We’re driving along one of the world’s most scenic shorelines, and we can’t see a thing. The fog rolls in to Halifax, Nova Scotia the day we arrive and follows us for four days. Peggy’s Cove is arguably the most photographed place in Canada, but we can only hear the fury of Atlantic Ocean, not see it. The top of the lighthouse is virtually obscured. What we do notice is a sign in a local store, “Get the fog out!”
The Halifax area receives over one hundred days a year of fog. Like St. Paul’s image in 1 Corinthians 13:12 of seeing through a mirror dimly, fog seems to be the story of my life. Most days the way is unclear, and I have no idea where I am going. I simply put my hand in God’s hand and trust that my ministry will be pleasing to God and help to bring in the Kingdom. I’m disappointed about not seeing the full glory of Nova Scotia. However, I realize that the fog which often covers the 4,625 miles of Nova Scotia shoreline can become my teacher, if I let it.
• I learn to embrace the presence of God in the fog.
Hiking in the fog reminds me that I often go through life wearing blinders, unwilling to acknowledge God’s claim on my life. I see only what I want to see and am often reluctant to change. Occasionally, the fog lifts, and I can observe God at work through me and others, but if I’m not alert and open, I’ll miss the chance.
I remember how God spoke to Moses through a dense cloud as he gave the Israelites the ten commandments. The people could not see God talking to Moses, but when they witnessed the thunder and lightning and smoking mountain, they were terrified and said, “You speak to us, and we will listen, but don’t let God speak to us, or we will die.”
Can the fog actually sharpen our spiritual senses? Can the fog serve to block out the distractions that prevent us from being the people of God?
• I learn to let go of control.
One day Gary and I intend to drive north, but the fog messes with our sense of direction.
Not able to see the sun, we realize after twenty minutes that we are actually driving south. We arrive at the lighthouse at Forchu, which we had hoped to visit but decided was too far out of the way.
Yielding to the serendipity of the fog, we spend an hour touring the lighthouse, which has been welcoming ships since 1604. We learn that before electricity arrived in 1940, the lightkeeper had to climb one hundred and twenty feet to the top three times a night to keep the light lit with kerosene. Today radar and GPS have rendered most lighthouses obsolete. However, a hundred years ago sailors depended on navigation aids from land. Lighthouses, harbor lights and a foghorn that emitted a four second blast every twenty-six seconds kept ships from running aground at Forchu.
Could it be that the fog frees us from not having to always be in control? When is it time to give in to God and say, “I don’t understand. I am not clear. God, I yield to your will and will follow where you lead.”
• I learn to trust.
We’re hiking a gorgeous trail right along the Atlantic Ocean … I think. It’s so foggy we can’t even see the water, shoreline, seals or birds. A platform with a telescope along the trail invites us to further inspection, but we have no idea what we should be looking for. I peer into the telescope and see a close-up of gray mist. Is it an oxymoron to see fog more clearly?
We come to a fork in the trail and can’t see in either direction. Gary says we should take the path that is the most used. He is right, but I wonder, “Are there times when God calls us to take the road less traveled?” Of course, we decide. This road, however, may seem to be scarier because it’s deserted and hazards lurk around every corner. That’s when God calls us to trust that somewhere in the dense cloud, God is present and is urging us on. James 4:4 says (New Living Translation), “How do you know what your life will be like tomorrow? Your life is like the morning fog. It’s here a little while, then it’s gone.”
Do you have the courage to take the road less traveled, especially when you don’t know where it will lead? Are you willing to risk danger, face your fears and walk into the unknown, trusting that God is with you?
• I learn to focus on what is close.
When all I can see is a few feet in front of my face, I notice wildflowers, ferns, rocks, stones, mushrooms and bugs. Worms wriggle across the path, butterflies fly across my face, and mist drips off the leaves. I no longer worry about the big stuff but become attentive to the tiny details right around me.
Can you be fully present to whatever is right in front of you at any given moment? What do you miss when you pay more attention to getting someplace than to the journey itself?
• I learn that when the fog rolls in, cloudy vision can be a good thing.
I pick up a brochure with an advertisement for Nova Scotia that says, “The fog comes and goes at will. Don’t begrudge it. Wish instead that you were as free.” Later that day I hear someone remark to her companion, “The woman in the store said not to worry about the fog or be disappointed because the fog is authentic and is part of the experience.” Could the fog of uncertainty be a healthy and even necessary part of the spiritual life?
In her book Learning to Walk in the Dark, Barbara Brown Taylor quotes Gregory of Nyssa, a Cappadocian monk who lived in the fourth century in what is present day Turkey. Gregory viewed Moses’ experience in the dark cloud as a symbol of the spiritual life, saying, “Moses’ vision began with light. Afterwards God spoke to him in a cloud. But when Moses rose higher and became more perfect, he saw God in the darkness.” Taylor writes, “What? God exists in darkness? Cloudy vision is a good thing!”
Recently, a friend shared with me a conversation she had with her hair stylist. The stylist was ranting about a new Buddhist temple that had been built nearby, saying, “I’ll never step foot in that place. They are all going to hell unless they accept Jesus as their Savior.” My friend asked, “What do you think, Laurie? Are they going to hell? Can’t I learn about God from other religious traditions?”
“I can only speak for myself,” I replied, “but the older I get, the more life seems like a fog and the more uneasy I am about my own dogmatic religious pronouncements. My world is no longer black and white but is many shades of gray. After all, if I were certain about everything, I wouldn’t need Jesus.”
“My Lord God, I have no idea where I am going. I do not see the road ahead of me. I cannot know for certain where it will end. Nor do I really know myself, and the fact that I think I am following your will does not mean that I am actually doing so. But I believe that the desire to please you does in fact please you. And I hope I have that desire in all that I am doing. I hope that I will never do anything apart from that desire. And I know that if I do this, you will lead me by the right road, though I may know nothing about it. Therefore, I will trust you always, though I may seem to be lost and in the shadow of death. I will not fear, for you are ever with me and you will never leave me to face my perils alone.” — Thomas Merton, Thoughts in Solitude