...may we walk with you as along a line of trees, every now and then your clarity and warmth shattering across our shadowed way… -AR Ammons, from Glare
Do you think that there’s a way I could ever get too far that you’d ask me where I’d been like I ask you where you are? -Julien Baker, from Blacktop
…and he marked out their appointed times in history and the boundaries of their lands. God did this so that they would seek him and perhaps reach out for him and find him, though he is not far from any one of us. ‘For in him we live and move and have our being.’ -Acts 17:26b-27
I really enjoy the carefully chosen language in this verse because I think it captures some of the reality of our situation: God is presented here as steady, a permanent fixture in this world He’s created. He is the appointer of times, the setter of boundaries; beyond that, He is Life — the wrinkles and edges of existence itself. We humans on the other hand, well, we’re maybe seeking, hopefully reaching, fumbling around, wishing he was closer, dimly aware of His actual proximity.
But every now and then: He’s there. And we know it. Sunlight sneaks around the trees and lights us up where we stand: stuttering awake, awed by His beauty, amazed at what He’s making of us.
Then He’s gone again. And we’re left with ourselves. And myself is always disappointing me. I wonder if I can find Him again. I question whether I ever found Him at all. Because what does He want with me anyway? Lazy as I am, selfish as I am, skeptical as I am?
But it’s in those wandered-far times, when we’re deep-woods-lost, that we’re given the opportunity to exercise faith — and faith, I think at least sometimes, is recognizing that our responses are never automatic — we are left ever with choice.
The space between our experience and our response is always much larger than we credit it to be.
When I’m in the dark woods, and God feels a million miles away, how will I respond? Will I choose to retreat inside myself, like I have a thousand times before, feeling unsure of His acceptance of me, unsure of myself? Will I choose to become angry at Him, overwhelmed by my circumstances? Or will I choose to search resolutely for evidence of Him? To declare my dependence on Him? Will I choose to believe that in Him I live and move and have my being, that there is nowhere I can go where He is not already present, that there is nothing that I can do or that can be done to me that would take Him by surprise? Will I choose to stay on the the narrow way, pushing through the forest until His clarity and warmth comes shattering finally through the shadows?
That, I think, is the function of faith — to choose, tentatively at times, resolutely at others, to continue our long obedience in the same direction, until the sunlight becomes more frequent and the weight of our doubt begins to lift.