Tag Archives: light

Light

“whoever lives the truth comes to the light,
so that his works may be clearly seen as done in God.”

How do we live the truth and change direction always to be heading into the light. In the midst of the lenten negativity of the readings I am finding this questioning of the integrity of my own life. I want to smugly point to this good work or that moment of clarity in my life and say “see I am all about light” but the point of this reading is not to brag (nor to self-condemn) but to realise that we can’t and don’t live 100% light-illumined and truthful lives but we are always striving to “come to” a light which in its completeness is unapproachable (the bible is full of the transcendence of God just as much as the immanence).

No one person or organisation is fully “the truth” or “the light” none but Jesus of Nazareth perhaps in his claims to be one with Divine Wisdom herself. The best we can do is turn toward God, be influenced by the same Holy Spirit that lived perfectly within Jesus.

How do we know the light of God in a world where there are so many lights clamouring for us to follow them…lights of supposedly infallible authority (which over time reveal themselves to be contaminated with exploitative uses of power); lights of manufactured desires and the consent to turn a blind eye to injustice that go with it (that glitter at the peripheries of our privileged vision even when we strive to be better than that); the light of reason, “the enlightenment” all things rational, efficient, proven, positivist and ultimately reductive of the human complexity to a set of algorithms and chemical reactions?

We live in a dazzling cultural shopping mall of neon lights and fairy lights and lava lamps and light up running shoes and goodness knows what other lights that stake a claim on our need for security and soothing, our hollowness and anxiety, our preference for easy answers.

And God is not just one such easy answer.

The first reading tells us that God sends us messengers to urge us to turn away from the wrong and dangerous things we do. Which practices are “abominations” however? Ideas of right and wrong are hotly contested and each person feels that it is “everybody else” that is failing to listen to the word of God.

In qualitative research we talk about “reflexivity”, being honest about who we are, what our bias and standpoint are and why we might believe what we believe. Relexivity in practice can also involve looking at our own behaviour and habits to find ways to be as coherent as possible (morally coherent, intellectually coherent) when we are teaching or leading others. An obvious example of bad practice is adults using hitting as a punishment, while trying to teach a child to value peaceful and non-violent strategies to their problems; refusing to listen to honour promises while trying to teach the child respect and honesty…etc…One sentence that sums up this lack of coherence that I have heard actually used is “Don’t you fucking swear at me.”

These ways of teaching or leading show that I am more concerned with my own power over you, than with the content of what I claim to want to teach you. Jesus as the intimate, barefoot-walking word of God came to break bread with us and lie down on our earth and suffer dishonour and death in solidarity with those who seek liberation. Jesus did not just preach, but also modelled. The light in our lives is that which gives us more than escapist distraction, more than certain authority, more than a freaking display of colour – however beautiful- but the light comes to take us a step toward something permanent and another step and another. The light is something transformative of our darkness, more than a night-light for our terrors but a beacon to come closer and be healed (and sent out).

The second reading is that one about faith through grace and not works. It gets misused at times to claim that it doesn’t matter what we do, only whether we “believe” as if belief is a state you can switch on at will a magical spell against having to try to grapple with the real world. The flip-side of this is that we can never really be “good” or deserve credit for our work or our choices. I largely grew up with such a depressing view of my own unconditional unworthiness, even when I have done everything I can all the credit belongs to God and I should still do better.

The word “grace” should surely evoke something more full of joy and beauty than this scenario. We can agree with the reading, we do not “earn” grace, we are not “saved” (or loved, or called or come into being) through any work we have achieved. Life is a gift and the kindom of God also is a pure gift. This does not mean that God does not call us to also give, to be agents of grace to others (and to ourselves). Grace is like a light that can bathe our lives with holiness, that can slowly spread to banish shadows of fear and hatred. So we are always/already loved and saved but then we are caught up in the desire to grace the world, to grace ourselves just as a baby is already beloved before it can even make eye-contact or smiled, but this love bathes their sense of what it means to be and the baby is moved to want to participate in the family and learns all sorts of amazing things (how to sit up, how to form words, how to use humour) not because the baby only becomes human through these “works” or learning but because the humanity the baby already possesses drives them to desire to participate in connection and social agency.

It is the same with the kindom of God. We are loved and treasured no matter how fast or slow our “development” is within God’s call to us. We are called and challenged to participate as we become able, because it is only fair to do that and because it gives God joy and pride in us when we take notice of the work of creation and learn to dance it with her. Perhaps it is convenient to talk about “belief” as the ingredient that brings out our loving response to God but there is also a danger that belief becomes a talisman against having to really, deeply care and do.

