The psalmist recalls of God: “Your way was through the sea, your path, through the mighty waters; yet your footprints were unseen. You lead your people like a flock by the hand of Moses and Aaron.”
~Psalm 77:19-20 (NRSV)
The Footprints in the Sand poem is the most famous rendering of a chant reminiscent of this psalm. It details the essence of hope in reflection where worlds are otherwise forlorn. It imagines that we saw God mysteriously vacant when, in fact, one distinct set of footprints, as we looked back, was more clearly evidence of times when God carried us through the mire of tremulous change; our dark night of the soul.
Two Dipolar Images
Psalm 77 is split into two opposite images: one where much sighing characterises the mood, fatigue pressing itself in and over us, and one where strange cognisance releases such hopelessness, even by cool but temporary relief.
These dipolar images are so true life—most often the sweetness of life is soured by thought that change for loss could occur any time; just as times of sighing may somehow remind us that life will not always be this hard.
The first nine verses are devoted, therefore, to the incidence of pain—a dark night of the soul experience—whereby strong intonations of severe and barren helplessness enfold. Surely almost every human being has experienced such, or will.
The final eleven verses recall the deeds of God, as in the footprints in the sand, and the soul is amended, even soothed, at such thought.
When Things May Be Dark Remember The Light
A wonderful spiritual truism is this: it is the dark of night that gives meaning to the day; the dark of night if it doesn’t lead us astray; such dark of night reminds us of the Lord; in the darkness of night find hope to hoard.
In the darkness of night, when things are just too hard, an uncommon wisdom advises us to open the Bible and dog-ear that page at Psalm 77, as we muse over it.
We take in the gorgeous reminiscences of the Lord our God rescuing his people; indeed, rescuing us as it has occurred over and again.
As the footprints in the sand bear witness—somehow ours yet somehow the Lord’s—we find space-of-mind to encapsulate vision of the most-near Presence of God.
God is with us. Emmanuel, Jesus... God, eternally, and Spiritually, with us.
The God of wonder is also the God of mysterious vanquishment—why, we do not know. But, as we may find ourselves disposed from the light, we do not forget vision of it, and indeed hope forwardly to the coming horizon of the Son.
© 2011 S. J. Wickham.