Making It All the Way Home

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“Close your eyes and follow your breath to the still place that leads to the invisible path that leads you home.”

~ St. Teresa of Avila

With aging, I have experienced an emotional and spiritual “returning home.” The years have brought a sense of well-being in some very real ways. It happens to us all, I think, as we follow the usual life paths of grief, loss, fear, hopelessness, and yes, joy. The difficult paths are the important ones, in fact. Each assault, each time of suffering, makes us seek who we really are inside.

In a conversation last night, I made this comment:

The passing years are taking some of my intensity away. I now see my younger self as a very different person than who I am today, looking back on the years in which I was driven to save the world. But I’m happy that the frenetic drive has lessened for me over the years. If I had not settled down, I think I would have died. And the kidney disease year had a profound impact on the person I used to be. I miss myself sometimes, but mostly I’m very grateful to have relaxed.

The beginning of a brand new year brings a pensive season for me, a time when I want to know myself, my real self. My self-assessment, then and now, reveals how I eventually made it through life’s chaos to the serene present. So I am happy that I made it all the way home to this place, this still and holy place that nurtures my life.

The Mists of Autumn

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The story of Autumn tells of early morning mists that blanket the vibrantly changing trees. It reminds us of a kind of melancholy that anticipates the cold winter months. The sight is a masterpiece lasting for a short time, until the sun breaks through.

It’s also a picture of life that necessarily includes misty, melancholy seasons. Yet the sun breaks through, brightening our existence and reminding us of constant change. We live through the mists, always knowing that eventually the sun will rise upon us.

Until the warmth of the sun returns, we have companions beside us, willing to lead us by the hand until we can see the path clearly again. It’s called the grace of presence that proclaims that we are never alone. Life’s mists will come, but we will walk on with hope and with companions who walk with us until daybreak.

And now, behold, the hand of the Lord is upon thee, and thou shalt be blind, not seeing the sun for a season. And immediately there fell on him a mist and a darkness; and he went about seeking some to lead him by the hand.

– Acts 13:11 King James Version (KJV)

The God of Our Journeys

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Life is very much like a journey. As our days pass, we travel a path that leads us through valleys and mountains, forests and meadows, roads that present obstacles that hinder us. Many people have said life is not an easy road.

It’s not so much like a journey on planes, trains and automobiles. Its more like a soul journey, walking on pathways, steep and narrow, sometimes clear and sometimes ridden with obstacles. Sometimes smooth, often rocky. So we travel with the prayer that God will be walking with us.

God’s presence makes this journey possible. Through every darkened starry night, when the light of dawn appears, over bridges, across deep valleys and rocky ridges, God is close by. In times of war and times of peace, in days of sorrow and suffering, during times of great happiness, God is with us on this journey.

When the psalmist asks where he might go to be outside God’s presence, he declares:

Suppose I had wings
like the dawning day
and flew across the ocean.
Even then your powerful arm
would guide and protect me.

(Psalm 139:9-10, CEV)

Thanks be to the God of our journeys.

A Courageous Heart

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From the top of Mount Nebo in Arkansas

Sometimes things don’t work out as we hope they will. We have plans covered by faith, and we work hard to make our plans come to fruition. We have goals that we strive to achieve. We have dreams that we hope for. But dreams can be lost, and we are forced to dream new dreams and move forward.

The story of Moses tells how he led his people through the wilderness in hopes of reaching the land promised by God. Moses wandered the desert with a courageous heart. Along the way, he encountered all manner of experiences, the parting of the Red Sea, receiving the Ten Commandments, his experience with a bush that burned. Moses was honored by being appointed by God to lead the Israelites out of Egypt and into Canaan.

But in spite of God’s anointing, Moses never went into the land of promise. This is what happened to Moses on Mount Nebo.

Then Moses went up from the plains of Moab to Mount Nebo, to the top of Pisgah, which is across from Jericho. And the Lord showed him all the land of Gilead as far as Dan, all Naphtali and the land of Ephraim and Manasseh, all the land of Judah as far as the Western Sea, the South, and the plain of the Valley of Jericho, the city of palm trees, as far as Zoar. Then the Lord said to him, β€œThis is the land of which I swore to give Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, saying, β€˜I will give it to your descendants.’ I have caused you to see it with your eyes, but you shall not cross over there.

Deuteronomy 34:1-4

It is true that Moses died without experiencing the promise, but oh, the miracles he saw along the journey! The lesson for us is to truly experience the sacred moments of our journeys, to savor the holy happenings, to take in the miracles that God shows us.

May God grant us eyes to see burning bushes and a heart courageous enough to cross Red Seas.