Before my morning prayer, I read my daily Psalm. "The Lord is the light and my salvation," the 27th Psalm begins, "whom shall I fear?" After having read the Psalm, I closed my eyes and in the silence began to reflect on light. There is a beauty to light as it breaks through leaves on trees in a forest or dances in motes through the window and creates a patch on the floor, which is usually where I will find one of our dogs so that they can be bathed in its warmth. I am fascinated by light, so much so, to the dismay of my family, I will watch documentaries like Forces of Nature: Color that deal with color as a complex array of light. It's incredible to think about how light not only affects color but is composed of colors. The color of the light depends on the length of its wavelengths. And both determine the energy of the light, with violet waves having the most because it has the shortest length. Sunlight contains all the colors of the rainbow.
I love light and the shadows cast by light. It is one of the things I most enjoy taking photos of (along with clouds and the sky) much to the puzzlement of my family.
When I was a small boy, my family went camping along the Outer Banks on the North Carolina coast. One night, my grandfather, Papa Fred, led me by my tiny hand to the shore. It was night and it was darker than what I, having been raised in a busy city, was used to. I could hear the sounds of the ocean, the night tides coming in and out. The air is salty and I can taste it on my lips. Overhead were more stars than I had ever seen in my life before. A canopy of stars brighter than they ever appeared in the city with all of its streetlights. It was breathtaking. As we stood there in awe and wonder, Papa Fred leaned down to me and whispered, "You are made up of the stuff of stars."
I had never heard such a thing before but it sounded magical. I looked up at the stars and him, doubtful but thrilled by the idea. It definitely made me see myself differently. I kept looking at my hands to see if they would glow like the light of the stars. He and I sat on that sandy beach and watched for shooting stars. I would never forget that moment. I was made of the stuff of light.
Many years later, I was a chaperone on a school field trip my older son's school took to Camp Kanuga in the mountains of Hendersonville. One night, one of the camp leaders led us on a midnight hike up one of the mountains. At first all of the kids were nervous and said, "But it's too dark!" The counselor smiled and led us up the path. It was amazing to all of us how our eyes adjusted to the lack of light and how we began to not only see more clearly, but hear more clearly too. It made me think of the Theodore Roethke line, "In a dark time my eyes begin to see." They were also enthralled by the bioluminescence of Foxfire, a fungi that grows on rotting logs, and glows with a dim green light.
God as light creating light. And then, throughout scripture, asking that we join in this by being light ourselves, light in the chiaroscuro of this world with all of its light and darkness and shadows. We are called to be the light in the darkened world to help others to see, to draw them to the light, to the love that we are reflecting, Christ's love.
The Dutch painter Vermeer was an artist who utilized light to great effect in his paintings, using light to draw the viewer's eyes to the subject, to the focal point. He used light and shadow to create space and dimension like no other artist before him had. Creating reflections in glass. Vermeer was able to do this by using a camera obscura (a box with a hole to look through. The inside of the box is painted white and there are a series of lenses and mirrors that reflect the exterior image within and intensify the light and shadows with the reflection, so he could notice the finer details on objects made by the shadows and light on them). One cannot help but be amazed by such details when looking at one of his glorious paintings.
Psalm 119:105 says, "Thy word is a lamp unto my feet and a light on my path." Amidst the darkness of the world, it is the very scriptures that are meant to illuminate how we are to live so that others will see and be drawn in by our light and our love. As that famous and oft-repeated passage in the Gospel of Matthew reminds us, "You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden. Nor do people light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven" (5:13-16).
Everyday I pray that, as I go about my day, I am a light to others in all that I say and do and write. I pray that the choices and decisions I make are based in light (love) and not darkness (fear). I strive to live this out by hopefully choosing kindness, mercy and compassion in my interactions with people instead of being guided fear because scripture tells us that perfect love casts out fear. Love, like light, is radiance and gives glory to God. This is critical in a world that is filled with so much distrust and fear. We have no problem sending missionaries to dangerous parts of the world, but we shrink in fear at the notion of refugees from Middle Eastern countries coming to our own homeland. We choose security over servanthood (being light) out of fear of the cost to ourselves and our family and our comfort.
