Tag Archives: light

God as Light and Darkness

4 Mar
Photo via Flickr user Wendell

Photo via Flickr user Wendell

Last week I hear Addie Zierman talk about her book When We Were on Fire in the context of the darkness of Lent. She grew up in an Evangelical setting that pushed the metaphor of God as Light. She thought God was only real when she felt the light shining on her. God was near when she felt on fire. God was supposed to be exciting and startling, and a life of faith was supposed to be filled with mountaintop moments of light.

Then she started suffering from depression. She tried to fill her life with artificial light, which took the form of wine, television and service. Her instinct was, instead of dwelling in the darkness, to switch on the light. It didn’t keep. The darkness loomed. Consumed. It felt like her chest was filled with cement. She was living in darkness, and she couldn’t find God anywhere.

Since being diagnosed with depression, Addie has had to acknowledge that seeing God as light is just too narrow of a metaphor for her. She had to form a new theology of darkness.

She turned to the Bible to try to find God in the darkness as well as the light. In Genesis 1, we see that God and darkness were all that existed at first. God created light, but the darkness did not go away. God looked at day and night and said that it was good. Indeed, the light needs darkness. We need them both. God dwells in the light, but God is in the dark, too. When God formed a covenant with Moses, it was not in the light of the burning bush. It was at Mount Sinai, where Moses left the people to enter into the thick darkness where God was. It was there a promise was made, and it was from there, when Moses emerged from the darkness, that his face was radiant.

In the darkness of Lent, we seek Jesus in the desolate corners of our hearts. We do not look for God in the burning bush, but in the thick darkness of our neighborhoods. It is a season not to flick on the lights, but to dwell in the darkness and know that God is there with us. We hope, come Easter, when we emerge from the darkness, our faces will be radiant from our encounter as well.

Waiting in the Dark

4 Dec
Photo via Flickr user Alexander Boden

Photo via Flickr user Alexander Boden

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning. Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made. In him was life, and that life was the light of all mankind. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it. –John 1: 1-5

It is Advent. It is cold and dark.

We Minnesotans are a people who understand true darkness and cold. Every year we hunker down, turning inward, sure that the darkness will prevail. Then, our pupils adjust ever so slightly. We find our Smartwool, dust off the teakettle and light candles. We snuggle by the fire. In Advent, we remember that there is a baby on his way. Hope breaks through the cold. Light prevails. Jesus, the light of the world will draw near. We can almost hear his heartbeat in this sacred time of waiting.

Violence in Paris, Minneapolis, Colorado Springs. The darkness is all around us. We get this Advent thing. We’re living it.

When the light goes out, our instinct is to rush to turn it back on again, to get comfortable, to go back to normal. In Advent, we sit in the darkness. We acknowledge it. We wait for our eyes to adjust, and we realize there is enough light in the darkness with which to work.

This waiting in the darkness is not passive. It’s active waiting. It’s, as Nouwen points out, becoming more present in this dark and cold time and place.

Patience is not waiting passively until someone else does something. Patience asks us to live the moment to the fullest, to be completely present to the moment, to taste the here and now, to be where we are. When we are impatient, we try to get away from where we are. We behave as if the real thing will happen tomorrow, later, and somewhere else. Be patient and trust that the treasure you are looking for is hidden in the ground on which you stand. –Henri J.M. Nouwen

Meeting At The Light

24 Dec
Photo via Flickr user  Avital Pinnick

Photo via Flickr user Avital Pinnick

I’m always looking for places to meet, hang out and talk with people of other faith traditions. Figurative places and literal places. One of my dearest friends, when we both lived in New York, invited me to her Shabbat table on Fridays as a literal place to meet, hang out, and talk about faith and life. Now she lives in Michigan and I live in Minnesota, and we still find figurative places to meet. Right now, we are meeting around the idea of light. She recently transitioned from a work trip in sunny Ethiopia to the dark winter of Michigan and resonated with my Advent posts about light. She is in the season of Hanukkah, and said this:

This year the idea of Hanukkah – literally meaning rededication – is much more striking – a rededication to each other, to faith, to life, to hope. Lighting a candle in these dark days is so important. By Jewish law, the Hanukkah candle is not to be used for anything else – you are not to use it to read something by or sew by, etc., unlike the Sabbath candles. The idea is to just let the light be and shine forth. It’s to gather people close for reflection and prayer. It’s the ultimate symbol and that’s all it’s supposed to be. We set the menorah in the window to demonstrate that we are here, not afraid, and that in this house there is light for all who wish to see…

I love the idea of the Hanukkah candle being light for just light’s sake, with no other purpose than to shine forth. And I love that Jews and Christians can come together in their respective liturgical seasons and talk about the goodness of light and rededication to hope, to faith, to life and to each other.

