Weekly Edgework #49 - June 6, 2005

Trusting the Light of Fireflies

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 can go (Henri Nouwen, Bread For the Journey, p.8).

I enjoy going for a walk on a bright, sunny day. Who doesn’t? When we lived in the beautiful Shannendoah Valley in the late seventies while studying in Harrisonburg, Virginia, I would sometimes go for walks – for the fun of it. As I strolled down the winding country lane that passed our farmhouse I could see the Blue Ridge Mountains in all their azure splendor many miles to the west. And in between us lay the valley – a multi-colored collage of fields, farmsteads and winding roads. It was, in short, breathtaking. A large painting of precisely this scene graces a wall in our home to this day.

When I go walking back in Manitoba, where I now live, the scenery is different of course, but it has its own form of beauty. Enveloped by the great sky dome such as you find only on the prairies, I am always impressed with how far I can see. As my friend from Indonesia once exclaimed excitedly, “The road actually meets the sky no matter which way you look!” There seems to be light to spare as the warm summer sun nourishes life that seemed to be non-existent a few months earlier. And as the sun begins to set it creates the best finger paintings in the western sky the world has ever seen. The artistic fingers of God never disappoint.

It seems to me, however, that most of life’s walks are taken in the context of less copious light. Life-walks are more like the kind I used to take in rural Bolivia when we lived there in the mid-seventies. With no electric lights within miles, I discovered that starlight actually provides enough light to keep you on your path. It doesn’t furnish you with a clear image of the landscape before you, but it is enough to keep you from getting lost. Of course the stars were of little use on cloudy nights. And when the batteries in your flashlight died you were forced to “feel” your way along the road – a somewhat scary experience for a young Canadian half a world away from home.

Some of my Bolivian friends found their own solution to finding their way in the dark. It was not difficult to catch fireflies after sunset because their glow betrayed their trajectories through the night. Having caught a dozen or two, they placed them in a clear glass jar and screwed on the lid. In their state of agitated captivity the fireflies seemed to shine all the more brightly. Then, holding this jar in front of them, they took one step at a time – by the light of the fireflies. And it worked. I tried it myself. I even discovered that nature’s lantern was actually bright enough to read by if you couldn’t find any other source of light.

Learning to walk one step at a time is more difficult than we might think. This is especially true if most of our walks thus far in life have been taken in broad daylight. And especially true in a culture that prides itself in seeing the big picture and having everything under control. Occasionally I get the sense from some church people that there is always sufficient light around to let them see the big picture so that their life-walks are generally pleasant strolls in the summer sun. But I have lived long enough to know that sunsets happen in most of our lives and sometimes clouds obscure even the faint light of the stars. I meet many people searching in the dark for live batteries or frantically gathering fireflies to provide enough light for one more step. I have done so myself.

In Psalm 119:105, the poet declares, Your word is a lamp to my feet, and a light to my path. I suspect that the light referred to here is more like a jar of fireflies than that of a noon-day sun – enough light to take one more step. Most of us fear being in such a position. “One step at a time? You mean I am asked to trust such a faint light? I thought such limited vision was for those who have not yet learned to trust their God. Surely once you mature in your faith you can begin to walk in the light of the noon-day sun!”

On the other hand, could it be that learning to trust the light of the fireflies for one more step is actually the place of maturity to which God is calling us? Who needs faith when everything is in clear focus as far as the eye can see? It seems to me that true faith is finding a kind of certainty of the heart in a context where we cannot see clearly – enough certainty to be able to take one more step (Hebrews 11:1).

Could it be that if we were more willing to trust the light of the fireflies that we would find ourselves being guided into places we would never have thought to explore on our own? Could it be that these are the places where God wants to take us – places, not necessarily of blissful serenity, but places of faithfulness? We will never know unless and until we learn to “trust the light of the fireflies” for our next step.