Moses lifted up a serpent in the desert for everyone to look upon and be saved. We want it to be that easy don’t we? We want to ignore every other part of salvation history where the people continued to quarrel and contest the meaning of various teachings, continued to make mistakes and had to be called back again and again to look after the widow and the orphan and the foreigner. Symbols bring us together but it is the “together” not the symbol that enacts change. Symbols point to deeper truths, belief is one of those “works” that is incidental to the grace which really saves.

Faith is a relationship, an orientation not an act of will, a contract or a set of tick-boxes.

Seeking light this International Women’s Day I visit the grave of my mother and read the bible-verse that we decided summed up who she was for us and summed up also where she drew her wisdom and loveliness (as we saw it) from.

“The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it” (John 1:5)

God’s light is not a competing light display in the shopping mall of shallow dreams. It goes out to where the darkness is and stubbornly shines there. We look for the light in the parts of life we are afraid to face. We know the light will be there and we come to it. The darkness has not overcome it…not then, not now, not ever.

The light shines.

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Noone can light their queer light while trapped under a bushel

So this week I wasn’t planning on engaging with the readings because I am moving on to working through some liturgy thoughts (and I can still see my path there). But these readings made me think of all the ways that women and queer people (yes I am both) get forced to hide our light under a bushel basket and I wanted to sit with the good sense of the first reading and then break into joy with the gospel that God’s will for me is to be a light for others not just a private, secret and ashamed light.

And next week I will preach of course so it might take me longer to begin my deconstruction of the mass. But this week I was lucky enough to get caught at a beach party that became very small because of the rain and then to have fragrant pine trees dip silvery drops onto me in the warm air as I walked the path back to my car leaving others (who didn’t have church the next morning) to see out the sunset without me. And I reflected on warm aqua and silvery wash of waters on my summer-browned skin and of the many bare feet dancing in the sand, the earlier rays of sun and watching small people greet grandparents with sticky cuddles (and grandma surreptitiously put down the book she’d been deep in). I thought of the blessing of people enjoying the spring rolls I had made, and running through the rain sharing a tarpaulin with my friend who I have known since high-school days. I thought of trumpet music and fourteen year olds who think for themselves and free peaches from a lady who just didn’t want to see them wasted and a forgiving bottle-shop employee (it wasn’t my story but it involved broken glass).

I felt love and joy in that day and I went apart to reflect on all the ways I get to hang out with God during the week and walk with God and bring God into my social life and work and how much better I do that as a feminist and an “out” lesbian than I ever did as a repressed, earnest and fearful “believer”. And I tore out some pages from my work journal, because I had nothing else and wrote the following which felt like part love-letter part something else:

It is not idolatry to have struggled with who and what I am. It is not narcissism to finally joyfully say “thank you” for the miracle of my being “like this”. It is not sin to have loved a woman, and to still know myself through that love, and to love my God through the memory of that love.

Queer things (Hopkins’ “fickled, freckled, who knows how” Pied Beauty) are just the things that human arrogance has not yet plumbed the depths of after all (so that some “straight people are queer in that sense too). She mothers-forth whose beauty is past change. Praise her. (Apologies Mr Hopkins but I had to try it on for size).

Humans have found lots of very good things “queer”: 

Platypuses

Rainbows

Evolution

Other planets

The curved earth holding us close vs the flatness of patriarchy.

What is never queer is certainty, monochrome knowing, unchanging alwayses and objective truths that can never change even if they wanted to. Slave truths (poor things) forced into the matrix of our fears.

God are you queer? They say you can’t change, shift or grow. Can;t learn things. Couldn’t you if the time was right?

But if you are as unmoving as a thrice-crowned boulder in the midst of all the confusion and teeming of life, the one fixed spot. If you know all and achieve all in the blink of a rational eye….if….don’t you just cry and die from boredom? What is relationship in that frightening place where change and the unpredictable cannot be? I am female, I fluctuate and bleed- I bring forth life and the milk to feed it too. I want to throw my arms around all creation and kiss the depths of the sea. I want to lie peacefully caressed by the starlight, by the music or by a human lover.

What is it that you want God, if you do not long or need or discover?

Before I knew me I didn’t dance; before I loved me I could not breathe. You made me to love for reasons other than breeding. And maybe you do move after all because when I came to you and defiantly told you that I would dare to love what I was…

you laughed…

because you’d loved me first of course!

 

It’s your birthday: let’s not forget!

