I have always been fascinated by the play of light in the forest. The sun spotlights or dapples my pathway and the woods that border it. The light changes as the sun moves across the sky. Sometimes I catch the disc spider webs lit up by the angle of the morning sun. Other times, a beam of light will pour down on the path as if heaven was visiting my walk.
My favorite artists come from the Impressionist period because they were connoisseurs of light. Several years ago, I started taking classes to learn their techniques. The use of light and shadows make up a lot of the emotional expression in their subject matter. They were masters at painting sunlight and shadows on grass and pathways. Even the way they layered the paint was part of their skill.
One of the most enjoyable parts of walking the same path every day is to mark how the sunlight patterns change through the seasons. There is a bench in the nature preserve where I can put my head back and look up at the canopy framed against the sky. In early spring, I watch how it progresses from the dark silhouette of branches to the lacy leaf buds. In summer, the leaf canopy forms a jigsaw puzzle of shapes with a bit of blue sky.
The size of an object’s shadow is directly related to how the angle of light hits it. Last week, I came upon a millipede marching top speed across the pavement to some important destination. I sent a photo to my sister, who immediately remarked upon the size of its shadow. If you were to react just to the shadow, you’d stop dead in your tracks. Even without the shadow, it was kind of creepy. That same day, while examining the shadow cast by my pup on the path, I was amazed at how accurate her profile was.
When I was a child, my dad liked to take an evening walk. Often, I’d get to accompany him. Because we lived on a country road, we would walk up to the top of the hill and back. One of the sweetest memories I have is playing with our shadows as we approached and departed from the few streetlights that were there. This is where I learned to watch how shadows change as you approach and leave a light source. We used to play a game pretending we were monsters as our shadows grew out of proportion to our actual size under the light.
These reflections reminded me of the verse in the Bible that proclaims there is no shadow of turning by the Lord.* In other words, He’s not going to turn His back on you, so all you have is His shadow. He’s in it for the long haul.
Thomas Chisholm wrote a poem about this promise of God. His friend, the Rev. William H. Runyon, made it into the hymn we love today. Runyon was a musician with the Moody Bible Institute. George Beverly Shea introduced it to the Billy Graham Crusades in 1954. If you want to read more about its fascinating history, go to: https://www.umcdiscipleship.org/resources/history-of-hymns-great-is-thy-faithfulness. The song is now part of the Methodist hymnal. Here is the opening verse.
“Great is Thy faithfulness, O God my Father,
There is no shadow of turning with Thee
Thou changest not, Thy compassions they fail not,
As Thou hast been Thou forever wilt be.”
There are also scriptures about taking shelter in the shadow of His wings. What an excellent place to find rest when we are tense, worried, or fearful. There is comfort from being held within the shelter of giant wings. When I am scared, I imagine myself sitting on God the Father’s lap. My head rests on His chest with His everlasting arms around me. I suspect that in heaven we will so know the love of God the Father, the Son, and Holy Spirit that we won’t need to imagine or seek His shelter. We will know that we have it and that we’ve always had it but didn’t take advantage of it or recognize it. I’m not even sure any of us will cast shadows in heaven. But I am sure it won’t matter. While we are here on earth, it’s something to ponder and upon which we can meditate with great joy.
*“Whatever is good and perfect is a gift coming down to us from God our Father, who created all the lights in the heavens. He never changes or casts a shifting shadow.”
James 1:17 NLT
** Isaiah 52:12 NIV