Of footsteps and shadows
Nov. 20, 2013
My shadow was reflected on a slight ridge as I took my usual morning walk through the Wollaston golf course on a sparklingly clear fall morning recently. The rising sun enveloped the trees, still brilliant but with colors fast fading.
It was a beautiful scene: the manicured grass, a tranquil pond with a fountain and a white fence bordering the mile-long walk from the entrance to the clubhouse. The silence was broken only by my footsteps, the occasional bird, and the splash of crystal water hitting the surface of the pond.
How peaceful: a golf course etched by man against a backdrop of nature in all its stunning glory. The course is a product of man’s ingenuity, but, some say, the immense background that holds it and all the other structures designed and built by man is the product of chance.
Man is the artist, planner, and builder on a colossal canvas that spontaneously erupted in space and haphazardly evolved into the universe, stars, planets, and, eventually, creatures. Life is a play performed on a stage against a background that just happened, all of it emerging from an endless cycle of accidents and coincidences.
As I walk, the sound of my footsteps and the cast of my shadow confirm my existence. Without me, my image would not darken the leaves on the side of the road. It is a trusted companion, always prepared, when the sun permits, to affirm my existence.
In much the same way, I think, creation reflects the existence of a higher power. The shadow of a presence should be obvious, but unable to see the source, we look elsewhere. Consumed by distractions, it’s easy to abandon the search.
If creation is God’s shadow then his footsteps are the themes that preoccupy mankind: love, truth, justice. Is there any human endeavor that does not involve in some way the acceptance or rejection of one or more of those virtues? Though often diluted, degraded, and debased, they are at the center of what we profess to want.
Did such noble concepts simply bubble up out of the evolutionary ferment or are they a manifestation of something larger? Are they also signs of a divinity, images in a shimmering pool of the purpose of our existence?
Did Hitler avoid justice by escaping into oblivion? Was there no accountability for the momentous crimes for which he was responsible? Is there no reward for those who conscientiously seek truth, do justice, and love others? Does it matter that some suffer and others prosper? Is creation a fluke without intent or purpose?
What a pathetic failure if love, truth and justice are only human artifacts. Our efforts to achieve them seem so puny when so often the good suffer and the evil prevail. Flawless accountability, of which we are incapable, requires absolute justice and unequivocal truth within a transcendent love.
My walks are a time for reflection. The only sense I can make of existence requires a divinity. Otherwise, it is all meaningless, for even a fraudulent scheme requires intent and purpose.
The grandeur I see in the natural world and our compelling need for love, truth, and justice confronts me. It says: “Must I make a personal appearance. My shadow and footprints are all around you. If you cannot find me, it is you that is hiding. Come out; open your eyes, mind, and heart. Here I am!”
I am reminded of a favorite poem, “The Hound Of Heaven,” by Francis Thompson. It begins:
“I fled Him, down the nights and down the days;
I fled Him down the arches of the years;
I fled Him down the labyrinthine ways
Of my own mind; and in the mist of tears
I hid from Him…”
James W. Dolan is a retired Dorchester District Court judge who now practices law.