When You Cannot See and Do Not Know

Imagine that you’re riding a high-speed train. From your seat you gaze out the window at the screaming blur of images.

But then you get up and walk to the rear of the train, where you stand on the platform. From there you can see a flowing river of steel tracks, a vast landscape of corn on both sides of the tracks, and a distant mountain range.

The view from the window presents raw information; the platform gives perspective.

That metaphor is not original with me. A journalist (who I cannot remember or find) wrote something similar many years ago to describe the difference between journalism and history. Journalists try to make sense of the blur; historians observe the wide panorama from the rear of the train.

High-tech is necessarily high speed, and speed favors raw information. As a result people, institutions, and nations are losing a sense of perspective.

Our turbulent times pull many toward the side windows. Watching the blur of colors and shapes, they try to report on What It All Means. But it’s futile. Speed makes the view unintelligible and meaningless.

Peter Marshall, the famous Washington, DC pastor and US Senate chaplain in the 1940s, told a story from the early days of ministry in his native Scotland.

Deeply troubled about his own calling and future, he went for a walk late one night. As he walked across unfamiliar ground, the fog closed in around him. But he kept walking. Then out of the dark he suddenly felt a gentle hand stopping him. He froze.

Falling to the ground, he saw that he was crouched at the edge of a deep rock quarry. One more step would have hurled him to his death. That moment became a reference point for his whole life.

We all have moments when we are blind; we cannot see the path ahead and do not know where we are. I think many of us stand at such a point now. So what should we do?

I don’t know.

But I know that some attitudes and actions are appropriate in any and every season:

  1. Stop
    When everything around you seems to demand sound and movement, resist it. Like Peter Marshall, just stop. That may be counterintuitive, but it’s always wise.
  2. Humble Yourself
    Pride is a thief. It steals leadership, integrity, and wisdom every day. “Humble yourself” is always appropriate. But it is crucial in navigating crises. Real confidence is never proud.
  3. Meditate
    This is the “walk to the back of the train” component. Turn away from the blur; withdraw into the sanctuary in your heart. Be alone with God. Step into the timeless dimension. See everything from that higher place. Stay there a long time before returning to your window seat.
  4. See
    We all want to know more stuff. But knowledge is overrated. The real issue is: what do you see? After you spend time meditating in the secret place, look with “new eyes” at your surroundings. Ignore your emotions; they are lying to you. View everything as objectively as possible.
  5. Live
    I wish I had more education. But, as a friend recently reminded me, life contains its own training. Get up every morning and walk fearlessly into your day. Report for duty. Do the mundane and the marvelous with the same attitude. Allow real life to convert your experiences into wisdom.
  6. Be Here…Now
    Most of life happens within a few feet of where you stand. Yes, planning is important. But, more often, we should just focus on right here, right now. This age tends to pull us all away from our life. It teaches us to focus on “out there” and “tomorrow.” That is often just a mirage. Ignore it.
  7. Build RelationshipsAnd most of life happens at face to face. What you think of lesbians, African-Americans, Republicans, alcoholics, or Muslims is abstract. The actual person sitting across the table is real and important. Build relationships with those in your path. Disregard the categories.


Here’s a secret: in times of convulsion and crisis, most of life stays the same. We still shower, get dressed, pay bills, eat some food, and clean the cat box. We do not need to move around or make noise in order to validate our worth.

That’s why, even in bad times, you can and should “Make it your goal to live a quiet life, minding your own business and working with your hands.” (1 Thessalonians 4:11)

21 thoughts on “When You Cannot See and Do Not Know”

  1. Ed…Thanks for perspective. In the of the muddle my Dad, Don Harrison, went home to God. That homecoming was and is a blessing.

  2. Such a fine word about giving history time to unfold, not reacting, but being quietly thoughtful, cautious, kind and minding your own business.

    Your reference to 1 Thessalonians Chapter 4:11 was so applicable. I read the next verse (v 12), and it supports the spirit of your thoughts here: “Then people who are not believers will respect the way you live, and you will not need to depend on others.” (NLT)

    Thanks for sharing your gift of communication.

