What has come into being through the Word was life, and the life was the light of all people. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it. (John 1:4b-5).
Another day, another flick through the news and my heart sinks. I am struck by how the loudest religious voices so often seize my appalled attention as they use scripture to prove others wrong or less-than, to shore up their own power and privilege, to undermine truth-telling and justice, and to discredit, shame and reject people. I feel angry, diminished, scornful, incredulous; and I reflect that much of the church is in a time of great and self-destructive darkness.
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. (Madeleine l’Engle)
When I stumbled across these words from Madeleine l’Engle, they rang deep and true. I began to remember my own story. I grew up in the church awkwardly and uncomfortably. Just as the cobbler’s children run barefoot, this minister’s kid struggled with faith. I never had a sense of God, my attempts at prayer fell flat, and I did not turn to faith. Then at university, I was plagued by people actively trying to convert me. They had no curiosity; they didn’t even like me; and their efforts made me feel less interested in Christianity than ever.
But I was miserable, and I began to wonder what sort of adult I would become. So I looked at the older folk around me. Did I want to be a malicious carping harpy like this person? A self-righteous arrogant fool like that? Did I want to be perpetually cynical, disappointed, angry, fearful? Or did I want to collapse in on my darkness, close the door and self-destruct? None of these options were particularly attractive to me.
So I looked for role models: adults who showed me what I could become. I looked to those people whose faces lit up when messy old me walked into the room; who knew all my faults and failings, and loved me anyway. I looked to those whose lives radiated integrity, wisdom, and joy. I looked to the grounded, who weren’t swayed by my storms but simply made a quiet suggestion here and there, or asked a good question from time to time. I looked to the curious: people who were comfortable with diversity, and who approached all things and all people with delight. And I read widely, seeking words of wisdom and challenge and grace.
Gradually, I began to notice (somewhat annoyingly!) that everyone I happened to look to at that time were followers of Jesus, though none particularly advertised the fact. It was just part of them, like their skin, like their breathing. But I was being drawn by a light so lovely that I wanted to know, not just intellectually but in every aspect of my being, the source of it: for I could see it pouring through them into the world, and I wanted in on it.
It was a long, slow journey, helped along by people who had no idea they were helping, and blocked and diverted at times by those who were trying to force my path. But the light continued to draw me on. I am infinitely grateful for the light which shone then and which I continue to see in so many people, these days Christian and non-Christian alike.
This week in Advent, then, I invite you to turn away from the carnival of the awful and the darkness in the church and the world, and reflect instead upon the light. Who has shone hope, joy and love into your life? Whose face lights up when you walk into the room? Whose example ignites the fire of justice in you, or dignifies the gifts of humble service? Whose words fill your heart with deep peace? When have you seen a light so lovely that you wanted with all your heart to know the source of it? And then, perhaps, you might wonder with God: for whom am I shining the light?
Emailed to Sanctuary 7 December 2022 © Sanctuary, 2022. Sanctuary is based on Peek Wurrung country. Acknowledgement of country here.
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