I’ve been relatively good at doing what the lectionary tells me for a while, but today I am cherry picking the first reading from  proper I and the gospel from proper III (only because I love them so much, not for any profound reason) and adding in my favourite Micah segment because for me it is a symbol for my commitment to God and my need to recommit and reorient toward God constantly. 

Happy birthday darling, little Wisdom. Always new and beautiful as a tiny baby. Always vulnerable to our neglect or mistreatment. Always for us to bring into our lives, and introduce. Happy, happy birthday.

Once long ago, somebody asked what you would like for your birthday. They suggested rams and rivers of oil or maybe human sacrifice (please note: not even for you would I sacrifice my sons). These seemed fitting tributes if you were a great warmongering deity, an accepter of tribute. But you came to us as a persecuted baby, as a voice that the powers of the day wanted to silence, as Wisdom dancing and treating us. And you said there were really only three things that you liked, to take all other presents back to the shop and exchange them for the only thing that could ever make you smile.

You wanted us to act justly, love with kindness, walk humbly with you. Why is it that so much injustice and cruelty and arrogance are brought in your name? Why is it so hard for us to get the present right? I love you, I want to give you your heart’s desire.

And yet you come, not demanding but giving. Our world walks in darkness and you offer us “a great light” and incredible joy. So easy to read this light as a lightening of the depressive load we bear, a kind of escapism from the realities of the day. Easier still to see the “joy” as dividing the plunder of first world privilege, of 24 hour shopping and maxed out credit cards, of tables groaning under a burden of too much food, too much of which will be thrown away while most of the world starves. If this is the only joy we have, then we do not have your joy!

But you come for the burdened people, the oppressed and enslaved and exploited. Will you break the yoke of capitalism, the bar of vacuous consumerism and the rod of inevitability and despair? Will you break open our hardened hearts and let flow the tears we have repressed so that you can wipe them and hold us close once more in compassion? Will you show us how to be miracles upon the earth and let the refugee free while supporting the single parent and the young?

The suspicious and unloving within our hearts, the militaristic hatred and tendency to move to protect our excess and privilege you will burn. Within your love we have no need of such things..wondrous child.

Yes as a mere child you come, again and again.

As what is small and powerless and easy enough to ignore, to bury in cast off wrapping paper and the expectations of our nearest and dearest. Even if we problematise Christmas how tempting to growl “bah humbug” and leave it at that. Easy either to enter into the spirit of silliness and excess or to condemn and retreat. How much harder to enter into your transformation and allow a child of truth to be born in our lives? How will you transform me? Do I have courage to step upon your path in the coming year and let you lead me into the unknown? But not entirely unknown because your path is always truth- the unchanging truth of right relations with humans and the earth itself (justice, kindness, walk humbly: once again my refrain).

If your zeal will do this God, then I look to you to enflame my heart with your zeal so that I may follow and serve your interests (there you told me I might find real joy).

As for the gospel, you know me: what a nerd I am and how I am a person of words of reading and writing and lively discussions. How kind of you to be “Word” when you touch my humanity. How slow I am to discover that all life that is worth living is within you, to ground my own life, my own words, my own meaning in you…always you. But you are not only for me- as some sort of feel good inspirational text would be- you are deeply and transformatively political “for all people”.

“The light shines in the darkness and the darkness did not overcome it.” we wrote those words upon my mother’s grave. Wisdom and love are far reaching, more than I usually dare to believe. You embody yourself within us, within our human heritage of love passed down and imperfect wisdom too. Through you we come to believe, to know at last what is important (justice, kindness, walk humbly). Like John we are commanded to make a way for you into the hearts and lives of others. How to do this for you birthday-Wisdom to whom I owe so much?

We are not the light, but the light needs our work so that it may shine.

We receive you because we were born from something greater than the “will of a man”, you called us into being and again into fulfilment of that being. “The man” may block our progress, but God does not accept the inevitability of failure and death. No. Even dying on the cross the eternal hope of God screams out in defiance of all oppression, of all that dehumanises, of all that seperates. We could mourn the state of the world but God gives us life after death.

The Word knows us well having become flesh and soiled nappies and been utterly reliant on the love and goodness of imperfect others. The Word gives us grace and truth to go on and bring light and change the world.

Happy birthday beloved, beautiful Word of God- invite me to be a better friend to you this coming year. Make my heart and hands big enough to respond generously to the need of those you love. Give me the little words that reflect your own Wordness. Let me like Mary labour to bring you forth in faith, hope and always LOVE.