Lord God, you have called your servants to ventures of which we cannot see the ending, by paths as yet untrodden, through perils unknown. Give us faith to go out with good courage, not knowing where we go, but only that your hand is leading us and your love supporting us; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
Lutheran Book of Worship (Augsburg Fortress Publishing, 1978)
THE dog stood still on the horizon, its dark shape made even denser by the brightness of the sun that shone behind it. The road that sloped gently upwards towards the animal was lined with the small semi-derelict farm buildings that typified the settlements of this part of rural France, and there was no other living thing to be seen.
Wearily, I reached behind me for the stout stick wedged across the top of my pack. This would not be my first canine encounter, and I knew the form by now. My approach would be heralded with deep, throaty growls, followed by a volley of barks.
What happened next could go one of two ways: either my appearance of confidence, shouts, and stick-brandishing would send it skulking towards the safety of the hedgerow, or it would continue to bark savagely at me in the centre of the road, and I would be held hostage there until the owner eventually appeared to call it off, an event both terrifying and humiliating.
I turned over these options in my mind as I trudged up the hill, my stomach clenching and my hands sweating in their over-tight grasp of my weapon. My pack was too heavy for running to be an option: all I could do was to look forward in dread.
Then, as I reached the crest of the hill, the dog simply turned and walked quietly away, disappearing through a lopsided door swinging on one hinge into the shadows of the barn beyond. I felt light-headed with relief, and only a craven fear of the animal’s return prevented me from collapsing right where I stood.
So much of our lives can be spent in expectation of events that appear to us to contain the potential to be fearful, challenging, or simply a great deal of effort. Much useful energy can be dispersed in the conjuring of various scenarios of the future, each playing out in a different, often unpleasant, way.
These events can be physical or mental — a hostile meeting, a difficult interview, the advent or recurrence of the “black dog” of depression or stress, which sits so menacingly on the horizons of our consciousness.
Some of these events are threatening only in the build-up to them, and in fact present far fewer difficulties than we had imagined. Others may live up to their dismal forecast, but the energy we have would be more useful employed in dealing with the event as it happens rather than dissipated beforehand in dread.
It is at times like these, when our faith is most desperately needed, that it can seem to vanish like the thin mist at the beginning of a scorching summer’s day, leaving only heat and discomfort in its place. This prayer, in its Lutheran plainness, can seem then like a cool drink, offering life-affirming refreshment and an opportunity to reset our focus.
It does not seek to belittle our fears or anxieties, but instead encourages us to name them and face them squarely. The prayer acknowledges that some of the things we set out to do may indeed be difficult, the hardest part being that we cannot foresee the outcome, and do not know what we will encounter on our journey to or arrival at that outcome.
Yet it also reminds us of the reason for our actions — that we have been called in God’s name, as disciples of Christ, to go “as lambs among wolves” and share the good news of God’s love with all people (Luke 10.1-5).
We are led to ask for the faith to continue on our journey bravely, not to squander our energies on formless anxiety or worry, but being confident that God will furnish us with all that is necessary to overcome our difficulties, and trusting in the constant presence of Christ as the companion on our journey. We cannot know the outcome of our ventures, but we can be sure that if they are made in God’s name, we will ultimately be successful.
The Revd Sally Welch is the Vicar of Charbury with Shortampton, and Area Dean of Chipping Norton. She edits New Daylight Bible-reading notes for BRF, and is the author of several books, including Every Place is Holy Ground (Canterbury Press, 2011).