Four squirmy boys, smelly from two days in the car, grew suddenly quiet as the sedan entered the woods.  My brothers and I craned our necks from the back seat, trying to see beyond the next curve in the winding dirt road barely wide enough for Dad to maneuver the car among giant pines. The two on the outside stuck their heads out the windows like Labradors, looking up.  The two in the middle spun around, knees on the seat, contorting to look up through the rear window.  A canopy of leaves shadowed everything, making the road cave-like, both magical and ominous.  Rounding the last curve we entered a clearing.  There, ahead of us and down a gentle hill sat the cottage.  The rustic, wood-frame house nestled in the midst of a patch of woods in southern Maine was my favorite vacation spot as a kid.  It was the place my mother spent all her childhood summers.  Years later it became the favorite vacation for my kids as well.

There are many things to love about the place; walking in the woods, sitting by the water, lounging in front of the fireplace, exploring the cluttered corners of the upstairs sleeping loft.  What makes all this even more intriguing is that the cottage has no electricity.  No switches on the wall, no lights in the ceiling, nowhere to plug things in.  As the sun sets over the hills beyond the water, the sky fades from yellow to orange, to deep red, and then it’s dark.  Even on a moonlit night, the forest makes the world around the cottage dark.  Very dark.  The only light available comes from kerosene lanterns.

Depending on lanterns takes some getting used to.  A lantern doesn’t brighten the whole room the way a light bulb does.  Most of the light is right there close to the flame.  The rest of the room is bathed in a faint glow. The lantern is fine for reading if it is right there at my elbow, but if I want to read in a more comfortable chair, I must take the lantern with me.  If I want to go into the kitchen for a snack, I must take the lantern with me.  The light moves with me as I carry it, and there is just enough light for the task at hand.  Without the light nearby, I am left fumbling around in the dark and bumping into things.

Lanterns necessitate a slow-down.  When I enter a dark room and thoughtlessly reach for the light switch, it requires an “Oh yeah” moment for me to shift to a more thoughtful and patient mindset.

Ancient literature that uses light to symbolize wisdom had just such a lantern in mind.  The Psalmist who wrote, “Your word is lamp unto my feet, a light to my path” was referring to a small oil lamp.  Such a lamp gave just enough light and dispelled just enough darkness to take the next step.

Most of us would like a little more light in our lives.  We’d like to know how things are going to turn out.  We’d like to know how our decisions will play out before we make them.  But alas, we don’t carry a spotlight.  Life has provided us with a lantern, and life, like the lantern, provides us with just enough light to take our next step.