At this time last week I was in Upstate New York preparing to do a Justice LED training for a UCC/Presbyterian combo-church. The conference was held in the Adirondack Mountains, somewhere I had never been before. Upon calling ahead to see what would or would not be available at the retreat center, I learned that cell phone service would be "spotty at best." So, the general recommendation is to leave the phones in your car or at home since they're rarely of any use.
Oddly enough, I was torn to between two instantaneous reactions. One, being a brief moment of disorientation, since the lodge representative clearly didn't understand how I needed to check "g-mail" every five minutes or my inbox would self-destruct. The other feeling was a sense of unprecedented relief. The thought crossed my mind, "I can't feel guilty about not retuning calls and emails if I never get them." For a second after that I wondered if it was a sin to feel so good about a lack of cell phone service.
Upon arriving, it was clear that this trip would be a spiritual one because all I could think as I looked around at the lack of Target stores and the abundance of deserted woods was, "Oh, Dear God!" I entered my room grateful that it was in the main lodge and felt my heart sank as I discovered that along with no cell phone service, there was also no television. I was trapped. I knew my material and the conference didn't begin until early the next morning, so I figured that pretty soon God would start to speak and it was going to be up to me to listen.
Surely enough, beauty began to be the theme of the weekend. The time that I may have normally spent glued to my Blackberry was spent engaged in the presence of those around me. Real quality time not interrupted by so much as a car horn from across the street. We seemed to have lost track of time and eventually days.
On the last night, a small group of us went out to Lake George to see the stars. When I first got outside, I looked up and noted what a clear and empty sky it was that night. As we walked farther away from the lodge, the lamp posts that lined the walk-way began to disappear one by one. Soon, it was total darkness and the only light was from the moon above us. We ventured a few more feet to the dock of Silver Bay where our group leader said, "Now, look up." As if out of nowhere, there seemed to be a million stars in the sky! We laid flat on benches lining the dock and without the use of binoculars or telescopes were able to see: Venus, The Milky Way, The 7 Sisters, The Big Dipper, The Little Dipper, and five shooting stars!
Privately, I felt undeserving. I was inhaling the freshest air and ingesting the purest beauty. I mumbled, "I'm listening..." As if almost immediately, I felt I heard, "See what happens when you turn the lights out?" Slightly taken aback, it took me a moment to process. Then, I remembered how upon the man-made light of the campus grounds, I commented on how empty the sky was that night. Yet, the whole time, it wasn't empty at all. It was full of amazement, wonder and flawless design. Yet due to things erected on the path, I could not see them.
Simply because I'm a questioning creature, I theologically asked back, "But aren't we supposed to turn the lights on to be able to see? Don't we need light to shine for You?" Again, almost immediately, "My light. Not your own." I could do nothing but be silent. In that moment, I knew precisely that my lesson was to stop adding stuff. This path ahead of me called life may be dark and seemingly isolated. Just keep walking the path. And when it seems like I'm facing total darkness, know that I'm not alone, and take just a few more steps. Soon after, I'll be able to look up and see things how they really are.
At times, we mean well and we place things in our lives believing that it will make our journey easier. But that's not always the case. Often, we are doing more damage than good. Our erected idols and issues may be the very thing keeping us from having true clarity. It may just be that God wants us to venture out of our comfort zones and into the unknown so that God can reveal Gods-self in ways we never knew possible.
Turning out the light may seem backwards, unnerving, and downright scary. Yet, when we look in the Bible isn't that how all great stories of faith started out? Go ahead, turn the knob and flip the switch, there's a great ending on the other side.
Shernell J. Edney is currently working toward ordination in the Southern Conference of the UCC. She received her M.Div. degree from Virginia Union University in Richmond and has a background in counseling, youth services, community outreach and corporate communications.