I spent the past week at the Ghost Ranch in northern New Mexico. It was an incredible experience on numerous levels. I enjoyed learning from John Philip Newell as he talked about his new book, The Rebirthing of God. He and his wife, Ali, also led in worship each morning and evening. The services were spiritually uplifting. The landscape around the Ghost Ranch was also incredible. I have traveled extensively around the Desert Southwest and without a doubt this was some of the most beautiful scenery I’ve ever seen there. Each day I had a chance to get out and do some photography in the area. This, too, proved to be spiritually uplifting. I always seem to sense God’s nearness in the desert for some reason.
One very pleasant surprise for me at the Ghost Ranch was the night skies. Two nights the skies were completely clear and those nights I witnessed the glory of the heavens as never before. The Milky Way seemed almost close enough to touch. I was in total awe. The words of the Psalmist kept coming to mind: “When I consider your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars, which you have set in place; what is man that you are mindful of him, the son of man that you care for him?” (8:3-4) I did indeed feel humbled beneath the vastness of the heavens above but at the same time I recognized that the One who made those stars dwelt within me and was close by. The transcendence and immanence of God was apparent at one and the same time. I could not help but offer my worship to the Maker of heaven and earth.
Each morning as a part of our workshop we were asked to go outside and spend twenty minutes in silence. On the day following my close encounter with the Milky Way I spent my twenty minutes laying down on a large stone beside a giant cottonwood tree looking up at the sky. The sky was a beautiful blue, punctuated with fluffy white clouds. After a while it dawned on me that I was looking up in the same area I beheld the stars the night before and that those stars were still there extending their light. Because of the brightness of the sun the stars could not be seen but they were there nonetheless. This was, of course, something I already knew, but it did drive home a truth that I had not pondered previously—some manifestations of God’s glory can only be experienced in darkness.
While at the Ghost Ranch I finished reading Barbara Brown Taylor’s new book, Learning to Walk in the Dark. This inspirational work has made me look at darkness in a new way. She offers many compelling reasons to embrace the darkness, both physical and spiritual. At one point Taylor writes, “If we turn away from darkness on principle, doing everything we can to avoid it because there is simply no telling what it contains, isn’t there a chance that what we are running away from is God?”
I am convinced more than ever that we must learn to approach the dark periods of our life in a new light. We tend to think of darkness in negative terms but it may well be that the darkness is needed at times for God’s glory to be revealed. There are lessons that God can only teach us, things that the Creator can only show us, in the dark seasons of our life. This doesn’t necessarily make those dark seasons easier to endure but it does offer us a glimmer of hope—that in the darkness we may just see a light or manifestation of God that could not be seen otherwise. The skies above New Mexico and the testimony of many of the saints of history all bear witness that this is true. When you find yourself in darkness—whether physical, spiritual or emotional—I encourage you to look for that which might not be seen otherwise. It may just be that it is in the darkness where you will see God the clearest.
(I took the images above at or near the Ghost Ranch in northern New Mexico this past week.)