May your season be filled with the goodness of pure light and may that light bring your heart a sense of peace and hope.

Reflecting the Light

18 Dec
via Flickr user Amanda Slater

via Flickr user Amanda Slater

We are waiting for our Savior. We are waiting for the light.

There was a man sent from God, whose name was John. He came as a witness, to bear witness about the light, that all might believe through him. He was not the light, but came to bear witness about the light. –John 1:6-8

Our world needs a little light right now, and it is easy to make the mistake of feeling like we have to produce that light. We look out to see poverty, Ebola, torture, Ferguson, and Gaza, and get overwhelmed and burned out trying to create light. But we can fire ourselves from that unachievable job. God is the light, God can bring light out of darkness. We don’t need to create the light, but we do need to recognize it and multiply it by reflecting it out into the world, into the dark corners of our hearts and our lives.

We are not the light, but are called to bear witness to the light. So this Advent I’m asking myself, “How, in the quiet waiting of Advent, can I prepare myself to reflect the light?” What does active waiting look like?

My newborn is especially attracted to light right now. He stares at the contrast of window blinds and stares contentedly toward any light that is on. He himself emits light through his innocent goodness. I get lost in the deep well of beautiful light coming from his eyes. I watch him be a witness to the light and reflect that light effortlessly every day. How can I do the same light reflection and sharing as naturally as he does?

This year my spouse and I bought a solar lamp, which is supposed to help combat seasonal depression in the dark, dreary winter season. I sit in front of the light box for about 30 minutes every morning while I sip coffee and start my work. I love my light therapy. I look forward to getting out of bed, knowing that coffee and light await me. This Advent, I have taken that time in the morning to pray in front of the light and intentionally feel my body soaking in the rays. I imagine the light welling up inside of me so that I can glow for the rest of the day and share that light with others. When the time is up and I switch the light off, I feel energized and at peace. I’m warm, open, and looking for light in the rest of my day. It is a small spiritual exercise, but it is making a change in my heart.

For me, I’m taking the charge to bear witness to the light this Advent quite literally. I seek out light daily in hopes of being more warm, open and ready to receive and reflect that light that is Christ. How are you preparing to bear witness to the light?

Let Your Light Shine

6 Feb
Photo by flickr user jlodder

Photo by flickr user jlodder

It was just over two years ago that my sister invited me to a fundraiser for the KGSA Foundation, a non-profit organization based in the Twin Cities whose mission is to engage globally by providing resources and advocacy to support the needs of local communities. Knowing my interest in education and empowerment for young women, she told me that the current focus of the KGSA Foundation was a partnership with the Kibera Girls Soccer Academy (KGSA), a free, community-run, all-girls secondary school in Kibera, one of the largest slums in the world located on the outskirts of Nairobi, Kenya.

In response to her request, I launched into the sort of hemming and hawing that I usually reserve for telemarketers: “I don’t know if we can afford to give to their cause right now, I hate to take a night away from the kids, I can’t bear to leave my warm house on a Thursday evening in the middle of a Minnesota December.” Having already met the founder of the KGSA Foundation, a charismatic young man in his middle twenties who graduated from our high school alma mater, my sister challenged me to show up and not be moved by the work this group was doing.

So with an attitude of “I’ll show her,” I arrived at the event. And despite not wanting to give my sister the satisfaction of being right, I found myself moved. I was taken in by the story of Abdul, a Kiberan man who was disturbed enough by the lack of options for the young women in his community (many young women either marry at a desperately young age or end up turning to prostitution to support themselves) that he started first a soccer program, to get the girls off the streets, and then a secondary school, so these girls could raise their prospects for the future. I was taken in by the story of Ryan, the KGSA Foundation executive director, who had met Abdul in a bar while on a study abroad program in Kibera and decided to dedicate his post-college years to supporting Abdul’s work. Taken in by these stories, my heart was more open to the appeal that followed. However, I knew that our family would only be able to give a little financially… and then I heard Ryan say that they were looking for interested volunteers to serve on the first board of directors for the Foundation.

