“… for we walk by faith not by sight.” (2 Corinthians 5:7)
As a retired person, walking has become a way of life for me. I have always been an active person who enjoys being outdoors as much as possible. After graduating from Miami University in Oxford, Ohio, I was truly fortunate to find a career in Morristown, New Jersey, training Seeing Eye dogs to guide blind people. Having grown up with German Shepherds, I had a good understanding and a strong connection with dogs. To be able to put my love for dogs into a career with the worthy purpose of helping blind people to achieve independence and dignity through the mobility that a Seeing Eye dog provides was beyond belief. The fact that most of my daily work, which involved training the dogs and teaching our blind students, took place outdoors on the streets of Morristown was an added attraction for me.
My experience at The Seeing Eye also brought me the love of my life and future wife, Jane, who came to Morristown for her first Seeing Eye dog in June 1965. Jane, who is totally blind, has taught me a new way of “seeing” that is from the heart. She has an intuitive way of knowing how others are feeling and how to reach out to them. As Jane is unable see facial expressions or body language, she listens to what others say and feel with her heart. Whenever one of our friends is going through a dark period in her life, Jane, with her inner vision, is usually able to help the person gain a greater insight into the problem and find the way out of the darkness. Without a doubt, Jane has taught me more about “seeing” than I would ever have known on my own.
After my 43-year career at The Seeing Eye, I tentatively looked forward to retiring at the approach of my 65th birthday and I realized that I would need to find a physical activity to replace the active life style of my work at The Seeing Eye. I began a disciplined walking routine, partly for my health, but also because I find pure joy in walking freely in the beauty of nature. Walking makes me feel alive!
When I begin my morning walk shortly after breakfast, I breathe deeply to fill my lungs and bring energy into my body. I also offer a prayer of thanksgiving for the gift of a new day and ask the Lord to guide my footsteps in his Light. As I find a rhythm in my gait, I seek to open my heart so that peace may flow through me. Sometimes I will repeat a mantra from the scriptures such as: “Be still and know that I am God” (Psalm 46:10), which helps me to stay centered in the Light and in rhythm with the universe. As I walk peacefully over the earth, I find myself falling gently into meditation, which often leads me into prayer. It is during this prayer-walking that I often have my deepest thoughts and insights.
On one of my morning walks, I found myself heading west on a quiet street that leads to a deserted hospital building. This austere looking building with boarded up windows is four stories high and extends more than six hundred feet in width. It was built in 1876 as a hospital for the insane and now 135 years later it has been abandoned in favor of a new, modern mental health facility. Even on this bright, sunny day, this grotesque structure has a gloomy, almost haunted appearance. I can easily imagine what darkness and despair lived behind those walls for over a hundred years. As I walk closer to the building, it strikes me that there is a fine line between living in the light and becoming lost in the shadows of the darkness.
While I am walking with the sunlight behind my back I am constantly aware of my shadow, which is always a step ahead of me. As a Quaker I know that the Inner Light that guides us is the same light that reveals the dark places or shadows that occur in our lives. As the awareness of the Light grows stronger within us, our human faults and weaknesses are exposed, like the shadows in front of us. These dark places in our lives are there to remind us of our selfish, egoistic desires and deep-seated fears that separate us from God, and cause emotional pain, even to those we love. These shadows from our past can lead us astray and those old emotional patterns can pull us back into the darkness. How can we walk away from these shadows of fear, anger and guilt that can push us over the edge into the dark abyss?
As Quakers we turn to the Light and let the Light Within be our truest guide. Through prayer and deep listening we have faith that our hearts will be opened to the Inner Light, and that it will show us the path that is already given to us. By walking with the Truth we become free and are able to follow that path that leads us out of the darkness. As we walk into the Light, which shines upon our face, the shadows of our past then fall behind us. We are then able to hear the call to say “yes” to the movement of that of God within us, which brings peace with every step. Our growing awareness of the Light brings healing and relief from those dark, painful experiences of our past life. Those old negative thoughts no longer control our minds and our lives, but are overcome by an “ocean of Light and Love” (George Fox). Even though there may be times in our spiritual journey when we become lost in the shadows of our past, when we turn to the Light, God shows us the way home.
“Where the pure Light of God is witnessed, it guides to himself.” (George Fox, Epistle 20)