  3. Mike Mikeworth

    Ed, Thanks for the thoughts – timely, as usual. I just completed 4+ years of a project for the local workforce board and finding myself on the search for my next project. Ecclesiastes 11:6 is my constant reminder to avoid idleness, but understanding that “sowing my seed in the morning” has much more to do with meditation and focusing on the “right now” rather than getting consumed with the “whats and hows” of activity. I’ve been in this place multiple times, but it is counter-intuitive to my predisposition to make things happen. The “forced stop” on my i-Mac is such an appropriate metaphor for this season of my life. On several occasions I have had a program on the computer running (seemingly on its own), not responding to my keystroke commands. The only alternative is to force stop the program. I am no longer in control of the program and have to go to a higher level, behind the program to make it stop. I reckon such is the situation with me and my “operator”. To your bullet-point #7 I was reminded of a favorite cinematic scene of mine. In the non-acclaimed Heath Ledger movie, FOUR FEATHERS, there is a scene with him (as a dishonored colonial British officer) being mugged and left to die in the Sudan desert. A large Sudanese Mohammedan finds him, nourishes him back to health, follows him around, protecting him in this foreign culture. At one point the main character, out of frustration, confronts his Sudanese “protector”, challenging him as to why he will not leave him alone. The response is simple: “Because God put you in my way.” The response reflected a cultural understanding of responsibility for his neighbor, regardless of the different worlds from which they came. I try to frequently ask myself, “Who has God put in my way?” – Mike

      1. Darwin Schierer

        Ed, you will not regret taking time to watch THE FOUR FEATHERS. It’s been on my mind for quite a while that it’s time to watch it agai.

  4. Thank you Ed for this great word. Deana is having me print it off so she can take it with her today to give to some of her friends. Very timely.

  5. Marianne Paulus

    You are so right, Ed. Some attitudes and actions are appropriate in every season and are especially needed when the train is traveling very fast. Good, good reminders. Thanks.

  6. David Edgerrton

    Before I retired a women I had worked with for years wanted to talk.
    Although I had not agreed with her lifestyle, I always treated her with respect.
    Its not what others are, it is about who we are. Working with anyone should not cause change in who we are.

  7. Thanks, Ed. Helps me keep my focus on Jesus and “me”; and let the hullaballoo of politics, media, commerce, etc. pass on by. “This, too, shall pass”. But the Lord is forever.

  8. Robert Moeller

    Very accurate word Ed. This year has brought a tangible silence to my being, as national and world events are spiraling, God has brought a silence. It’s like we are in a quiet place of prayer and knowing that He is our Father and is not changing from His passionate love and gift of repentance and redemption.

  9. Expanding perspective, being humble, engaging society in front of us, becoming content all ring so true to me. Abraham Joshua Heschel wrote “The meaning of awe is to realize that life takes place under wide horizons, horizons that range beyond the span of an individual life or even the life of a nation, a generation, or a era”. Thank you so much for your contribution today to help us settle down to that which is really important.

      1. In 1972 I was stationed at Kessler AFB in Biloxi, MS. I remember visiting a coffee house ministry in downtown Mobile, AL. Most likely went there with Walt Beaulieu. I remember hearing a chorus sung that has remained deeply rooted in me all of these years later from Habakkuk 3:17-18 as follows:

        “Though the fig tree does not bud and there are no grapes on the vines, though the olive crop fails and the fields produce no food, though there are no sheep in the pen and no cattle in the stalls, yet I will rejoice in The Lord, I will be joyful in God my Savior.”

        The theme here is that living in scarcity does not equate with one not experiencing God nor an inability to express to him one’s appreciation with the life that has been given to one. I think that as we maintain our focus on God we may not realize any scarcity that surrounds us.

  10. Once again, i thank you Ed. I am reminded of a song recorded by “Hillsong”
    the Chorus is: “when the oceans rise and thunders roll I will soar with You above the storm. Father you are King over the flood, I will be still … know You are God…”
    Stillness, quietness, trust … secret weapons for life… Makes me want to worship Him…

  11. Darwin Schierer

    This encouragement to step back from the fray at regular intervals to ask myself “what DOES it mean from Gods perspective?”, rather than, “What COULD it mean?”, from my view through small and foggy window, as life whizzes too quickly to process is just what I needed today. I may just need it tomorrow, also. Thanks

  12. Thanks, Ed.
    Dad used to say, “One lifetime is not enough for a man to learn anything.” I am blessed that you share yours so freely.
    I think I’ll go gaze at the tracks for a while.

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