The Little Light We Carry
By: Emily Meeks
I am not prepared for the darkness.
Our group gathers at base camp for an oxygen check and snacks before our final ascent to Uhuru Peak, Kilimanjaro’s summit. My stomach is knotted and roiling. I have no interest in energy cookies.
There is not just one single path to summit Kilimanjaro, and most, including our route, Rongai, require a middle of the night final push. You attempt to fall asleep before the sun sets so you can rise in darkness. I trained for the mileage, weight and altitude, but I have not yet climbed in darkness.
“Pole, Pole,” go slowly in Swahili, the guides say but it is not a pace I know.
It grows colder as we climb. I see people with the glossy look of altitude sickness. I wonder whether I will join them and not make it. My water, sunscreen and emergency chocolate are starting to freeze. I love hiking because it expands my view but this feels like I am in a tunnel of darkness. I don’t know how to escape.
I slow my breath. I start praying – for the women in my bible study, for my marriage, for my stomach, for unanswered questions about work, for my next step – for anything that comes to mind. God, will you come close? Ahead, head lamps dot switchbacks that seem to connect to the sky, forming a constellation of climbers ascending into midnight.
“O come…. all ye faithful….joyful and triumphant.”
It’s October, I am in Tanzania on a mountain with every part of my body wrapped in puffy layers – what am I hearing?
“O come, let us adore Him. O come , let us adore Him.” I look up and around – it’s coming from a switchback above – the Christmas hymn I have loved since I was a child. I listen and let the words encircle me.
Our skyscape expands and reveals two celestial gems – a shooting star and a sliver of orange moon. My steps are the same measure, but I feel a change begin inside — I may be able to do this.
My husband moves up beside me, from his assigned place at the back of our trekking line. He puts his gloved hand on my shoulder. We climb higher, together, and I can feel more of the heaviness subside and my stomach settling as we navigate the silhouettes of people, snow and rock. I talk more and feel new energy to encourage others in our group.
At Gilman’s Point, shadows fold into soft hues of purple and gray, light begins breaking forth and I know — I, we, are going to make it as we warm ourselves with sips of hot tea. The crater rim takes us inward to Stella’s Point with pinks, oranges, reds and blues emerging over Tanzania and Kenya. The wind picks up and pellets of ice ping skin not covered by a buff. Snow changes out the colorful sky, and we walk through blowing flakes and flurries. We stand at 19,341 feet on Africa’s highest free-standing peak. We exchange mitten high-fives and start our return – the conditions are changing.
Now it is Christmas Eve and we show our vaccination cards to check in for a pew at Saint Mark’s. We pick up bulletins and little candles that will light our way through Silent Night.
The processional music starts, and I look up and around at the lights and the greenery. Last year, there were no pews, just an empty nave livestreamed as we navigated our first Christmas in a pandemic. We are more informed but still in the throes of the uncertainty of a variant’s unpredictable ways. We have faithfully wandered here together on this night to experience the promise of Christmas, of God dwelling with us.
“O come…. all ye faithful….joyful and triumphant.”
The opening hymn starts. I am reminded of a glacier, a shooting star, a sliver of orange moon and a loving gesture. Standing here in pews with my faith community feels like light in the darkness.
At our wedding, one of the readings was from Henri Nouwen:
Often we want to be able to see into the future. We say, “How will next year be for me? Where will I be five or ten years from now?” There are no clear answers to these questions. Mostly we have just enough light to see the next step: what we have to do in the coming hour or the following day. The art of living is to enjoy what we can see and not complain about what remains in the dark. When we are able to take the next step with trust that we will have enough light for the step that follows, we can walk through life with joy and be surprised at how far we go. Let’s rejoice in the little light we carry and not ask for the great beam that would take all shadows away.
It reads quite nicely in a wedding ceremony but practicing it under the layers and the weight of life can feel harder, especially to someone like me who prefers being in control of each step. It requires dependence to hold and rejoice in the little light we already carry within us.
I long to look for and recognize God’s light in others, in creation and in myself to help stand in places I never thought possible.
Emily Meeks loves finding adventure and connection outside, especially while running, biking, hiking and kayaking. She attends and serves at Saint Mark’s Cathedral in Seattle.Follow us on social media