“Often we want to be able to see into the future. We say, “How will next year be for me? Where will I be five or ten years from now?” There are no answers to these questions. Mostly we have just enough light to see the next step: what we have to do in the coming hour or the following day. The art of living is to enjoy what we can see and not complain about what remains in the dark. When we are able to take the next step with the trust that we will have enough light for the step that follows, we can walk through life with joy and be surprised at how far we go. Let’s rejoice in the little light we carry and not ask for the great beam that would take all shadows away.
(Enough Light for the Next Step by Henri Nouwen)
As we celebrate Epiphany, we are again reminded of how God’s light breaks into the darkness not only for those who already would believe, but for the whole of humanity to see, understand and embrace the breadth of God’s love for all creation. The light that compelled the magi to follow it to a humble manger compels us to seek it out as we embark on a new year. God’s powerful light transcends human time and again calls upon us from a distance – guiding us into and through the unknown.
Yet even as we seek to faithfully follow God’s light – even as we celebrate the joy of Three Kings Day, this Epiphany somehow feels different. For many, the lingering challenges of the past 20 months have often made it difficult to see or even catch a glimpse of the light. We would be disingenuous if we did not acknowledge the losses, grief, exhaustion, pain that have framed so much of our existence. And just when we thought we might finally be through it, a new variant emerges causing us to reopen the conversations that have already tried our spirits – “Do we gather in person or not? “Do we mask up or not?” “Can we sing or not? And the list goes on – causing a continued uncertainty in whatever decisions we make as individuals and even as communities of faith. And this uncertainty is not one that aligns with our western North American cultural self-perception – as we like to believe ourselves as able to “rationally and reasonably” control the world around us and make plans for the year before us. This relentless uncertainty can make the light we seek to follow seem barely visible at times, often causing an imbalance or distortion in how we see ourselves or how we see others.
But maybe this is the challenge for our time – to humbly acknowledge that there is much we cannot control; much we do not and will not understand. I am drawn to the Apostle Paul’s words to the Corinthians in their time of uncertainty – “Now I know only in part; then I will know fully, even as I have been fully known.” We do not have the answers to many of the questions before us. We do not know when this pandemic will end. We do not know when justice will be experienced for all people. We do not know when the current discord in our nation and world will cease. Now this acknowledgement does not need to be a negative in how we approach the world around us. It does however require a new way of approaching our daily lives. It is a way that requires a deep trust – built on something far greater than ourselves. It is a way that requires a profound ‘trust and hope in action’ in the midst of the not knowing. It is a trust in the promise that God is with us on this journey – sometimes in what feels like all we can do is take “one day at a time; one step at a time; or one breath at a time.”
I really appreciate Henri Nouwen’s words of encouragement as we live with the reality of the unknown before us. Nouwen reminds us that perhaps what we need is to embrace in faith that we will have just enough light to guide our next step. Perhaps for a people of certainty, our greatest spiritual discipline as we lean into 2022 is to embrace the uncertainty of our time; to live and lead from a place of partial answers and unknowns. Perhaps it is in this small truth and knowledge that we can experience the presence of God breaking through. Afterall, we are a people defined and claimed by God’s redemptive light in Christ breaking through – a light that no matter how dim, will not be overcome by the darkness. And as Nouwen says “When we are able to take the next step with the trust that we will have enough light for the step that follows, we can walk through life with joy and be surprised at how far we go.”