Last weekend I was at Camp McDowell for our Vestry Retreat. The latitude and longitude coordinates of Camp McDowell are 34.0159386 North and 87.3583455 West. In other words, it’s pretty much in the middle of nowhere, north of Jasper near Double Springs, Alabama. By virtue of being in the middle of nowhere, at night it gets really, really dark. When’s the last time you were somewhere where you could actually see the Milky Way? Maybe you’ve even forgotten what it looks like. If it’s dark enough you can look up into the dark, dark sky and see more stars than you ever thought existed. Way up high there are so many stars that they form a long glowing streak across the sky, kind of like a milky path, a milky way. The darker it is the more you can see the light of all those stars.
I returned that Sunday afternoon in time to attend a Taize service held in our Chapel. When I arrived in the Chapel there were several icons set up behind the altar rail. There were votive candles on the altar and on the altar rail and on the floor down the aisle by the pews. As we started it was still light outside so I didn’t notice the candles all that much. As the service began, the candles behind the altar were lighted and, with a background of dark wood, the candles began to glow, stronger and stronger as it got darker and darker outside. The darker it got the more we could see the light of those candles.
A few nights later I was with a family that suffered an unimaginable loss. We gathered in the dark outside their home and held each other. The darkness of the after-midnight hour summed things up pretty well. At one point the father said, “I can only see black.” He wasn’t talking about the sky but the pain in his heart. Little things like hugs and tears and reaching out to touch each other got us all through that night. There was nothing heroic to be done. Very small things got us through. The darker our hearts got, the more those little things provided us light.
When you stand out in a field at Camp McDowell in the dark, it’s hard to remember that the sun is still burning as brightly as it always does. The sun doesn’t go off and on. There are just times when we can see it and times when we can’t. When we can’t see it directly, the sun is still so bright that it reflects off of big and little masses millions of miles away and we are amazed by those lights. When you stand with a family going through an unimaginable loss you can’t really see light and joy directly but there’s so much of it in the world that it can still be seen in glimpses, reflections, like touches and hugs and tears of compassion. The darker it is, the more we are comforted by those little lights.
I’m a veteran of many dark nights with so many people over the years. I’m regularly astounded by the deep, deep darkness that people get handed to them by life. Some would say it’s enough to make you lose your faith. But as I stand with people in their darkness, I’m more astounded that people somehow recover. We don’t ever get over the horrid things we experience. The pain never goes away completely. God doesn’t magically erase pain in my experience. But something gets placed beside that pain. “Take this away,” we often plead with God. “I can’t really do that,” God seems to respond, “but I can give you my love.”
That great burning light that sometimes is eclipsed by life’s suffering still shines on. Sometimes it gets really dark and we just can’t see that burning light. But when it’s that dark, a very small light makes a huge difference. We cling to those little lights until we can see the bigger light once again.
“You are the light of the world,” Jesus tells us. Well, certainly not by ourselves we might add. When you stand with someone in their deep, deep darkness you know you don’t have what they need all by yourself. But somehow we become a reflection of what they do need. We become an agent, a glimpse, a symbol of what they need, a small light that helps them until the big light comes back. We become that small light for them because we’ve been in the darkness ourselves and it has not destroyed us. The beacons of hope we all cling to aren’t the people who smoothly handle tough jobs. The beacons of hope we all cling to are those who have been wounded and are recovering, for in them we see hope for ourselves.
Soak in the great light of Christ. Be faithful and just hang in there when times are hard. Recover slowly and be healed. Thereby you become light for others in this dark world. The more light of Christ you soak in, the more light you will have for others. You are not the light of the world by yourself or by your own power. But the great light is so great that it reflects off of you, shines through you, when life for others has gotten so very dark. Love the Lord and you become love for others.
Robert C. Wisnewski, Jr.
Adult Inquirers’ Class Led by the Rector – Sundays in Lent
If you are an adult and would like to be confirmed by the Bishop this Spring, or if you just would like a refresher course in the faith, development, and teachings of the Episcopal Church, an Inquirers’ Class will be held during the Sunday School hour on the Sundays in Lent, March 5 – April 9. This course covers all matters of things Episcopal with attention to what distinguishes the Episcopal Church from other denominations, personal prayer and stewardship, Holy Scriptures, Church History, the Sacraments, the Liturgical Church Year, symbols, and the Book of Common Prayer. Presentations will be made each week with dialogue and questions encouraged. We will meet in the Archives Room. For more information contact Robert (firstname.lastname@example.org).