Saturday, 12 September 2015

Life in the shadows, or under His Shadow?


This morning I watched a band of busy mouse-birds feeding in a holly bush to the left of the kitchen window. The air is redolent of early spring. Bees are at work in the rosemary and lavender and a heady scent of jasmine takes me back to Highveld gardens and carefree little girl days. I have difficulty remembering myself as a small child. There are freeze frames of memories and smells, or the way a certain place or experience made me feel. But not as a whole. Through my own children many of these memories have taken on a new perspective, and helped me to see myself as a small child would see his mother. I watch my boys gallop over the wide land that surrounds us and their sense of freedom gives me air to breathe also. Makes me go down on my knees and hold them close when they return, as if each time were the last.

A while ago, when I walked out on the deck to call them, there was a split second where the sun was blocked out. A large shadow moved stealthily over the ground and then dipped toward where they were playing. I knew without looking up, that the jackal buzzard was soaring overhead, as he often does. He settled on a pole not too far from where I was standing. He cocked his head a little and sat looking at me as if to gauge my purpose. A bit later I heard his call, high-pitched and eerie - like the howling of a black-backed jackal. A sound that I will probably always associate with our Inesi home.

Why is it that shadows are often associated with an ominous presence? The time of day when shadows grow longer, cause you to draw your arms protectively around each other and stoke the fire for comfort. Evil is meant to lurk in the shadows, its face hidden. People speak of the shadow of death. C.S. Lewis refers to this planet we live on - Earth, as a type of “Shadowland”. A preparation for the reality which comes in another world. Heaven is the real reality. What is experienced before Heaven is only half real. Not exactly night, but not exactly bright day either - the shadows...

But I see evil strutting boldly in the light, while God's children are deceived into the shadows of unbelief, lacking discernment or fearful. And this, while ultimate rest and protection can be found in the Shadow of Him who has no stain or darkness. (Whoever dwells in the shelter of the most High, will rest in the shadow of the Almighty - Ps 91:1).

I came across a poem by D.H. Lawrence entitled -"Shadows"...

And if tonight my soul may find her peace
in sleep, and sink in good oblivion,
and in the morning wake like a new-opened flower
then I have been dipped again in God, and new-created.

And if, as weeks go round, in the dark of the moon

my spirit darkens and goes out, and soft strange gloom
pervades my movements and my thoughts and words
then I shall know that I am walking still
with God, we are close together now the moon’s in shadow.

Even though Lawrence sadly rejected the "Christian creed" at the age of twenty two, whilst at university, he went on wrestling imaginatively and emotionally with the significance of Christ for the rest of his life. With these words he does seem to acknowledge that it is God that renews and sustains. During on-top-of-the-hill times, and in the shadows-of-the-valley times.

I do not "wrestle" or struggle with the significance of Christ in my life. I know that He is my Saviour, my Redeemer, and I am in constant need of His grace. What I do struggle with is my own inability to "become less" so that He may "become more" in me. The spotlight often feels so good and warm, that it is easy to forget how fickle it is. When the show is over and the lights go down, it is a sad and lonely place to be. The stage is dark and empty, the props are revealed for what they really are; and the revellers have left for the next show.

Over the last few days I have been drawn back into the shadow(s). In so many different ways, that it is most certainly not coincidental. I write a blog under the title: "In the Shadow of His wings", yet I find myself so often taking a bow apart from that Shadow. I sing the hymn: "To thee be the glory. To thee be the honour. All blessings and praises, to the Lamb". But then grumble about the lack of acknowledgement that a full-time mother receives.

Does serving Christ sometimes seem like a bit of a paradox? For instance:

1) I walk in victory, (In all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us -Romans 8:37);

but, then I am humbled when I remember that I do in fact not bring about the victory in any way... ("The horse is made ready for the day of battle, but victory rests with the LORD" - Proverbs 21:31 and ... "the Lord your God is the one who goes with you to fight for you against your enemies to give you victory" - Deut 20:4);

and therefore, in no way can I claim the honour for it. ("For from Him and through Him and for Him are all things. To Him be the glory forever" - Rom 11:36).

