I’m in the middle of a challenge.
Every Tuesday morning 5:15am, my friend Noel and I run a local trail. We’ve challenged ourselves to run the same 6.5km single trial every week for a year.
It sounded good at the time, but we hadn’t taken into consideration the impact changing seasons would have. When we started in summer, we got up in daylight. Now, in the middle of winter, we run the entirety of the narrow, twisty track in the dark.
The path takes on a new challenge when lit by only the dim beams emanating from our budget head-torches.
Last week took things to the next level.
I turned up at 5:15am as usual, ready to finish another loop of the course before work. But Noel didn’t. This had never happened before and I was faced with a decision. Would I go home, or would I keep our streak alive, facing the inky bushland alone.
After a few minutes of indecision, I thought of all the times I’d survived this trail before. What was the worst that could happen? We’d already conquered mud, ankle-twisting falls, swollen creeks, insect attacks and a snake.
I set off alone, soon realising that I was running noticeably faster than usual. The surroundings seemed darker than I remembered. And what was that noise? Just a wallaby, I told myself, reassuring myself that there was nothing to fear. I knew this place. Nothing was different.
But it was. This time I was alone.
With my senses on high alert, I finished the course; in record time.
The life of light
This experience has started me considering the metaphor of light.
Light is alive. We can forget this. The steady buzz of electric light makes light seem neutral. Just there. On/off. But that’s artificial light.
Light a fire, or even a candle, like our ancestors did and see light as it really is: active, moving, darting this way and that. The stars at night twinkle at us, reminding us of their roaring energy, burning with overpowering force unimaginable distances away.
Light is on the move. There’s nothing quicker. From the source, it darts directly towards us with such eager veracity. With purpose unswerving it arrows straight for us.
Alive and on the move; bringing life with unhesitating sincerity.
Darkness on the other hand, is still. It is the absence of life. Nothingness. We feel its emptiness when our own light flickers as another light beside us is snuffed out.
It’s at night, when the lights go out, when we come face to face with the ever-present darkness looming at the edge of life’s light. It’s confusion, fear, lostness, isolation.
If light illuminates all around and travels on forever, why does the world often seem like such a dark place? Does light meet its match when faced with the dark?
Surely the sun’s rising each morning proves the opposite.
But that is not to say light can’t be stopped. Any barrier may come between us and the source of light, preventing it from reaching us.
But why not just step out from behind our walls?
In the dark it’s easy to take a wrong turn. The bush all begins to look the same when you can only see a few metres in front of you. I’ve not only found myself off the path, but also where I shouldn’t be. Ah, the thrill of trying to find your way back off private property. There’s nothing like coming to a gate, climbing over and then looking back to see a sign reading “Do Not Enter!”
When you’re off track, darkness becomes your friend. You stick to the shadows to avoid being seen. You fear what would happen if you were seen.
You have to examine your own reasons for hiding from the light, but for me, I think it’s often to do with shame about what I’ve done and what I’ve thought. I don’t want all that to be seen.
What would make me willing to come face to face with the light?
We need to see the barriers that hide us in the dark. To see where we’ve been hiding in shadow so long that we’ve forgotten the light and where our true path lies.
Perhaps we’ve grown so accustomed to artificial light that we’ve forgotten real light. Like Ned Kelly behind his mask, we guess that this must be it, and looking out at the dark shadows around us, exclaim, “such is life”.
I need to be called out from the shadows. And not by an angry voice holding a shotgun who’s about to tell me what I already know about the rules I’ve broken.
The only way I’m facing the light is if I’m called out by a friendly voice that’s willing to forgive my trespassing. A voice that wants the best for me and is ready to point me back to the path I’ve long lost.
The quiet voice I hear calling is such a voice. It’s the same voice that said, “Let there be light in the darkness,” and now, “has made this light shine in our hearts so we could know the glory of God that is seen in the face of Jesus Christ” (2 Corinthians chapter 4, verse 6).
We need to “make sure that the light [we] think [we] have is not actually darkness.If [we] are filled with light, with no dark corners, then [our] whole life will be radiant, as though a floodlight were filling [us] with light” (Luke chapter 11, verses 35-36).
Though we may grow used to the dark and start to prefer the dim lights we’ve made for ourselves, we mustn’t think that this is life. Jesus, the living light, brighter than the day seems after walking out from a dark room, is coming directly for us.
But he is not to be feared, though our shame may tell us to hide. He knows the secrets we hide already. We’re only hiding from ourselves. Jesus has forgiven us where we can’t even forgive ourselves.
So step out of the dark, out of the cold. Let the warm light of Jesus touch every dark corner so that we may see things as they truly are. See the grace and splendour of a God that we couldn’t imagine during our night. And experience the love and acceptance we forgot that we were longing for.
Let there be light.
Tom Anderson is pioneering www.haventogether.com, an online church plant supported by his in-person church, Catalyst, Ipswich. He has a young, growing family and enjoys playing backyard sport. Tom is a keen long-distance runner, averaging 21km each day last year. He has worked as a teacher for eleven years and enjoys perfecting a flat white on his home espresso machine. Tom would welcome a visit for a coffee some time… or an online catch-up via Zoom. See the Haven Together website to get in touch.