Full moon hangs in a sea of azure as I begin a long run through the desert by crossing my neighborhood of condos and sidewalks by the last lingering of dusk. It is probably below ninety-five degrees, but the air is warm and light moving in quick breezes as my muscles find their own warmth and movement.
Night brings with it a sense of wariness, a natural inclination of the ear toward subtle sounds and attention to the periphery where our rods outnumber our cones and allow us to see better in the dichromatic hues of nightfall. I don’t mind the desert, but I hate the streets at night. I run too fast typically because of cars and trucks on streets. People drive too fast, too sloppy.
But my night runs typically take me uphill from our condo across a major road into a park, where the climb is steeper by degrees until it breaks a little more than a mile in, but by then my feet are on rock and sand. It isn’t really desert trail for another quarter mile.
On nights like this I can turn off the light and trust my feet and the quiet light. The gentle swish of footfall on stretches of smooth ground, and the feel of rubber sandals folding over rocks and in the ripples of the trail. It is my sanctuary in the falling dark.
I almost never meet anyone else out this late, except for the distant light in the distance and every week or so I meet a mountain biker with lights so bright I am always left with ghosts in my vision.
But the nighttime sanctuary of the mountains has its claims to make. I have left these same trails with bruises, twisted ankles, cactus freckles, broken toes and fingers, and recently my first scorpion sting. (Don’t worry, it was a big one.)
It is here that I test my fears against my preparation, attention, and faith. By myself I am never fearful and never without fear. I run to find the words for sermons and pray the prayers I avoid in the glare of the day. I come to stop thinking and be in God. I come to pay attention because here I have to pay attention.
“The fear of God is the beginning of wisdom.” This verse is almost never spoken in today’s church without someone saying, “I don’t think we should fear God.” I have said it too, but there is a delicate truth here that it is foolish to not understand.
To run in the mountains at night, I have to have appropriate fear. I have to know the dangers, the awesomeness that the darkness reveals and conceals. I have to know the dangers of loose stones and rattlesnakes and scorpions and cacti and drug smugglers and human traffickers and unpredictable youth; just as on the streets I have to fear the cars and trucks of perfectly decent people and worse. It would be foolish not to have appropriate fear.
I run with water, usually with electrolytes, and a light. For longer runs I take food, a compass, first aid. I can run in just my shorts and sandals, but I rarely do for anything over two miles. I know the mountains, I love them, and if I test them, I will eventually fail, not them.
God. God is like that too. If I am honest and have any imagination at all, I know that the darkness of my apprehension reveals and conceals the awesomeness of God.
I know a few thousand people, only a handful of them well. I serve a few hundred. I don’t understand any of them; I can’t see their mind, their heart, their will. Take any one and look closely, I know maybe a half-dozen of the connections of their life. And because I am a baby buster American born into a century of migration, I only know most people for a few years, perhaps a decade or two.
But God, God sees us all, every one of the nearly seven billion of us over the whole of our lives and all our relations, our physically revealed selves and our invisible spiritual selves. God sees us all and loves us. He knows us completely and loves us anyway. The manifestation of that love that I trust is God’s son Jesus of Nazareth, a carpenter’s son, a rabbi two millennia ago, who we claim died for us while we were still sinners.
But he died for all of us. My part, our part, is to love like that. And I can barely see my own feet on the trail with a full moon. I know so much of so little because I have run this ground so many times that I can get cocky, trust my abilities, my balance, my sense of direction, decide that I know right from wrong, and I will find the wisdom in “dust to dust.”
My faith is in God’s love and God’s being God, the abba of all creation. God knows what I cannot know, what I do not know, and can hold it all at the same time. What can I do but to trust God and take upon my shoulders the yoke, the teachings of Jesus as Son of God? I trust them, with the whole Bible as the appendices of his word and his words. They are like water and food to me, first aid, and light.
The apocalypses of Scripture often describe times when the sun and moon fail to give their light. This week has been like that for many people. The lights we navigate by sometimes give way like the setting of the moon on a long run, and we are swept into darkness, and the familiar territory of our half-light dusky lives becomes foreign and dangerous.
I do not trust my own understanding. Yes, I test the Scriptures and I fail the tests too often to mention, but I have never found them wanting. So in times like these I turn to them, recall them, meditate on them in the night watches.
They are like a lamp unto my feet. And I keep running on faith.
Every now and then I look up in the landscapes of nights like this and see the lights among the mountains and valleys and know that I am not alone. We are all running on faith. My faith is that this light will be enough until the day comes when we will need neither the sun or the moon for the Lord shall be our light.
Until that day, keep running.