2) I have authority and power through Christ. ("Behold, I give you the authority to trample on serpents and scorpions, and over all the power of the enemy, and nothing shall by any means hurt you" - Luke 10:19);

but, am humbled and reminded how and why this authority has been given me (... greater works than these he will do, because I go to My Father. And whatever you ask in My name, that I will do, that the Father may be glorified in the Son" - John 14:12-14)

3) Right now, I am seated with Christ in heavenly places and have received all spiritual blessings from Him. ("And God raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus" - Eph 2:6  "Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in the heavenly realms with every spiritual blessing in Christ." Eph 1:3).

Not so that I may walk with my head in the clouds, but because: "His intent was that now, through the church, the manifold wisdom of God should be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly realms." Eph 1:3.

 There is so much given me, promised me, poured out on me, such riches and blessings that not only permeate my days and nights, that it is often difficult to stay humble. Easy to forget that I have not brought any of it about by myself. It is hard not to be tempted to wander from under that omnipresent, omniscient Shadow of the Lord and march out into the mid-day sun. And be scorched. And, like with too much exposure to the sun, the mistake is only perceived in the cool of the day, when the fury of the sun, trapped in the tender network of nerves under the skin starts to burn.

As a child of God, sooner or later, I have to face the mirror and notice the tell-tell marks of my wanderings. Pride, egoism, and vanity, etched deeply. And hear the words that are so hard to receive, but are often the gateway to a renewed sense of being under that same grace that Paul spoke of: "For by the grace given me I say to every one of you: Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought, but rather think of yourself with sober judgement, in accordance with the faith God has distributed to each of you." Romans 12:3

What will keep me from this dumb-trodden path that has my footprints going to and fro so often that it is hard to see which way I'm going?


Obedience which flows from a sure footed, well anchored faith and hope in Christ and Christ alone. Being in a place of trust under his wings and knowing that I can and will fly with my Lord when He has deemed me ready to do so. And then in such a way that those who witness it will witness the glory of the Lord and not the skill of the bird.

"Those who hope on the Lord will soar on wings like eagles." (Is 40:31). God promises us flight - He is not an overprotective, overbearing presence, which wants to prevent His children from living an abundant life! He formed me, loves me, knows my limitations, my vulnerability and my strength.

(A short digression. The image used in Isaiah is very significant to me, having watched birds of prey in flight so often. An eagle does not flap his wings unnecessarily. He uses thermal updrafts, warm pockets of wind, enabling him to reach great heights. Soaring on an updraft requires agility to be attuned to the wind, but it does not mean flying by the eagle's own power. A thermal updraft is created when there is heat on the ground that sends a billow of air rising upwards. Now where in the scripture do we see heat and wind? Acts 2. The day the Holy Spirit fell on the newborn church, there was a sound of a violent rushing wind. The word “spirit” also means breath or wind, and has the same root as the word “wind” in verse 2. And with the wind came tongues of flame. Heat. When an eagles soars, there is heat creating wind that rises in a thermal updraft to keep eagles soaring higher than other birds, without flapping their wings, just by being in tune with the wind...)

We live in a time when the shadows, should not be places we fear. The "valleys of the shadow of death" are places where faith can increase and trust can deepen. This "Shadowland" is not our home, its light is not eternal, it threats and pleasures both shall pass. This present darkness - Satan and all the powers of this dark world and the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realm are real and right before our eyes. But the evil we see is in fact the violent death throes of a beast knowing that his time is short. Who knows that He has been conquered by the One who sits at the right hand of God. The veil is thin. We are called to be bold in our faith, but humble in our demeanour.

It is not a paradox, it is the beautiful mystery and Truth wrapped up in Jesus Christ. A dance of infinite grace. Of surrender. Letting go of me. And melting into Jesus. More of you, Lord. Less of me.

As we learn to imitate Him by leaning in close; becoming one with His Shadow, a world of such freedom and beauty shall open up, that it will leave us in awe. In constant wonder of the presence of God who promises to "lead the blind by ways they have not known, along unfamiliar paths I will guide them; I will turn the darkness into light before them and make the rough places smooth. These are the things I will do; I will not forsake them.