Light, A Matter of Life and Death

When I was a high school senior, I only needed a couple of courses to graduate, so I signed up for some Freshman courses at the University of Kentucky.  While there I connected with a group of students who were spending the summer in Bogota, Colombia, transforming a barrio (slum) into a beautiful park which greatly enhanced the opportunities for the residents, especially the youth.  I loved that summer for so many reasons, especially for the opportunity to take amazing weekend trips to explore new areas.

In the book, I described one weekend trip where I walked in total darkness into the heart of a mountain for a thousand feet, holding onto a rope connecting me to my companions.  Our leader told us to stop walking, and then she flipped a light switch which revealed that we were now standing in the middle of a beautiful sanctuary – a church inside a mountain!  Each of us uttered “wow” out loud as our eyes adjusted to the light and beauty of this church!

But I confess that my most favorite weekend trip was the one that took me and three colleagues into the deep jungle at the small southern Colombia town Leticia, which was on the Amazon River at the junction of Colombia, Peru, and Brazil.  One friend and I connected with two locals who took us alligator hunting on the Amazon River! At night, in a canoe, we would quietly float a hundred feet off the shore and one of our guides stood in the front of our canoe wearing a hat which had an incredibly bright light (reminded me of what miners wear).  He focused his light on the shore just above the water line. All of a sudden, I saw what he was seeking:  two shining yellow eyes looking directly into the strong light beam.  He had found his first alligator of the night. 

Now here, to me, is the amazing part of this adventure.  As long as he kept his light focused on the alligator, the alligator could not move, his body seemed to be frozen by the streaming light.  But if the guide moved his light even one inch off the target, the alligator quickly fled into the shoreline’s brush and was gone.  Light, a Matter of Life and Death!  Literally.

Several alligators that night lived because the light wavered from their eyes; but several alligators were shot as the boat inched closer and closer until we were only five feet from the shining yellow eyes.  Even in that last moment, several alligators got away when the light beam veered just an inch.  The guide shot the alligators right between those shining yellow eyes, used a grappling hook to get the dying alligator into our boat, where I was horrified to have a squirming dying alligator crawling over my feet as I sat in the boat.  I was also horrified when the guides caught a very large turtle, cut into the turtle with a knife, reached deeply inside the turtle, withdrew their hand holding several warm turtle eggs and then proceeded to eat the eggs with great joy while offering me this snack!  I said, “Yuk, no thanks!” and was only too happy when they dropped me on the shore at the conclusion of the alligator hunting experience.

The first chapter of 1 John comes to my mind as I contemplate Light, a Matter of Life and Death!  As Christ-followers, if we walk in the Light, as He is in the Light, we have Life!  However, if we walk in the darkness, we will assuredly only have Death.  Once the alligators’ eyes caught the light, they had no chance to be in the darkness as long as the source of the Light was steady and did not change its path.  Certainly, this application is perhaps a tad labored, but to me the Light of Life which comes from the Creator God Yahweh, is steady and constantly gives Life, never Death.  Only when I choose to avert my gaze do I lean into Death.  The big difference, the alligators have not the ability to avert their eyes from the Light, whereas each of we Christ-followers have constant urges AND the ability to not only avert but to permanently remove our eyes from the Light who is Life. 

In The Merton Prayer, “I cannot see the road ahead of me, I do not know for certain where it will end” begs this question, “So is there not enough Light for me to see the right road?”  A very good question, don’t you agree?  Why is it that we just so often cannot even see the road, much less make an informed decision to choose the right road?  To me the very next phrase in the Merton Prayer gives the answer: “Nor do I really know myself, and the fact that I think I am following your will does not mean that I am actually doing so!”  May we keep our gaze on the Light that offers us abundant Life in the coming days.  Why?  Because truly Light, a Matter of Life and Death is constantly before us.

[NOTE:  If your organization, church, or school would like a workshop/presentation on The Merton Prayer please use the contact tab and let me know!  I can Zoom all over the world and have done 90-minute, 3 hour, 5 hour, weekend, or five-day workshops/retreats.]

Leave a comment, if you wish, regarding this post or how you found The Merton Prayer and why it is important to you.  Thanks for visiting!

6 thoughts on “Light, A Matter of Life and Death

  1. Wow! I never knew that as an 18 year old you went on an alligator hunt
    and even were in a small boat with a captured alligator in their with
    you! You are braver than I am. It does remind me that as an 18 year old
    I took flight lessons – something I would never attempt now!

    I thought this blog on Light, A Matter of Life and Death was extremely
    well written. Good job, brother!



    1. What an adventure to be on an alligator hunt! Yes, like you prayed, “May we keep our gaze on the Light that offers us abundant Life in the coming days.”


  2. Thanks Steven… I’ve veered off His light so many times…some by choice…some by disappointment of fellow human beings who claims to be Christians. I’m constantly reminded of that we are only human. But after so many good and bad events in my life, and at my later age, I’ve also realized His light…His reach…His gaze… NEVER veered off from me. Thanks for your insightful message.


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