I was driving home, after a long, hard, tiring day. I was close to my house, within a mile, on very familiar roads. Then the road took a little dip, just few feet lower in altitude, and suddenly the fog was incomprehensibly thick. I couldn't see more than twenty-five feet or so in front of the car. Lights were scattered and dispersed. Familiar, well-known landmarks disappeared in the thick mist. All there was to see was the few feet of road immediately in front of my car, hints of painted line and hazy shadow of curb, like a smeared charcoal sketch, which I could barely make out in front of the car before the headlights dispersed and became useless in the grey fog. The mist had taken what is familiar and known and made it strange and mysterious.
The familiar, well-travelled road now commanded my full attention to navigate. That stretch of street where I might have spaced out so many times before, not really paying attention to my surroundings, allowing myself to drive on auto-pilot because I know the street so well ... that stretch of street was now strange, mysterious, un-familiar. It commanded my full attention, but because the mist obscured everything more than a few yards away, my heightened awareness could only be focused on the immediate. What was I actually looking at? What were my eyes seeing and not seeing? How was the road for the next ten feet? What was there? Which way did I need to steer to stay on the road? How fast am I going? Where is the best place in the fog to focus my eyes right at this second?
It was wonderful. It was wonderful to be that awake and alert, to actually be paying attention. It was exhilarating to not be on auto-pilot, to notice, really notice, what was going on within a few yards of my nose. My immediate field of awareness and thought was usually so preoccupied, so distracted, so self-absorbed and cluttered with unimportant stuff. But now I was focused. My chattering brain quieted down as I noticed what was around me with that heightened awareness.
We are familiar with the image of God as the clarifying light, the one that scatters the clouds and the befuddling fog. We like this “nice” image of a God that makes things easy and clear, and indeed that is often what God does. But not always. Sometimes God surrounds us in clouds of obscuring mist, and makes things that seemed well-known suddenly strange and mysterious. Sometimes God disorients us to get us off auto-pilot and paying attention, alert and awake. Sometimes God is to be found in the mist, when we have to be aware of ourselves and our surroundings in a new way, when we have to move in a new way because the familiar road is hidden. The mist obscures some things, but our senses are no longer dulled by the distractions and the clutter, and our awareness is heightened. Mystery calls us to a new way of seeing. It is a different kind of clarity, a different kind of noticing that calls us to perceive what is there in the immediate moment – perhaps even to become aware of the presence of God, all around and as close and heavy upon our souls as thick, damp mist upon the skin.