“Mom, why do you have so many photos of shadows on your phone?”
“I like shadows,” I replied.
A couple of weeks ago my son Henry asked the question that got me thinking. Thinking about shadows, and why I actually do like them. I suppose the simple answer is that I think they are cool because of the image they project. It’s like looking in a mirror, but not. Shadows give away no details…they are always dark, absent of color, and are just an outline of the object they are shadowing; they are artistic and mysterious.
On a recent camping trip, we set out in search for a secret back entrance to Jesse James’ hidden cave. While walking along the train tracks with Louisa and her friend (that’s legal, right?), we stopped to snap a photo of our shadows.
So there we were, walking with our backs to the sun and our shadows before us, and it reminded me of a beautiful quote attributed to Helen Keller: “Keep your face to the sunshine and you cannot see the shadows.” I have always loved that quote — but at that moment the thought dawned on me: what if I want to see the shadows? More importantly, what if I need to see the shadows?
Naturally, we tend to think of being in the ‘shadows of life’ as a negative place. But I have found over the past ten years that shadows don’t have to be negative. I have learned to find hope in them. Shadows remind me that there is a light source somewhere nearby. And at times I might actually be blocking the light source, not allowing it to shine through me. But even when I do, the shadow cast before me reminds me that the light is still there… regardless of my actions. How many times have we heard the following verse at funerals, or as a loved one is preparing to depart this Earth:
“Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for thou art with me; thy rod and thy staff they comfort me.”
~ Psalm 23:4
So in the darkest shadow of life… even in death, the Source of light is still with us, to comfort us, to walk with us. Do we seek the Light… or do we focus on the shadow instead?
One afternoon as I was sitting under the canopy on our deck, I found myself reflecting on the shadows cast onto the canopy by the trees around me. I was reminded of the three little birdies we protected during the flash flood this summer. How the make-shift canopy that my husband scrambled to place above the nest served as a refuge, as protection from the quickly-approaching storm. I looked up at the shadows on the canopy above me and thought how so many times in our lives we feel as fragile as those day-old birdies and need shade and protection of our own. We yearn for a shadow in which to rest. In these moments, we seek the shadow, rather than fear it.
Even the Israelites experienced this kind of refuge through their wilderness years.
“Then the LORD will create over the whole area of Mount Zion and over her assemblies a cloud by day, even smoke, and the brightness of a flaming fire by night; for over all the glory will be a canopy. There will be a shelter to give shade from the heat by day, and refuge and protection from the storm and the rain.” ~ Isaiah 4:5-6
“For You have been a defense for the helpless,
A defense for the needy in his distress,
A refuge from the storm, a shade from the heat…”. ~ Isaiah 25:4
So what are the shadows in your life that leave you fearful?
From what do you need refuge?
It could be an ailing parent. A diagnosis. Loneliness or depression. Maybe it’s a suffering marriage or an addiction… or a deep and unfulfilled yearning for a baby. Is it worry over a child who is struggling in school? Fretting over the future? Or chronic pain…when relief seems nowhere in sight. There is suffering all around us–and as we all know, everyone we meet is facing some sort of battle. A battle–that when you’re in the midst of it–hovers like a deep, dark shadow. But you can find beauty in the mess of it… because there is a God who begs to meet us in the shadows. The question we must ask ourselves is this:
Are we blocking the Light by despairing about the shadow…
instead of finding shelter beneath it?
David the shepherd, psalmist, and King knew where to seek refuge. He found it in the shadow– the shadow provided by God Almighty…
“Keep me as the apple of your eye;
hide me in the shadow of your wings.”
~ Psalm 17:8
“How priceless is your unfailing love, O God!
People take refuge in the shadow of your wings.”
~ Psalm 36:7
“Because you are my help, I sing in the shadow of your wings.”
~ Psalm 63:7
So, Henry, I guess the deeper answer to your question of why I have so many photos of shadows on my phone is this:
I like shadows… because they are beautiful. In the midst of my mess, they remind me to look for the light source. And most importantly, to dwell in the shelter of that Light… because there is peace and rest to be found there.
“Whoever dwells in the shelter of the Most High will rest in the shadow of the Almighty.”
~ Psalm 91:1
Listen to David Crowder Band, Shadows