(Street) Light and Shadow

The view out our front window during the Snowpocalypse of ’21

Just as Covid swept in and locked us all down in March of 2020, my oldest daughter and I started a new routine:  going for a run 3 days a week.  We’ve kept up with it through Spring, Summer, Fall and most of Winter which I gotta say, I’m as surprised as anyone.  I wasn’t surprised she kept up with it (she’s one of the most disciplined people I’ve ever known) but that I did!  Every Monday, Wednesday and Friday at 6:00 am, ((I draw the line in negative temps, ice and snow), we’ve headed out for a trek. We’re at about 2 miles now, and I’m fine with that.  Running has gone from something I dread to something I (almost) enjoy.  Whodaathunkit?

I, being the creature of habit that I am, prefer to stick to our regular patterns (we have a different course for each day) but my girl, well, she likes to change things up.  Friday is the only day we change it up (blessed are the flexible) and a few weeks ago she came up with a new path.  I prefer to run in the park, but she likes running our neighborhood every now and again, which is what she chose today.  So, 6:00 am, bundled up against the wind and cold, we set out.  

With the sun not coming up until 7:30 or so it’s still pitch dark for our entire run.  That day, about 1/2 way through the run, something odd happened. As we passed from the dark of the street into the spill from a street light, I quite literally couldn’t believe my eyes.  I happened to glance down at the ground and found our shadows were so dark, so incredibly vivid, so defined at their edges, I thought for sure I was having some kind of mental episode.  Seriously, I can’t really express how great the contrast was – it looked like someone had painted our shadows with the blackest paint you could manufacture, which is absurd because the shadows were obviously keeping up with our every step.  In just a couple strides we were swallowed up by the half-light of the street, but the memory of those shadows was running along with me. 

I tried to make out my shadow as we passed a house with its front porch light on, but it was back to being a slightly darker splotch on the pavement, undefined and fuzzy. We came under a street light further on, one of the old sodium vapor variety, and our shadows were still unclear and not-that-remarkable.  It dawned on me that the extremely clear shadow was cast because the lamp we ran under had a halogen (or maybe LED) bulb.  It was CRAZY bright, and it’s cone quite literally expelled all darkness, except for when our non-transparent bodies passed under it, causing such well-defined shadows to fall at our feet. 

The brighter the light, the darker, and thus clearer, the shadow.

In my own life, it’s easy to be semi-transparent with people, to give the impression of “being real” when in reality I’m hiding a lot of me in the shadows.  It’s like a room lit with a candle – you can see enough to make things out, but the shadows move and dance all over the place making the margins a bit fuzzy.  Flip on the overhead light, and suddenly everything is clearly seen. Likewise, when we come into the light, not just in words but actually bring our junk into the light, it’s then we are really exposed (which is both terrifying and paradoxically liberating). It’s in the light where we see the shadow clearer.  And, perhaps even more important, those around us see it, can name it, and can help us deal with it.  

Truth: it’s easier to stay in the half-light.  It’s easier to be pseudo-real.  When you put it all out there, rejection is a distinct possibility. And let’s be honest: who wants that?  

Last fall I went through an experience in which I had an opportunity to come into the light. I had a choice to dig up some of my own junk and to be real, or to stay bottled up, keeping some stuff tucked neatly away, keeping to the shadows. During this process, which took place over several weeks, I experienced one of those “God-things” where the end of your ability to do hold it all together meets an opportunity for growth, and I let go.  I stepped into the light. Hooooo boy, it was hard. 

That’s an understatement.

It felt like being completely exposed, like the nightmare you have as a kid in school when you have to stand up and deliver a speech, only to find you’re naked.  

And yet, in that “lamp-light”came freedom, the type of freedom you know is real because you wake up the next morning different than you woke up every day prior.  It was a freedom which came through a hard fought battle to bring the junk, all the anger and bitterness and hurt, out of the shadows and into the light.  It was, as I said, terrifying…but it was also life-changing. 

As we finished up our run the other morning, I found myself thinking of experiencing this freedom last fall, and these familiar words of John the Apostle:

“This is the message we have heard from him and proclaim to you, that God is light, and in him is no darkness at all. If we say we have fellowship with him while we walk in darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth. But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin.” 

1 John 1:5-7

There is no light as bright as that of God’s radiance and glory, just ask Moses hiding in the cleft of the rock. It can be overwhelming to even consider coming into it and letting ourselves be laid bare. More often than not, we hide, like Adam and Eve in the garden, covering up our shadow with fig leaves of niceties, cliches, and Christian-speak. But as John said in the verses above, when we come into the light, and I mean really into the light, not half-light, not the sodium-vapor light of easy-grace, fake-it-til-you-make-it religion, but real, true, this is me, this is my junk, and God knows it all…only then can the shadow truly be seen, be acknowledged, and be dealt with.

We all have stuff in the shadows. All of us. The question is are we willing to bring it into the light?

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