Brown Mountain Lights (a guest post – and song – from Amanda Held Opelt)

by Rachel Held Evans Read Distraction Free

Today I am delighted to introduce you to my little sister, Amanda Opelt. Amanda and her husband Tim recently moved from the big city of Nashville to Boone, North Carolina, where Tim is in graduate school at Appalachian State University and Amanda works at Samaritan’s Purse. Amanda has been writing songs and performing since she was in junior high, and living in Boone has given her a great opportunity to connect with her Appalachian roots. She recently set up a Band Camp page, so be sure to check out her music there. UPDATED April 2015: Please visit her Web site

The lyrics of one song, "Brown Mountain Lights," struck me as especially beautiful, and something to which you might relate, especially in light of your response to “They Were Right (And Wrong) About the Slippery Slope.” I asked Amanda to share some thoughts about the song, and this is what she wrote back. 


Brown Mountain Lights 
by Amanda Opelt 

I first heard about the Brown Mountain Lights from Janet, a Boone native. We were having dinner with a group and someone was asking her how to get to Wiseman's View- apparently, the best lookout point for spotting the legendary lights.  

She explained how her father used to drive her down State Road 1238 late at night and take her down the dirt path to Wiseman’s View, in hopes of seeing the floating fireballs and glowing orbs rumored by some locals to be the souls of Cherokee maidens searching for their braves lost at war.  I asked if she’d ever seen the lights.  She looked at me a smiled wryly with a glow in her eyes.  “Well of course I’ve seen the Brown Mountain Lights.” It was if to say, “I was a hopeful child up past my bedtime.  I saw what I wanted to see.”

The lights aren’t a new phenomenon.  Reports of them were recorded as early as 1771.  One popular legend is that the lights are the lantern of a faithful slave searching for his lost master.  Maybe the reason I have such a fascination with the lights is that one explanation is that the glow is from the torch of a young woman named Amanda who is searching for her fiancé who never came to meet her on their wedding day.  Many scientific studies have been conducted in an attempt to solve the mystery.  The lights even have a Wikipedia page.  

One night in the fall, my husband Tim and I drove up to mile 310 on the Blue Ridge Parkway, supposedly another good spot for viewing the lights.  We watched for an hour, but didn’t see them.

Janet’s comment got me thinking about hope and faith.  How sometimes, we see things the way we want to see them. Our eyes and our heart can play tricks on us.  We do that in lots of areas of our lives- one kind glance from a boy we have a crush on in high school becomes indisputable evidence that he is in love as well.  We “lay out the fleece” in the spirit of Gideon and see random coincidences as signs from God that we should move to a certain city or take a certain job.  Most of the time, we are seeing what we want to see.  That boy may not in reality love me, but in my mind he does.  Functionally, faith achieves what I want it to achieve, and I create a reality in which I can live comfortably. 

Studying the sightings of the lights also got me thinking about faith and doubt.  We approach Scripture with doubt or cynicism, and we see inconsistencies; we approach it with faith, and we see certainty and clarity.  Patsy Keller, a Burke County woman who grew up at the foot of the mountain, said three things must happen in order for you to see the Brown Mountain Lights: "You must have your eyes focused on where they are. Next thing is that they must appear. The last thing is that you must believe that they are there." The truth about these lights is that they probably do exist- there’s too much evidence, too many sightings over too many years.  Still, there are those who doubt.

In Christian circles, people talk about “The Faith” as if it is something very much outside of you- like somehow, belief just descends on you and it resides in your heart like an immovable stone. But faith is not like that for everyone.  I can’t explain why I struggle with doubt about God and meaning, but other dear friends of mine don’t.  I don’t think it’s because they are less thoughtful or honest than I am.  And I like to think I am not the “surf of the sea” of James 1:6 who is “driven and tossed by the wind.”  But faith and hope are transcendent and look different for everyone.  Sure, truth and the object of our hope do exist very much outside of us, but faith depends on us in some sense.  It is because I am, and I have a heart and soul that gives it a home.

Faith, though it can start small as a seed, can grow into a towering tree if nurtured.  Of course, so can doubt.

On New Year’s Eve, Tim and I were up on Grandfather Mountain and we were looking out over the Pisgah National Forest where Brown Mountain is.  Suddenly Tim gasped- he said he could see a light pulsing at the base of the mountain.  I stood for long minutes waiting and watching but saw nothing.  I don’t know why he saw them and I couldn’t.

But we have plans to hike to Wiseman’s once the spring comes.  I am determined to make that drive up the Blue Ridge as many times as it takes until I see the lights.  I am, honestly, strangely obsessed and utterly committed. Sometimes, it reminds me of what following a 1st century carpenter from Nazareth is like - a steady seeking with a diligent hope, an expectant waiting.  If I had seen it, I wouldn’t need faith.  

Brown Mountain Lights

It’s the breath of a bird in my hand
My plans are so delicate
It’s the penny I threw in the water hole
Oh the fortune that is hope

It’s the art of faith
The part where you pull and push it

And I climbed the path to Wiseman’s View
And I saw the lantern split in two
And if I felt the glow, then why can’t you
I saw the Brown Mountain Lights

At 7 years old, as a child
Oh the miles my heart knew
But the breath of a doubt like a shadow falls
Like a stone in my shoe

It’s the art of faith
The part where you coo and coax it

And I climbed the path to Wiseman’s View
And I knew the day I first laid eyes on you
And maybe you don’t but I do, I do
I saw the Brown Mountain Lights

It will be like an aspen from a seed
It will be, if you will it, it will be

It’s the art of faith
The part where you give and take it

And I drove my car to mile 310
And I saw the souls of slaves and Indians
And maybe they aren’t, but I am, I am
I saw the Brown Mountain Lights

Listen to more of Amanda's songs!

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