In late summer when the sun goes low in the sky, the shadows thrown across the road by trees or other structures can produce a flicker that seems to reverberate deep inside your mind.
And it is known that the effects of strobe lights can cause people with certain medical conditions to have seizures. Something about pulsing light sets off an array of synapses that can overtake the mind and body as well. So light is no trifle thing. Nor is darkness. And in rapid sequence the world can seem to be coming apart.
Light and dark
I thought about the power of light and dark as I drove home last night and felt that flickering light sensation as my car coursed south along a low road with a row of trees to the west. A few days ago I was speeding down the side of the road on my bike at a rate of 23 mph when the trees produced that flickering sensation as well. It was disorienting, hard to keep track of my line on the road.
In a few days we’ll be witnessing a solar eclipse here in America. I’ve seen this before. The light goes all thin and weird-looking when the moon screens out the sun. No wonder the ancients thought the world was coming to an end. For all they knew, their depressed menagerie of gods were fed up and ending it all. Some people still think like that. Primitive, and fearful. Every new eclipse gives the latter-day version of religious fanatics a new reason to predict the End of the World. But all it ever proves is their lack of credibility. Such are the risks of building religious faith on literalism.
Taking screens for granted
Perhaps you’ve seen video in which a computer screen is lit up in the background. The screen flickers and pulses. A computer screen is not what we think it is. It is granular. The light inside is all broken up.
This is so typical, that what we take for granted is not often what we truly see. Our minds are capable of such incredible assimilation we assume that images projected on a movie screen and pumped to us through the Internet are “real” in the sense that they exist as whole or consistent entities. Yet even the words you read here are nothing more than a series of slashes and Os. Pixellation generates the desired image.
Pause in time
There have been many times during my running and cycling career when my mind just seems to stop, for a second or five, as it realizes where I am in the moment. Sometimes the entire world seems abstract in those few seconds. It is not cliche to suggest that in some way we all live in a dream that we call reality.
After all, even our thoughts are the direct result of electrical impulses. Way back before all this digital universe was invented, people struggled to put a face on this idea of consciousness. The Bible itself can only summarize what it means to be alive and have some sense that there is a Creator of all this. Here is what John 1 says about that:
1 In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.
2 The same was in the beginning with God.
3 All things were made by him; and without him was not any thing made that was made.
4 In him was life; and the life was the light of men.
5 And the light shineth in darkness; and the darkness comprehended it not.
One can almost feel the flickering frailty of that attempt to grasp the meaning of eternity, and how humankind came into being. Members of the human race flicker into being and pulse back into darkness. None of them mean that much. Even our greatest heroes collapse into bones and dust.
The race laid out
In between, we run the race laid out for us. We try to run it well. That is true both literally and figuratively. Here is what the King James Version of 2 Timothy says about that: 7 I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith.
“I have kept the faith” can mean a number of things. In its context, it means a faith in God. But keeping the faith and keeping faith are merely twins separated at birth. If we so choose, we keep the faith by which we are raised. But we also keep faith in this life through our associations, our friends, and trusted partners. That is the race laid out for us as well.
Faith in ourselves
We also keep faith with ourselves; the motivations and goals we map and execute. But there are times in life when these purposes seem in danger of flickering out. We pass through stages where everything in which we believe seems to disassemble.
I have kneeled in fall fields praying to God to get my confidence back. I have seen the blue sky look cruel and cynical as I searched my heart for reasons why the world seemed so dark when light was all around me. I have struggled to understand why there always seems to be ‘just enough’ and never as much as I wanted at some moments in time. And I have asked for forgiveness from others and for myself. These are the flickering lights of existence.
But most importantly I have learned to accept that I will never understand all the reasons why things happen the way they do.
In the end it is that embrace of self that keeps faith intact throughout many flickering moments of doubt and joy and pain and happiness. Through those sequences one must simply reckon with the present. As we run or ride along, we have a chance to do just that. We learn to calm ours mind and soul with the thought that it is still good to be alive.
The light and shadow in your eyes has a story to tell, if you will listen. It may well flicker at times, or catch you by surprise when the clear still vision of where you are in the moment catches up with you. Embrace it. This is your time. This is your place. These are your footsteps, turns of the pedal and eternal flow of water across your body. This is your light and darkness, and no one should claim it from you without the firm resolve of love to bind those moments together. That is the connection and sustaining truth between light and darkness. Call it love. The light and shadow in your eyes reveals it.