Hearing this petition for help, I realized that it was the sort of thing I had not even known I had been looking for. I was in between jobs. I had put off any sort of volunteer work for the past four years of birthing and raising my two sons. Tired of feeling so overwhelmed by the world’s problems, I wanted a tangible way to live my desire for social justice in the world. I e-mailed Ryan the next day and was on the board of directors within a few weeks, lending my writing skills to the Foundation’s grant writing efforts.

In this week’s Gospel from Matthew 5, Jesus tells their disciples that they are a light for the world and that they must allow their light to shine before others in the form of their good deeds. And just in case we modern readers are not sure what these deeds would look like, the lectionary gives us a first reading from Isaiah that makes it plain: “Share your bread with the hungry, shelter the oppressed and the homeless; clothe the naked when you see them, and do not turn your back on your own. Then your light shall break forth like the dawn.”

That evening at the fundraiser I had so strongly resisted attending, I felt my light being called forth and I was at a point in my life where I could hear and respond to the call. We all have gifts that we can share with the world; we all encounter opportunities, big and small, to let our light shine in the world through our deeds. In your own life, when have you felt called to let your light shine? To what are you being called right now, whether you have been aware of it or not?

A Great Light

27 Jan

893277Last June I started working with a counselor because I was finally ready to face and move toward recovery from patterns of disordered eating that have followed me most of my adult life. This past December I sat in her office with Kleenex pressed to my eyes, wishing against reason that this action would stem the tide of tears, as I commented that this was the worst I had felt since beginning this work six months ago. I was mourning what this behavior has cost me in the past, feeling depressed in the present, and unable to see a hopeful future. From a psychological perspective, it was rock bottom.

A few weeks later, I started reading a book by Maria Harris, a Catholic lay woman and theologian, entitled Dance of the Spirit: The Seven Steps of Women’s Spirituality. According to Harris, the first step of a woman’s spiritual dance is awakening. She writes, “Spiritual Awakening is the capacity to start connecting with those aspects of ourselves that although real remain hidden—mystery, and love, and sorrow, and dreams of wholeness—those that make us truly us” (page 4). Her idea of spiritual awakening sure sounded a lot like the work I had been doing in counseling to better understand my own behavior, to better attend to my own feelings, and to better express my own truth… and yet her positive depiction of awakening seemed in such stark contrast to the darkness and gloom I had been experiencing.

Only a few paragraphs later, I discovered why her image of awakening was so much more hopeful than I had been feeling: “Something has made us alert and kindled our sensitivity to and awareness of the deep places, the quiet places, the hidden places. Something has called us to follow the hunch that now is the time to allow the light into these places, to be willing to look at the shadows, too, and to become comfortable with both” (page 5). In the Christian tradition, this something is God. God lures us toward a recognition of our full and true selves because God already knows, accepts, and loves this full and true self and wants us to know, accept, and love it, too.

Being able to see that God had been with me on this journey of self-discovery and, more importantly, that God had called me to it and was the condition that made it possible did not take away all the pain. But it did help me to understand the rock bottom moment not only as a negative, sorrowful step in my spiritual dance but also as a great grace because it is from this crisis point that new possibilities will be born.

In the first reading for this Sunday from Isaiah, we read this line that is then echoed in the Gospel: “The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; upon those who dwelt in the land of gloom a light has shone.” Certainly, this verse has a corporate tone, proclaiming the way in which knowing Yahweh has made a difference for the Israelites. But given my recent experience, I cannot help but hear it speaking directly to me. What I initially experienced as a moment of great darkness became a moment of light once I was able to see God’s hand in it. I had been dwelling in the land of gloom, but now I trust a little better that there is a light at the end of the tunnel toward which God is guiding me. This does not mean that there will not be anguish along the road, but rather that this anguish will be tempered by a sense that God is there, loving me toward a future I cannot yet envision but wait for with expectant hope.

%d bloggers like this: