December 10, 2013
We had 25 people at my parents’ house for Thanksgiving. Seventeen of my Kentucky relatives converged on Ocala, Florida, and packed the place with the bustle of the holidays that I know too well. Rich southern drawls echoed the halls of my childhood, guitar jam sessions on the porch, and food for days stretched the extent of the weekend. One night, after a day of the merriment, I was laying in my bed, almost asleep, when my eyes fell on my longbow hanging on the wall beside my bed. My mind started to race with the glisten of fascination that had been lying dormant for so many years. I love archery. Before I went off to college, I spent hours in a hunting shop that housed a full-blown archery range and tore their targets to pieces.
I never hunted anything. For me, the gold was never in the kill, but in the art of the process. Archery always seemed really straightforward to me. But it wasn’t until I really got into it, that I discovered that it’s a pretty complex and takes a boat-load of practice to master. The primal, earthy wonder of it seemed even deeper than that. So the next day, I decided to wake my longbow from its slumber and see if I could put words to it.
My family spends the day after Thanksgiving as far away from the Black Friday melee as humanly possible. We do some fishing. We make sugar cane syrup. The men go hunting. I slipped off on my own for a little while and set up my target. The early morning quiet was a welcome to my ringing ears as the only noise seemed to be far off-voices and the dew’s soft brush against my boots. I laced up my finger guards and set an arrow to the string on my longbow. I pulled back slowly and took aim. I was pleased to feel the muscle memory spill through my arms as I took my first shot. The seductive pang of the string sent the arrow soaring smoothly through the air and thwacked just off center on my target.
I set another arrow and took aim. It was then in the seconds before I’d release the string that I discovered it: the magic of this sport that touched me so deeply.
Balancing your grip on the bow and the pull of the string is a lot to ask of your arms, so taking aim can’t be a long process or you’ll sacrifice the accuracy of the shot. In that moment when the string is back, there are still so many things that could go wrong. One last-second pull on the bow upon release could destroy the aim you worked so hard for. Any subtle motion, or quick glance elsewhere could make you lose your line of sight and send the arrow off course. For success, you must ask your entire body to focus in silence and stillness. There’s an unspeakable vulnerability here, one that, through a few stormy years of my life, shelved something I loved because it asked for just that.
I can’t tell you how many times I’ve stood in the middle of my life, even at its most chaotic points, and cried out to God with little hope that He’d answer. I almost grew defensive with the idea that I would need to make any steps toward Him. That He could actually bother to ask me to do something in order to get to Him, like read His word or pray. My aim didn’t go any further than the length of my own nose. I wanted God to satisfy what I needed for what I wanted without surrendering myself to Him or His will at all. And since I knew He could do it, I’d get mad when He didn’t. He wasn’t my target. I was my target. And it was pulling me further and further away from Him.
It wasn’t long before He took me down. The next thing I knew, I was flat on my face before His transcendence. That transcendence only furthered by the glory of what it means to have Him as my focus. Because it’s in that moment, when the arrow is set and the string is back, it’s not MY strength or the soundness of MY aim that I’m leaning into.
It’s His. And He never misses.
Kate Hightower is writing to you from the middle of her Master of Divinity and Master of Arts in Christian Thought pursuit at Gordon-Conwell—Jacksonville, where she is also a Byington Scholar. She’s an avid Bob Dylan fan, and can always be counted upon for decadent French cooking. And she’s madly in love with her giant, brilliant golden retriever, Stella.
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