Doctor of Leadership in Global Perspectives: Crafting Ministry in an Interconnected World

The Shadow

Written by: on October 26, 2020

I stand on the bank of the raging river outside of Knowing’s Edge, watching the stream rush by before me.  The gurgling of the water flowing before is both enticing and terrifying.  I’m not entirely sure how long I’ve been at the inn – it feels like a long time, and yet not long at all.  In that time, I’ve watched as each of my companions had a moment of breakthrough and untied one of the boats in the small inlet nearby.  We simultaneously celebrated their respective revelations and mourned their leaving us, blessing them as they paddled their boats into the rushing waves of the unknown.

Flowing Water In Rushing River Provincial Park Near Kenora Ontario Print -  Rustic - Prints And Posters - by Posterazzi

New travelers arrive, coming and going.  They share their stories, where it is they come from and how they arrived at Knowing’s Edge.  Their stays are never the same, but they eventually leave.

And yet I’m still here, waiting for my breakthrough.

I crouch down, sitting in the tall reeds along the bank.  Pulling a cattail out by the roots, I begin to stir the small stretch of calm water before me, staring at my Reflection.

“They’ve all left you,” my reflection says to me.  “On to bigger and better things. And yet here you are.”

“They had their revelation,” I reply, suppressing the surge of anxiety that tries to mount in my heart.

“But why haven’t you?”

“I…don’t know.  They said it comes in time and that it is best to live in the tension.”

“But you don’t believe that, do you?  You’re one of action.  You don’t belong at Knowing’s Edge.  You belong back in your Tower.”

Despite my best efforts, anxiety takes hold.  The pull to the Tower – something I haven’t felt in the presence of my former companions – returns.  I cast a glance over my shoulder and the fog surrounding the inn clears just long enough for me to catch a glimpse of the Tower.

“Go back.  Here, at Knowing’s Edge, you are an imposter.  You’re not like the Explorer or the Artist or anyone else who has passed through here.  You’re above them – an Expert!  Go back to who you were – no, who you are.”

The Reflection’s face twists into a Shadow of itself.sand, water coast, shore, people, shadow, water, nature, reflection, high  angle view, lake | Pxfuel

The Tower beckons.

The Shadow rises in me, calling me out for the Imposter that I am.  It’s right, though.  Who did I think I was to even begin this journey?  I’m no Pilgrim.  I’m no Artist, no Explorer, no Entrepreneur, no Peacemaker, no Mystic, no Designer, no Pastor – hell, I’m not even an “Expert” (as I’ve been told at every step of this Journey).

How am I anything but an Imposter?

The Shadow grins wickedly, knowing that it’s hooks have found its mark and have sunk in deep.

“Follow me.” I pause, listening.  It’s that soft voice, a voice that I haven’t heard since the beginning.

“Go back.” 


“Go back.”

Follow Me into the Unknown.

We always stand at a crossroads in our Journey.  The Call to Return sits in the back of our mind, waiting for us at our most vulnerable and our defenses are down.  It bellows, berates, and beckons us to return to where we once were, a place where at one point we had security.

The second path is the Call to the Trust.  It does not bellow, it does not berate, but it invites us to the next leg of our Journey. It is a voice of peace; a quiet whisper that does not coerce, but in the simplicity of its command we cannot help feel drawn toward it.

Neither can force us to continue or retreat.  We can always stay on the Edge, waiting and waiting.

But the Breakthrough will happen.

Slowly, I make my way to the inlet and sit in the boat.  The speed of the current seems to pick up immediately, pulling and straining at the mooring line.  It takes effort – more than I would have thought – to untie the knots holding the boat in place.  It takes all my strength to hold onto the rope, anxiety trying to overwhelm me.

In the distance, the Tower glows, calling for me.

And then I let go, the current sweeping me away.



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About the Author

Dylan Branson

Small town Kentuckian living and learning in the big city of Hong Kong.

10 responses to “The Shadow”

  1. Darcy Hansen says:

    Your words remind me of when I was about 6 months into my wilderness season (which is at 3 years now). I remember the pull of wanting to go back to the church, to my people, to what I knew. I knew I’d have to go back with my tail between my legs though, I also knew if I went back, I’d have a lot of explaining to do. While those things seemed humbling and doable- there was one thing that kept me from returning- and that was my inability to breathe and fully be me in that space. For months leading up to my departure, I often felt like I was suffocating, boxed in, unable to move. I needed air and space. I have an abundance of both here in the wilderness- even though such space was/is super disorienting. It has taken me a few years to grow accustomed to the freedom God has given me here. Everything looks different. My community, church, terrain, and relationship with God. I don’t feel the pull to return anymore. In fact, I’ve gotten to the point where I am unwilling to return to any space that is confining or suffocating; I’m unwilling to settle for less of God just to be included or welcomed or have some illusion of security that comes with being part of a church. God continues to remind me I am part of the Church, which doesn’t require me to be part of a church. Maybe one day, God will lead me back- but today is not that day. For that, I am grateful. I pray your Expert finds his way in the vastness of space and air, and really learns to breathe and be. Why is freedom so disorienting and why do we keep trying to hold on to the edge, rather than simply let go? What practices help keep us grounded during times of disorientation so we don’t bolt back to the known?

