If you are like me, you have been glued to the news since word first came of the horrific disaster in Japan. Seeing film of the shaking crashing buildings, of that huge wall of water rolling over the landscape, taking everything with it and leaving a crush and jumble of trucks – even a tanker in a field! – was shocking. The news continues to be disturbing, and we pray for those affected by the disaster, and for those who are trying to help them.
Now we are starting to get some of the firsthand reports of what it was like for the people there. A Japanese travel agent, Michio Endo, who lives in the area near the earthquake and tsunami in northern Japan wrote about his experience. He was in Tokyo while his wife was back home in the north:
“I went to Dai-ichi Hotel to see if there is limousine bus available to Haneda Airport. If available, I could take limousine bus to Haneda and from there I could take bus or taxi to my home. But bell boy said that all buses were out of service tonight and Haneda Airport was already closed. No one allowed to go airport. I went to back to the office again. All hotels were fully booked and there is no way to stay in hotel. I thought I better stay overnight in the office. Persistently I called my wife, but always recorded answering service said, "Sorry, lines are so busy. Call back later," or "Sorry, you cannot call to the disaster area".
Around 9 o'clock, I looked down the station and saw Shinkansen (bullet train) is running. So I walked to Tokyo station and luckily I could get on the bullet train [to Yokohama] around 9:40 pm. The Yokohama station was packed by the huge crowd of people, and subway was out of service. There is no bus service to my home direction. Usually, hundreds of empty taxis are waiting for the people, but I could not see even one taxi there. If I kept waiting for taxi, I must wait 4 or 5 hours. I decided to walk to my home.
I started walking 10:30 pm, alongside of highway. Last month, I could not take part in Malta marathon. I thought God gave me a chance to walk in my home town, Yokohama. In the dark, I kept walking with business shoes and clothes, without eating or drinking after lunch. Quite many people were also walking the same road. On the way, I saw a young businessman who sat down and took off socks. He was rubbing his feet. A young girl gave up walking and kept calling mobile, maybe asking parents for pick up. I called my wife by mobile, but it was out of service.
I recalled when I was a student in America in early 1960, I always hitchhiked to go school. On the highway, a number of cars are running smoothly. [Despite] Knowing that Japanese are not familiar with hitchhike, I was about to attempt hitchhike. But I kept walking, walking and walking in the dark. When I reached the 5 km point, I was so relieved. Finally, I arrived home 01:36, which means I walked 03 hours, 6 minutes. Last year, I took part in 21.9km in Malta marathon; my time was 03:00:53. Tonight I think I walked 15 km.
As for my wife, she was shopping at Yokohama Takashimaya Department [Store]. She was on the 8th floor. The announcement kept asking the guests, "Sit down, please. Do not move." When shoppers were allowed to get out the department store, she rushed to the taxi stand. She also saw hundreds of people waiting for taxi, and she decided to walk to home around 6 o'clock. She kept walking with high heels with two shopping bags. On the way to home, she encountered blackout. The city and street were completely dark. She arrived after 9 o'clock, which means she walked over 3 hours.
So we laughed that since we could not walk in Malta, the god gave us a chance to walk in our home town, Yokohama. We watched TV until 5 am. We were so shocked and felt so sorry for the disaster victims...”
Walking in the dark. How often does your life feel like that? Walking until your feet are sore, not seeing familiar landmarks, wondering how long it would take to get to the place you were going. Worrying about what you would find when you get there.
I remember when I was going through the process for ordination. Some of you may know that it is a process that takes several years, and has many steps to it. At any one of those steps, you can hit a dead end, and your hopes and dreams of ordained ministry stop right there. I told a friend at the time that it felt like I was walking along a long, dimly lit hallway, with a T at the end. I had no idea which direction I should take at the end of the hallway, what would await me at either end of the T, but that I trusted that somehow I would know, that God would let me know, and I would end up somewhere I was supposed to be.
Oftentimes our life in relationship with God feels a little like that, wondering how we ended up where we are, wondering where God is going to lead us next. We feel like we’re walking in the dark without a flashlight, without familiar landmarks, but we know we are supposed to keep walking.
Abram faced that strange inexorable pull when God told him to start walking in today’s reading from Genesis. “Walk,” God says. “I’ve got work for you to do. I will bless you, and make you a great nation, and you will be a blessing.”
Why did God use Abram? It certainly showed God’s sense of humor, because he was asking an elderly man married to a barren woman to make a great nation. It showed God was willing to change his plans, because after God created humanity, humanity kept going astray. The apple and the banishment from Eden? The flood and Noah? God had tried punishing his wayward children, and it seemed that wasn’t really working, so he decided to try a new strategy. He would choose a righteous man – the aforementioned Abram – to act as God’s agent, and the people who would be part of this man’s family, a great nation, would have a special relationship with God. Even though it is always risky to guess what God is thinking, I think it would be fair to suppose that God thought that if curses and punishment didn’t work, then having a group of people who should be the models of relationship between God and humanity would be a better strategy.
So he told Abram to go walk. He didn’t give him very precise directions. Abram headed with his wife and nephew to Canaan. Somehow, even without guidance, Abram went where God wanted him to go. He didn’t question God’s directive – perhaps he was too shocked by God speaking to him – but he packed up and went. Walking in the dark, a figurative dark of not knowing what God really wanted him to do, or how it would work.
It wasn’t an easy journey. God gave him encouragement periodically. While in Canaan, God stopped by for a little visit and said, “this land is going to be yours.” No word on what the Canaanites thought about that, but Abram did what he was supposed to do: he built an altar and sacrificed a bull to God in thanksgiving. He went on to the Negev, and to Egypt. He kept walking with his family, not entirely sure what he should do next, like Michio Endo as he walked from the train station to his home in the dark, like me as I went through the process of seeking ordination…guided by nothing but faith in God.
I think sometimes we fall into the belief that if we are good followers of Christ, it will be obvious what we should do. We think the light of God’s love will show us the path, whether it is the right thing to do at work, or in our marriages, or in our church. But in fact sometimes God’s love and God’s will is not a light but a heavy blanket around us. It feels warm and comforting, but it’s hard to see out. It’s hard to walk with the blanket wrapped around us.
And so we have to wander in the dark, trusting that God will guide us along the path. We have to have faith that we are going to be nudged along by God, with the most gentle and imperceptible of pushes. It is not always clear where the endpoint is: I suspect Michio didn’t know he was near his home until the last kilometer or two. He was just walking, walking, walking along that highway and suddenly realized he recognized some things around him in the shadowy night.
In Lent, in this penitential season, it may also feel like we are walking in the dark, wondering how we are doing with God, fearing that we are veering off the path sometimes, trying to be good people but knowing our failings too well. The lesson of Lent is that we are to keep walking, even if it feels we are walking in the dark. There is a light, the light of the Resurrection, at the end of the path, and if we keep faithfully putting one foot in front of the other, we will come to the place of light on Easter Sunday.
Step out onto the path, even though the darkness frightens, even though we are not sure what awaits us. Step out, and find the risen Lord who awaits us at the end of the road.