An unsettling and widening shadow is moving across the storied landscape of this country as it seeks to elect a 44th president. Peevish and downright ugly debates have sprung up everywhere, as is the usual course in these times.

Our unalienable rights to "life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness" outlined in the Declaration of Independence include the presumptive right to intellectual freedom. To some, heaven on earth is the rapturous joy found in the pursuit of knowledge and truth. But truth has an undeniable spiritual element. It resides somewhat elusively outside of us.

All roads may have led to Rome at one point, but the same cannot be said of the way to truth. It has many switchbacks and dead-end rabbit trails. Who on earth can tell us if we have found the right road? We are only looking at one piece of the map at any given time. We don't have the whole perspective.

Ancient Rome and Greece had their share of elitist philosophers, orators and artists. Truth seekers, all. There were even satirists like Horace who counseled that writers should wait nine years before seeking to be published. Perhaps that should translate to 90 today. It should be truly humbling and sometimes scary to call oneself a "writer."

Or "preacher."

As recorded in the gospel of John, Roman governor Pontius Pilate asked Jesus, "What is truth?" (John 18:38). Pilate had been unable to grasp Jesus' statement, "Everyone who is of the truth hears my voice." Pilate's question — "Quid est veritas?" — was somewhat rhetorical. For Pilate, it had no answer. For the one scorned as "King of the Jews," it was otherwise.

A few years later, Paul, proclaiming the gospel to the gentile world, would stand on Mars' Hill and speak to the Greeks about their altar "To the Unknown God" in an effort to enlighten them. He spoke of nations groping for God when, in fact, God was never far from them. He reminded the Greeks that even some of their own poets had written of being God's "offspring."

Only a few believed him that day.

Today, few in our still deceptively young nation bother to read the history of the world, especially regarding the rise and influence of the church. "We, the people" are, therefore, easily led astray. Even those entrusted with being godly truth purveyors and called to shepherd and inspire their flocks neglect to take the time to be inspired by the living word of God.

Such are the campaign foibles. Politicos currently spar like children with rubber swords. They forget how to use the the point of the actual sword.

The farther we travel down the rabbit trails we see as representing truth, the sadder and more elusive becomes our pursuit of happiness.

Who is worthy of leading this nation in the years ahead? Will truth matter to him or her?

As Thanksgiving gives way to the season in which Christians celebrate the humble birth of a king, we might consider doing more than merely groping our way through the darkness. We might seek the ever-present light of the world we so easily miss.

Debbie Thurman, an author, writes from Monroe, Va.