The latitude here in southern Germany is nearly identical to Seattle, which means that the number of daylight hours this time of year is very short. Add a layer of fog to the shortness, and the daylight becomes so muted as to barely qualify as light. The fog hides the sun, mutes the shadows, and makes forward progress challenging because one isn’t looking at vistas – one is simply looking for next steps.
This was the situation when I, along with my daughters and some friends, set out on a hike just outside Kandern, Germany. Our destination, some centuries old castle ruins, had a slight elevation gain to it. On the face of it, this didn’t appear to be a hiking day at all. The damp and cold were so penetrating, the visibility so poor, that it seemed perhaps that a good book and some coffee, some games, even “It’s a Wonderful Life” would be time better spent. But the magic and mystery of fog, light, and weather, is that one never really knows what the next step, next hour, will hold. So, one goes anyway, to see what’s around the corner, above the fields, at the end of the road.
Conversations, in the midst of the fog, were rich. After a very full autumn, and a very challenging past month of activity, it was pure joy to simply walk with some friends and my daughters, just being together and talking. I spent the most time with my daughter Holly, having enjoyed rich conversations with my other daughter the weekend prior in a different part of Germany. We spoke about the challenges of living in a world of light and darkness, how at one moment the darkness can be so overwhelming that you feel like giving up on trying to make any difference in the world, and then you see something and realize that, no, you can’t save the world, but you can take this one single step to be a blessing in some simple way. Darkness and light. Despair and Hope. Sorrow and Joy. Disengagement and Presence. These, it seems, are the clothes we must all wear, not just alternately but sometimes, simultaneously as well.
We turn a corner and because I’ve been this way before I know there is a hut just ahead, but with the fog, it’s not to be seen. Look for it, wait for it, keep walking. Then, slowly, the shape is visible. This is the way of life. We know that hope is there, that shelter awaits, even while we’re out in the cold of loss, or doubt, or uncertainty. We keep walking upward, believing that, when the time is right, the shelter from the storm will be there for us. “Do I keep walking upward, to the light, when I can’t see?” I ask myself.
As I sit with my lovely daughters on the steps of the tiny hut, it becomes clear that the sun is doing battle with the fog. We’re right on the edge, but darkness and light, uncertainty and clarity. Fog settles in the lowlands, and sometimes if you can just keep walking upward, you come out of it, into clarity, where you can not only see what you need to see, but see too that the light is working it’s magic, dispelling the fog below, slowly but certainly winning the war.
We press on and soon we’re utterly above it. The tower comes into view and we arrive, bouldering on the sides of it, shedding our packs, and making our way up the spiral staircase to the ultimate view. Before ascending though, I’m smitten by the beauty of the sun and shadows formed in the courtyard, creating a Narnia like scene, where I nearly expect Aslan to appear and surrender himself on the stone table. It’s a moment of worship because I believe that every good gift is from God: this sunlight, this beauty, these daughters, these friends, this health that enables us all to enjoy it all. My God… what a giver you are!
From the top we can see that the sun is banishing clouds and fog, and I realize that this is what life is to be about. We who follow the light of the world will, even in the midst of our own fogs, become light for others. We do this when we practice hospitality, or generosity, or forgiveness, or simply when we continue believing that the son is banishing the darkness even though we’re in thick fog in the moment. We are the light of the world, and as I watch the clouds depart, I pray that I’ll live into that calling more fully.
Like Peter with Jesus when they climbed a mountain in the Bible, I want to stay up here. But we must return, and as we do, we descend into the fog once again. We pass through a section where the battle between light and fog is intense, right on the edge. Then, just a bit lower, it appears that the fog has won. But of course, we know better now. We know that it’s just a matter of time. We know because we’ve seen. Sure enough, by the time we’re back to the city, the fog has been banished by the one true light. It was beautiful. Everywhere.
This isn’t just a hike. This is advent. We who live on the edge of light and darkness are often wondering which reality will prevail, in our lives, our families, our world. It’s understandable to wonder, but the truth is quite clear:
I will lead the blind by a road they do not know, by paths they have not known I will guide them. I will turn the darkness before them into light, the rough places into level ground. These are the things I will do, and I will not forsake them.
Are you longing for the light? Keep walking upward, looking upward, hoping, believing, because the light is here and coming, battling and winning – all at the same time.
you can see the entire light/fog adventure in my photostream here.