I have been on many hikes and climbs and adventures in the woods, but never late at night. At the Jumping Tandem retreat we were invited to take such a hike, in the forest surrounding the retreat center.
Tromping around the woods in the Ozark mountains as a kid was one of my favorite childhood activities. But a lot had changed between then and now; in this case, my eyes.
After nearly going blind in my late 20’s, I had two major surgeries to save my eyesight and then several years ago, cataract surgery. My eyes are much better but still not great. The surgeon joked with me back then that I had the eyes of an 80 year old.
And so I was drawn to the hike but obsessed with worry that I would trip and knock over some innocent fellow hiker. I decided I would risk it and walk really carefully.
Evi was our guide who confidently led us into the dark shadows of the woods. She encouraged us to keep silent in order to hear God’s voice as we walked, and to reflect on how He might show up alongside us on the way.
As we walked, the path turned steep and my mind went to the scene of the Garden of Gethsemane. What was the hike to that place like? It was on the Mount of Olives, so I’m assuming there was a climb of some sort to get there. The disciples followed Jesus into that dark night, those dark hours, the darkest days of the entire human existence on earth. They could not imagine where they were going, where their leader was taking them and where their feet would travel.This would not be one of their regular get-away-for-prayer times with Jesus.
Jesus had already warned them, explained to them, told them point blank what would happen.
“Listen. You don’t understand now, but I am for real going to die. What the Pharisees have been plotting for the last three years? They are actually going to make it happen this time. But it won’t be the end of me. I will be back. You will watch with your own eyes my very horrible death. It will be too much for you to handle. But listen! The most important part is that you will be witnesses to my life after my death. So when all this happens, don’t give up on me. Stick around. It’s going to be amazing.” (Jen’s paraphrase)
But like us, all they could focus on was that part about a very horrible death, about the darkness that had swallowed them, the pain and confusion.
Back in Nebraska, we continued our walk into the forest and I was pleased to have remained upright and off of the ground. At one point I took my glasses off, realizing they were not helping me. Walking through darkness requires intuition instead of reliance on man-made implements.
Our trek back continued in silence and I felt my mind and body trading stress and distraction for peace and stillness. I took a place near the end of the line to not hold up the other hikers. The woman in front of me, Laura, suddenly stepped aside and whispered, “You go ahead, I’ll catch up.”
We started down the slope that began our hike. I turned around, concerned about Laura who we seemed to be leaving behind. Was she okay? As I did, something beautiful happened. There she stood, silhouetted against the sky at the top of the hill. Her penny whistle broke the silence like the stroke of an oar cuts the surface of a completely still lake.
A collective gasp rose from the group at this beautiful interruption. We stopped in our tracks, reverently soaking in the moonlight and the wonder and beauty in the darkness, the places where we could not see where our feet were going or the faces of the ones next to us.
Oh, and the song? “Be Thou My Vision.”
Yes, Lord. Be my very eyes, weak as they are, so I don’t stumble.
And Father be with those today who are making their way through a dark path, seemingly unguided and alone. Sing your song over us and may we hear your Voice as it surrounds us along our journey.