Essay: Walking in Darkness and Praying in Sunlight

First posted in February, 2004

Walking in Darkness

How I love to hike in the darkness on a full moon night, particularly back home in southern Appalachia.

In the darkness I've seen many an amusing salamander out enjoying the cool night air and clinging to the bark of a tree at eye-level instead of being in the stream under a rock.

The toads come out at night more so than in the day.

I've come across deer who were surprised to see me at three in the morning, so curious about this change of schedule that they stopped and stared at me instead of running away.

At night you can watch the fox fire glow.

Moths wake for their nocturnal adventures, and some of them are more beautiful than the butterflies who garner so much more attention from man.

Bob cats and cougars mistakenly reveal themselves to you.

There are a host of creatures you'll rarely see if you only travel by day, and the landscape takes on a surreal quality so that even the woods you know by heart seem slightly foreign.

I've heard many people claim that the noises of the nighttime forest are unsettling. But in my mind, it is important to remember that there is nothing in the forest at night that is not also present during the day.

Praying in Sunlight

What I feel fairly certain of is that my church does indeed lie outside - outside anywhere, really, but particularly in the wildest places, those seemingly untouched by man. I took refuge in these places when I was on my own for the first time and couldn't find a Christian church (regardless of denomination) in which I felt comfortable; most of them were downright scary. I'm fine with churches, but there has to be an austerity about them, a beauty - not in architecture (spending money to build great Houses to the Lord just upsets me, as the money donated should be spent supporting basic church needs, such as clergy, and then distributed to people in need - just my opinion, but one on which I'm firm), but in feel. It's difficult to put into words. Quite a bit of it comes down to comfort. I'm comfortable outside, my body feels alive and my soul feels free.

Sam recently took me to Evensong at King's College chapel. He went for the beauty of the experience, I think, and because he hadn't been there before, despite his deep appreciation for the chapel and the way it moves a person just by being near it, but the Christian faith is not his, and he just sort of sat back and enjoyed the show. I did the same - and my, what a wonderful experience - but I also participated in some of the prayers. It was the first time I'd prayed in a man-made church in some time. It was an odd feeling. Despite everything around me and the mood within me feeling right for once, it still wasn't the same as being in the woods on a sunny afternoon, alone, feeling the overwhelming awe at what surrounds you... not a chapel ninety-eight years in the building, but a place that has been built over millions of years and is still being built and destroyed.