About a month ago I went on a silent retreat to Christ in the Wilderness in western Illinois. I had a little hermitage to myself and I spent five days walking, praying, reading, thinking, and listening. One evening I hiked up hill (both ways) to the big, free-standing porch swing on a hill. This swing faced due west.
I positioned myself in the swing to watch the blazing orange sunset over the span of corn fields and hickory trees. I heard coyotes yip and yowl. I watched flocks birds swoop and then come to rest, facing the disappearing sun like me. I saw the bats come out and dive for their food.
As everything settled into evening humming, I decided to go back toward my hermitage. I climbed out of the swing and walked the path, back around to the east side of the hill. By the time I was ready to descend the hill toward the little chapel, I was facing due east. I could no longer see the sunset because the peak of the hill was between me and the view.
My new view was the rising deep violet of the coming night. It was easy to perceive myself as walking into the night. In fact, that's what I immediately thought. I am walking into the night.
Then I had an insight. I am not only walking into the night, but I am walking toward the dawn.
Walking into the night- into a darker space where the shapes and path are not as clearly defined- also means heading toward dawn, a new day, and a new beginning.
Sitting down in the little chair at the top of that path, I looked down the hill and watched the night rise.
How often do we as people or as a church watch the sunset over and over and over, forgetting that we are called to turn toward a resurrection sunrise? We fear the dark- forgetting that the stars and the night are as much a part of God's creativity and creation as the sun and the day.
What does this look like?
- Wringing our hands over dwindling numbers without examine why they're happening
- Expecting the same thing over and over to get the same result it did years ago
- Telling the same stories of history over and over without celebrating the successes of the present or leaning into the dreams of the future
What does walking into the dark look like?
- It looks like the widow of Zarepheth feeding Elijah with some of the last of her food.
- It looks like the widow giving two mites to a system that exploited her, but that she also perceived to allow her access to God
- It looks like a centurion saying, "I believe, Lord, forgive my unbelief."
- It looks like 2-3 women walking with heavy hearts toward a tomb that will turn out to be empty.
If we watch sunsets over and over and over, without ever turning into the dawn, we should not be surprised when nothing ever changes. When we turn, when we yield to the Spirit's call, we find that we are not abandoning our history, our saints, our stories. Instead, they are also ahead of us, reminding of us of how God has provided before and the promises of provision for the future.
Turn around, step into a slightly dimmer light, and head toward the dawn- knowing God is with you every step of the way.