Yet we forget that we are, all of us, refugees: exiled from Eden and from being the people God created us to be. Christ came to show us the light, that we had gotten lost from the path, from being the people we were created to be, to remind us of the reality of who his Abba was, and to let us know that to be light was to work daily for "on earth as it is in heaven." That means we are not to focus on a someday kingdom after this life, but work to be glimpses of that kingdom in the places where we are now. That means we have to move from self-serving motives to serving others, from darkness to light.
The world is in the darkness of night and we are to go about, like candles being carried in the dark, showing the light of Christ through our acts of compassion, mercy, grace, love, joy and peace. This is not easy or natural. Today, I heard another story on the news involving an act of violence in which one man sought to kill many others. Whenever there is such violence in the world, I pray that there isn't retaliation because it always lead to escalation. "Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called the children of God." This means that, like children, we are open and vulnerable to loving others, being a light for others amidst violence and terror. It takes more strength to respond in peace than it does in violence. Violence comes naturally. Peace comes spiritually. How many who heard Christ say those words turned back in disappointment that he was not offering a call to take up arms and overthrow Rome. They wanted a militaristic and nationalistic Messiah. How many of us today still want that? Yet Jesus is telling us, "That's not the way of the kingdom. You are to be light. You are to be love. You are to be peacemakers." I pray that I can be a peacemaker in my home, in my neighborhood, in my community and that what I do brings peace and wholeness.
One of my heroes, Archbishop Desmund Tutu, said, "Hope is being able to see that there is light despite all of the darkness."
Christ is our hope, our light.
With Christ in us, we are to offer hope, to offer light.
Too many in this world, including those who call themselves followers of Christ, are moved by fear and not light and love. To often, Christians shrink back in fear when they see the violence and acts of terrorism that appear to occur daily. It frightens so many. Fear is one of the deadliest hindrances to faith because it exists in the "What if . . .?" What if something happens to someone I love? What if I lose my job? What if someone opens fire on my child's school? Like the characters in Madeleine L'Engle's classic A Wrinkle in Time, we see the great darkness in the form of a great dark cloud, known as The Black Thing, overcoming so much of the universe. It is a personification of evil. Then they are shown by the Happy Medium how Christ and artists and philosophers have come to fight that darkness through beautiful acts of creation and self-sacrifice.
When I thought about this section of her Newberry Award winning novel, I was reminded of the Quaker leader, George Fox's saying, "I saw also that there was an ocean of darkness and death, but an infinite ocean of light and love, which flowed over the ocean of darkness." Christ was and is that light. We are called to be that ocean of light and love in this world darkened by fear and death and violence and cruelty and discrimination and hatred.
How can we do this?
Returning to Madeleine L'Engle, "We draw people to Christ not by loudly discrediting what they believe, by telling them how wrong they are and how right we are, but by showing them a light that is so lovely that they want with all their hearts to know the source of it."
We must do act accordingly. This world that appears so darkened and dimmed desperately needs to see the light of Christ in us. We can offer them glimpses of the kingdom through every act of compassion we perform. Let love speak loudest in this world that is too frequently drowned in words of hate, anger, distrust, fear, and hopelessness. Just as we cannot move mountains by ourselves but can move one rock at a time, we cannot change the world by ourselves, but we can affect the world by simply choosing to interact with each person who comes across our path with kindness, with love, with mindfulness. Let them be surprisingly dazzled by the light of our tenderness, our vulnerability, by our peacefulness. May any cold heart be thawed by the light of our love towards those who would not either ask for nor welcome it. May they catch glistening prisms of the light of the Lord out of the corner of their eyes when they see us about in the world. Let mercy, like light, touch gently on their shoulders.
Lord, may this begin with me.
I am reminded of one morning when I had gone in to work very early. It was still darkness when I entered, but as I came out of the store to go to my car, I was greeted with the most magnificently bright sunrise I had ever seen. Despite my exhaustion, coming out into this sunrise filled me with new life, with warmth, with gratitude. All I could do was gaze upon it and utter, "Thank you." My heart was filled with gratitude and love for a Creator who greeted me that morning in such a manner.
"Let there be light . . ."
Let us be light.