On a sultry night in late summer, some 50 years ago, I had my first night time excursion into the woods. Now considering the dark is something that springs terror into the heart of a kid, what could compel me to do such a thing? Ah, that would be the presence of a light. This particular light source was not one of the harsh however convenient LED lights of today, but an old kerosene lantern that my uncle had dug out of the shed and decided to fill it up and see if it would still work. The glass was caked with dirt and grime from years of non-use, but more so with a coating of black that had never been cleaned from it. So there was light, but its circle of influence over the darkness wasn’t going out very far.
I should add that this particular uncle was only a half dozen years older than I, and that we had no particular reason to be going into the woods at night. There was no hunt. We weren’t looking for anything. No, it was all about the experience of being in a spooky place – the forest at night – with a dim light whose source was a small fire that we manipulated in its glass cage. In short, this excursion had an abundance of ingredients that inspire wonder and excitement. Top of the list has to be playing with fire. A close second was beating back the darkness with our man made contraption. There was the comfort and fun of hanging out with friends combined with the fear and excitement of going into the woods at night. All of it was made possible by this tiny flicker of fire in a glass cage.
Now what could possibly make this experience any grander than the opportunity to be the one carrying the light. Looking back on that, I can scarce believe my uncle didn’t carry it himself. It is a very responsible chore after all and one not typically left to underlings. But never the less, off we went, to the twisting and root laden path of the forest at night in search of adventure.
Funny thing about light. You can forget what you were supposed to be doing with it. You can become enamored with it, so distracted into staring at its source that you may trip over the obstacles that you were carrying it to reveal in the first place. You can become so intent on making sure the circle illuminates your way that you forget there are other feet on the trail; feet that are tripping over obstacles because you have left them in the shadow you cast as you hog all of the light.
Sometimes I think I haven’t grown up very much. I’m still a small boy entertaining myself with the light in the woods at night. I forget that I have been given the light for a reason. My devotional time, my prayers, my plans are all too often about me. I forget I have been entrusted with a responsibility to enable others to see as well as myself. Mathew’s gospel reveals Jesus saying, “You are the light of the world…” “…let your light so shine that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.”
“Lord, may I be of a benefit to someone else in my circle of light today.”