21: Light #Lent2021

Jesus says, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.” (John 8:12)

“Ohhh, this is my favorite light!”

My grown sons in California could tell you instantly what I mean by that – they grew up hearing me say those words whenever we were out and about at the hour of twilight. How I wish I could marshal and shape the words to describe that nearly-lavender, suffused light the world is in just past sunset…I’ve tried googling “How to describe twilight” to see what poets and others have attempted – but mostly just get results about a certain movie/book I’ve never seen/read(!).

Twilight – it is soft and lovely, and sometimes even a little mysterious because it’s a time-between: it’s not quite day, not quite night…there’s potential for uncertainty, for perplexity…and I here must admit I certainly experience some perplexity with this reading for today! It’s titled “Jesus is the Light of the World,” which is how it starts…but then the bulk of this passage is some fairly convoluted back-and-forth about testifying and judging and validity and witnesses, and rather circular testimony – or so it seems to me, truth be told.

So…by golly I’m going to focus on the “light and darkness” for this reflection (and might create some more convolutions for us, as well!).

“Darkness” of course is often used as a metaphor for blindness, stumbling, not doing well – generally negative things. Yet darkness is also…restful, calming, a time for renewal (ever been kept from sleeping by sun shining through split curtains, or a bright clock face or cell phone charger?). We need darkness!

And of course there is a whole world of creatures who act and thrive in the dark. Why, behind my house there are owls and coyotes and mice and who-knows-who-else which in fact live and move and have their being in the dark hours!

And when I take my dog out for our around-midnight last trip to the backyard, sometimes I don’t even turn on the back light, even though I step out with her and strive to be alert for coyotes that might be nearby…because that bright light is like the flashlight that Edward Abbey writes about in his lovely book, Desert Solitaire: A Season in the Wilderness: “Like many other mechanical gadgets it tends to separate [us] from the world around [us]. If I switch it on my eyes adapt to it and I can see only the small pool of light which it makes in front of me; I am isolated. Leaving the flashlight in my pocket where it belongs, I remain a part of the environment I walk through and my vision though limited has no sharp or definite boundary” (p. 15). With my dog in my backyard, unless it’s a moonless night I can generally see better and farther without my electric porch light on – I see instead by, well…actually, the light of the world (!): the moon, the stars, the ambient reflection off of snow.

And to poke the notion of light-vs-darkness a bit more, consider that light can be too bright, unrelenting and merciless. “The harsh light of day” is a saying we’re all familiar with, right? What does this do to the common “light = positive; darkness = negative” claim? (Which we’re sure Jesus is meaning here, right?)

It starts getting as convoluted as Jesus’ next statements about testimony and validity, etc.!

Maybe one of the reasons I love twilight so much is that it contains both darkness and light. In the midst of the mystery, there is also…wholeness. Life has (perhaps, life requires?) both light and darkness, right?

I just can’t think of Jesus as the flashlight or the porch light that, while it drives the darkness back and out of this spot right here, isolates me from the whole of life beyond the limited illuminated circle. Rather, perhaps there’s something so whole, so full about Jesus that enables us to – not have to walk/stumble blindly in darkness – but live and move and have our being also in the kinds of darkness that are inevitably part of our lives. Whether it’s the frightening darkness of loss or grief or conflict, or the renewing darkness of rest and refreshment, Jesus’ light of the world may guide us to a wholeness that enables us to cope and even thrive through all of life’s spectrum…darkness, brightness, twilight…

Of course twilight doesn’t only happen in the evening, but in the morning, too, as the darkness of night and the light of the coming day mingle…

…and, despite my brief musings on how darkness can be experienced positively, our human eyesight does indeed function best in the full light of day…

…and, given the story that immediately precedes this reading in the Gospel of John – in which Jesus’ critics challenge him by bringing to him a woman “caught in the act of adultery” (which takes two, but only she was brought? – well, that’s another reflection for another time), and Jesus invites anyone without sin to cast the first stone – I’ll finish by sharing a favorite story about night and day, light and darkness:

An old rabbi once asked his students how one could recognize the time when night ends and day begins. “Is it when, from a great distance, you can tell a dog from a sheep?” one student asked. “No,” said the rabbi. “Is it when, from a great distance, you can tell a date palm from a fig tree?” another student asked. “No,” said the rabbi. “Then when is it?” the students asked. The rabbi answered, “It is when you look into the face of any human being and see your brother or your sister there. That is when you know that night has ended and day has begun.”

The “light of the world,” indeed! Ω

Reflect: When have you most powerfully encountered Jesus: in darkness, brightness, or twilight times of life? When have you experienced him as light?

What is this? Lent is the 40 days, excluding Sundays, before Easter. Traditionally it is a time of intense reflection and pilgrimage. To help you on this journey, Sanctuary has put together 40 stories from people both within and beyond the congregation, with associated questions for reflection and prayer. A reading will be uploaded every day of Lent.

Pam Faro is a gifted Biblical storyteller. She wrote this devotion for her own congregation, Atonement Lutheran Church in Boulder, Colorado, but on request also shared it with us here at Sanctuary. Find her here. #Lent2021. Real People, Real Stories: 40 Readings for Lent, Sanctuary, 2021. Image credit: Rachel Coyne on Unsplash.

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