Dear Members and Friends,
I wish I could show you, when you are lonely or in darkness, the astonishing Light of your own Being.
-Hafiz, 14th century
Searchlights and Penlights was the theme of Martin Copenhaver’s Still-speaking e-devotional this past week. He opened the reflection by sharing a quote from Sister Helen Prejean, “I’m always asking God for a searchlight. But, instead, God gives me a penlight.” He went on to share how he is always looking the searchlight because he is a “planner” and he wants to know “every turn in the road and how the journey ends.”
While on vacation recently I actually had the experience of walking in the woods, before dawn, using only a penlight to guide me. There was a beautiful trail through the Unicoi State Park outside Helen, Georgia where Dianne and I enjoyed from R & R following the experience of Hurricane Irma. Each morning while there I awoke just before dawn and embarked on a 4 mile walk from the hotel into the woods along this trail and back. The first two mornings I timed the walk so that just as I entered the woods, after about a 15 minute walk from the hotel, there was enough early morning light from the sun just beginning to rise so that I had no problem on the trail. It was a very well-used path and fairly wide for a hiking trail. There were a few trees lying across the trail, recent victims of the remains of Hurricane Irma which actually reached all the way into the north Georgia mountains with Tropical Storm force winds.
The third morning I mis-timed the daylight! We were leaving that morning to drive to Savannah, so I left a bit earlier so as not to delay us. I expected that twilight would begin early enough to provide enough light to view the trail, but in the mountains, twilight does not really begin until after the sun has actually started to rise! So I reached the trail and it was still totally, completely, dark. There was no moon and no stars, so no ambient light at all!
But, I had my cell phone, equipped with the flashlight app! My walk that morning, for 2 miles into the woods and at least half a mile back out, was in the dark with the aid of my “penlight!” It allowed me to walk, but instead of alleviating any fears, it actually heightened them! Two days before Dianne and I had walked to Anna Ruby falls in another section of the park. Along the way were signs alerted hikers to the presence of rattlesnakes and copperheads, two poisonous snake species. The light from my phone only provided enough light to show me were my feet were about to step, but did not provide any advance warning to what I was approaching on the trail. Plus, it created menacing shadows out of six-inch high plants lining the trail. At one point I startled myself as I was sure the light suddenly revealed a coiled timber rattlesnake in the trail almost upon me! I discovered it was only a small pile of dried oak leaves.
I survived the walk that morning. The light from the rising sun finally penetrated the woods and the last two-thirds of my walk was lovely. We did get off on time for our drive to our next destination and all was well. I was glad I had the light on my cell phone. I learned again about my struggle with the dark and my struggle to trust God’s guidance and care especially when I find myself in uncharted territory, such as a dark trail in the woods. I wish, like the Persian Poet Hafiz, that I had the ability at such times to see and remember the Light of my own Being, the Light of God, residing in me and all around me. It might not provide physical light for dark trails, but it would provide inner light of reassurance, comfort, peace and security, remembering that no matter where, no matter what, I am always in God’s hands.
Maybe if I can remember this blessing from Irish poet and priest John O’Donohue, I can remember the presence of God’s light in my being.
May the light of your soul guide you.
May the light of your soul bless the work you do
with the secret love and warmth of your heart …
May the sacredness of your work bring healing,
light and renewal to those who work with you
and to those who see and receive your work.
R. Steven Hudder
Pastor, Christ Congregational United Church of Christ
Palmetto Bay, Florida