    • Dylan Branson says:

      Maybe we find freedom so disorienting because we’ve never truly experienced it until one day…it’s suddenly there. We’re held captive by so many things that have their claws dug in to deeply. It’s like we’re in a perpetual state of Stockholm Syndrome. We don’t see the pain our captivity continues to inflict upon us day by day; and we miss it when it’s no longer there. Even for a split second of a moment, it can call us to us and we feel that intense desire to return.

      Every once in a while, I get this urge to return to my previous captivity when I was going through my dark night of the soul. But it’s in those moments that I’m grounded by the community I’ve surrounded myself with. Not that they keep me captive, but that they show me and encourage me and love me, showing me there’s a better way. And while yeah, it’s fun in the moment to give in, when the initial adrenaline wears off you’re left there dazed and confused. “Why did I do that? I thought I was better.”

      And perhaps that’s where the idea of hope comes in as well. We hope for a better day; for a time when the pain and struggle is over and we’re finally back to a state of stability. The question is whether we’ve found stability on new soil or if we’ve washed up back at where we started.

  2. Jer Swigart says:

    Ah…the Imposter emerges. Such a seductive demon.

    Dylan, how loud is the voice of the Imposter in your experience? What do you do to ignore it? And when you do ignore it, what grows in you?

    • Dylan Branson says:

      The Imposter is one of the loudest voices in my existence. It’s a demon I’ve learned to fight day in and day out to some extent. It becomes a war of attrition as it eats away at me. There are seasons where I’m able to stand strong – and those are the seasons where I feel most connected with my community. But when in the seasons when Darkness comes, it becomes harder to ignore. It starts as a tiny voice that is soon bellowing as loud as it can, shrinking the Self into near oblivion.

      This past week has been one of those times with attacks coming from multiple directions – at work, post-design workshop, family, friends, etc. – and the sheer exhaustion I felt is stronger than what I’ve felt before.

      I’ve found that for me, the Imposter can’t be ignored; it can be fought, but even then, that battle isn’t one we can truly fight alone. The temptation to ignore it and pretend things are find is always strong (I’ve traditionally kept a “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy if you will). But I know I have people – and One – who will stand with me. What grows is the constant realization that I’m not alone, despite how the Imposter makes it seem.

      • Jer Swigart says:

        When did you first notice the presence of the Imposter? Was your awareness connected to an experience? A relationship? A word spoken over you? What is the one practice that you engage in that you find diminishes the power of the Imposter in your life?

  3. Shawn Cramer says:

    Dylan, your story helps capture what I’ve been exploring this fall – the emotions around moving into the unknown. You’re convincing me that story might be the best way to convey this idea. Other than fear, what emotional processes do you observe within this journey?

    • Dylan Branson says:

      I’d say the big ones that come out of this journey are Hope, Anticipation, Regret, Exhilaration, Hesitance, Confusion, Longing, Discomfort, Comfort, Belonging…to name a few.

  4. Chris Pollock says:

    Thank you for being vulnerable. For being ok with the truth and reality of our human condition. Jesus gets it.

    I have to admit. I fight the shadow. There’s a loathing which becomes a self-loathing as the shadow sinks into me sometimes. Then, I end up apologising all over the place…the shame of it all.

    Finally, the letting go. And, who are we after that? What is left of us?

    From Thomas Keating’s, “The Last Laugh”:

    Nowhere is my destination.
    And no one is my identity.
    My daily bread is powerlessness.
    Temptations can be overwhelming.
    Gone is every hope of help.
    An abyss opens up within me.
    I am falling, falling,
    Plunging into non-existence.
    Is this annihilation?
    Or, is it the path to the Silent Love
    That we are?. . .

    • Dylan Branson says:

      Keating’s words struck a chord in me, Chris. Where are we going? How are we getting there? What is our identity in the journey? How does the journey INFORM our identity? Is it all for something? Or is it all for naught? What are the barriers that are holding us back, the momentum pushing us forward?

      So many questions.

  5. John McLarty says:

    Waiting for the breakthrough. So much frustration and second-guessing happens there. What is the most appealing aspect of returning the tower? What’s the biggest risk in trusting the journey?

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