At night, by train

Pastoral Messages | January 8, 2015

Last week I sat on an Amtrak train heading southwest towards a New Year’s visit with my family. Not long after I took my seat by the window, the winter sun began to set. And by late afternoon my view turned from various shades of brown, frozen fields and patches of untouched snow to the pitch black setting of rural Missouri at night.

Traveling by train, you tend to see parts of the country you wouldn’t otherwise notice—that is, when it’s light enough to see what’s out there. Railroads have a way of winding through fields or hills, often away from busy interstates or populated areas. I’m not sure who first determined the path of the Amtrak rails, but I have to wonder if that person was intent on travelers witnessing a different corner of America than they’d see from their cars.

As evening faded into dark night, I started to play a little game. I’d stare out the window and try to imagine the kind of scenery we were passing by. There was possibly a house light or two off in the distance, but otherwise the darkness prevented me from having any clue what was just beyond the tracks.

If I pressed my face against the window, the light from inside the train gave off just enough illumination to show the edge of the railroad ties beneath us. Beyond that, I would imagine fields of now-harvested corn. Or homes filled with people warm in their beds who’d gone to sleep hours ago. Perhaps a few rolling hills or snow covered fir trees.

Gazing out into the darkness was a fun exercise in imagination that helped pass the time, but nothing more. As long as I could look down and see the tracks and knew we were moving in the right direction, that’s really all I needed to know.

I wonder if the same could be said for our lives of faith. There’s an element of faith that tells us we need only be concerned with having enough light for the next step in front of us. Nothing more. The trusting words of the psalmist, “In your light, we see light,” offer a reminder that as long as God is in view, we have all the brightness we need to guide our days.

In the words of theologian Henri Nouwen, “The art of living is to enjoy what we can see and not complain about what remains in the dark.” So spend some time in these dark days of winter giving thanks for a God who guides our paths and gives us just as much light as we need.

Katy Warren, associate pastor


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