Posted by: Melissa Bane Sevier | July 6, 2011

Running in the dark

          Sometimes I run in the dark.

In the winter, the sun comes up so late that a morning run nearly always begins in darkness.  This time of year I do all my jogging early, before the day gets too hot.  Sometimes I run before the sun has begun to rise, either because my schedule demands it or because it is already warmer than I like, and I want to finish early.

          Most of the path I cover has no streetlights, so when it’s dark I need a lamp of some kind.  I wear one of those (very dorky) little forehead lights that attaches around my head with an elastic strap.  As soon as the morning sky gives enough light for me to see without the lamp, I take it off and carry it the rest of the way (thereby reducing the dork factor, should I be seen by anyone I know).

          The headlamp gives me freedom to run without fear of falling over a speed bump or tree root, ensures that drivers can see me when I’m crossing a street, and enables me to exercise when otherwise I’d be stuck at home.

          Our generation in this country isn’t much accustomed to the darkness.  Unless the power is out, we merely have to flick a switch and the lights come on.  What a luxury. 

          Even so, being in the dark, figuratively, is part of the human condition.  We never know just what’s coming next.  Even less do we know what the distant future holds.  We plan our schooling, imagine what job we’ll have, look for long-term relationships, save for retirement.  I am confident in saying that no one’s life has ever turned out exactly how they’d imagined it when they were young.

          Because we are in the dark about what’s coming, we need lights.  People to whom we can go for advice or help.  Friends who encourage.  Family who are our home even when we’re far away.  God, who never leaves our side.  These lights help us find our way.  Alone on an unlit pathway, we trip over our own feet, find ourselves in unsafe situations, grope in the darkness.  With the light of God’s presence, we are less afraid, more sure of our footsteps, secure that we are headed in the right general direction.

Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path.—from Psalm 119.

          We run in the dark, but not alone.

          When the sun finally starts to rise, we begin to see with growing clarity what was there all along: purpose, meaning, love, faith, hope.  As the pathway continues to unfold before us, every turn brings something new and unforeseen. 

          Around every turn, God is already there, holding the lamp.

© Melissa Bane Sevier, 2011

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Responses

  1. As the field of neuroscience becomes more and more popular in contemporary medicine and spills over into our culture, I wonder about its findings and interpretation—most recently, the field’s explanation for the bright light experienced by people who have experienced “near death” episodes in their lives. These folks often describe the experience of moving down a long tunnel or lengthy enclosure and being drawn by a bright, radiating, increasingly enveloping, light. Warm, comforting, energizing—words they often employ to characterize it. In their wake, many of them personally come to feel such an incident reaffirms their faith. For neuroscientists, it is explained (away) as an epiphenomenon of their brains in crisis from a serious insult and thus they attribute it to the brain in the process of shutting down.

    In a book I read some years back, Hans Kung, the noted Catholic theologian, refuses to embrace “near death” as a rare, but empirical, confirmation of Christian faith. Neither do I. I see faith as our personal closure of the gap between what we, our rationality, and science validate and can prove through our senses and what we are moved to believe about our existence, the Bible, the Spoken Word (often mediated through our ministers), and a history and tradition that give meaning to our lives.

    So I respectfully disagree with both “near death” reports and grounded speculations based upon a particular model of the human brain by neuroscientists. At the same time, I am pulled toward the bathing bright light as a lovely, even powerful, metaphor for God, the ground of Being, that in the limitations of our intelligence and rationality call forth literary figure to describe and contain what is indescribable and exceeds all boundaries.

    Religious skeptic? No. Anti-science? No. Just a mortal being trying to give shape to my beliefs and give sense to this gift of life and the inevitability of death.

    –Ernie Yanarella


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