The Light

I’ve been listening a lot recently to the new Cloud Cult album, “Light Chasers.” Cloud Cult is a Minneapolis alternative band with haunting, lyrical music. “Light Chasers” is well-named—full of spiritual hunger, curiosity, and hope. Annie Dillard once wrote, “You do not have to sit outside in the dark. If, however, you want to look at the stars, you will find that darkness is necessary.” There is plenty of darkness surrounding the light in Cloud Cult’s work, partly because the lead singer lost a child at age two several years ago. This isn’t the light of an easy optimism, but of a deeper search through a vast expanse of largely empty space.

I think many of us are searching for illumination in our lives. Our culture is filled with the chasing of light, often in the wrong places. We live in the legacy of the Enlightenment, which brought many wonderful things to the world, but also a sense that we could, through our own individual reason, control the universe. That has proven an unworkable premise, and the darkness hasn’t gone away, especially in the human heart.

Jesus talked about light a lot. He said, “I am the light of the world” and told his friends that they were to be light to their neighbors. What he meant by this, I think, is that his life, death, and resurrection show forth humanity as it is meant to be. Followers or friends of Jesus are empowered, through God’s Spirit, to share that light with others. We don’t need to chase the light, according to the Christian story: the light has come to us. We don’t need to go invent it or try to realize it through our own efforts; rather, we can receive it from God and are invited to spread it around. This isn’t the light of easy answers to life’s tough questions. It is the light of a living relationship with the One who gives life to us all.

As I write this, the protests in Cairo are bringing forth a very public kind of light—the light of a people long oppressed who are inspired to rise up together for justice. Such moments are often the work of the Spirit of God, who creates new and reconciled community and establishes mercy and justice in human life. There is plenty of darkness around these protests, and who knows how they will turn out. But it is a reminder that the kind of light that Jesus talks about isn’t just the private spiritual illumination of individual seekers, but rather the public manifestation of God’s healing in and among human community (the Prophet Isaiah talks about this powerfully in chapter 58).

The days are getting longer now in this Epiphany season. God’s light has come to us and breaks forth for all nations. Can you see it? Can you share it?

Dwight Zscheile

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8 Responses to The Light

  1. BC Gordon says:

    Several years ago I read the book “Ascent to Truth” by Thomas Merton, which explores the theology of the Catholic mystic, St. John of the Cross. This was my first introduction to the mystic path, which focuses a fair amount on the concept of “darkness”. St. John of the Cross coined the phrase, “the dark night of the soul”. From my memory of those readings, the idea that resonates is the idea of turning from a false kind of light, through a time of darkness, and emerging into “true” light. This is the dark night.

    I have struggled for years to reconcile this path with the evangelical Christian path that I was raised with. I think that the term “light” is too often used to mean “answers” and “darkness” is are “questions” or worse. I like Dwight’s statement that “light” is coming to Cairo. In this instance he is using the term meaning “when something comes to light”. When a deception is uncovered; when a criminal is caught. I like the idea of “light” as “understanding”, rather than answers. The world is coming to understand the real situation in Egypt. Answers are easy to argue over, from various theological standpoints, but understanding is very personal. We all have more to understand, even if we have pockets full of answers. That’s a place where I can agree on the use of the term light, while I still dwell mostly in the darkness, that both Thomas Merton and St. John of the Cross focused on with their respective theologies.

    A note on Cloud Cult’s new album. I have found a very personal connection with the track “There’s So Much Energy In Us”. It’s a beautiful song that has given me strength during some dark times. From the tune: “We took the written words of our philosophers and built a fire from it, let’s get those engines lit. We took the churches veil and built a mighty sail to carry forth this ship, but we’re still using it”. A beautiful tune that reminds us all that we have energy within us that can see us through any trial, if we have the confidence to tap into it. Yeah for Cloud Cult for daring to challenge us with their lyrics!

  2. reed says:

    Cloud Cult is one of my favorite bands right now. I too have found a lot of encouragement in their lyrics, particularly “There’s So Much Energy In Us.” That song made me late to a meeting just a few weeks ago because I just had to sit in my car and listen. I had to pray for a few minutes afterwards.

    Anyone unfamiliar can check it out here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=udWIFQgAcYQ

  3. Lisa WH says:

    I love this conversation about the meaning of the light, and of the dark. I appreciate Dwight’s comment that light isn’t about “easy optimism” but about a living relationship with one who deliberately entered into the worst of our suffering. I also like the idea that light is about understanding, not about “answers.”

    As I see it, light is fundamentally gentle. It is not intrusive, but it leaves nothing alone. It reveals things as they are. It provides warmth and hope and growth. It is not violent.

    I’m thinking about the astounding notion that Jesus asked us to be “light to the world.” Thinking about the Egyptians shedding light–in the form of their anguished protests–on injustice that has gone on too long. It seems that light asks us to be authentic with one another: to tell the truth; to be vulnerable, even. (For a fascinating “Ted Talk” on the power of vulnerability, see http://www.ted.com/talks/lang/eng/brene_brown_on_vulnerability.html).

    How does this relate to us at St. Matthews and our neighborhood?

    As someone who returned to church after a twenty year absence, part of the reason I found a home at St. Matthews was that I could tell some of my story and be heard, welcomed, given compassion. I could risk going to the healing eucharist, have people lay hands on me and pray for my healing. Soon thereafter I found myself asked to begin to pray for others for their healing. I was given light, and am now asked to help provide it to others. I’m still pinching myself, hardly able to believe that after all this time, I’m not only in church, but feeling vibrantly alive, a contributing part of this community. Thanks be to God. I am grateful for light.

    I am hoping that this blog can be many things for many people, but among them a place where people can tell their stories. The light of the world does not exist in empty space, but illuminates real, solid, particular beings and places–like you and me.

  4. BC Gordon says:

    I just heard about a new book by Kevin Brockmeier entitled “The Illumination.” The synopsis involves a “condition” spreading across the world where pain and suffering manifest as light. The greater the pain, the brighter the light. The NPR reviewer spoke of the powerful imagery of a world where pain is difficult to hide. He also spoke of the challenge presented when pain and suffering manifest as something beautiful. Sounds like an interesting read, at the very least. I’ll be adding it to my “to do” list.

  5. Aaron Hoffman says:

    This discussion of ‘light’ and ‘darkness’ I’ve found very illuminating (no pun intended)…

    Today I attended a funeral for a homeless man whom I’ve known for about a year through the social service agency I work for. In attendance at the memorial service were a huge throng of Kevin’s friends from the streets, a community whose richness is not often appreciated…One of Kevin’s friends from the streets (who now works as a janitor at a church) told a story from the days when they were both homeless and trying to survive together:

    Kevin and his friend were squatting at someone’s house, in their basement. The owner had allowed Kevin to sleep there but he was not friendly to people of color (Kevin’s friend is African-American). Kevin’s friend had nowhere to stay so Kevin would sneak his friend in every night with him. One day, the owner of the house found Kevin’s friend in the basement when Kevin was outside. The owner then demanded that his friend leave and uttered all kinds of racial slurs. Kevin then stood his ground and (knowing he himself would lose his housing) angrily said that he would not leave his friend and that if that is how the owner was going to be, then BOTH of them would leave.

    This deeply affected Kevin’s friend who declared at the funeral: ‘I knew I had a friend that day,’ and he began to cry. He had felt deeply alone and Kevin’s action had touched him brought healing and love…

    I think it’s important that we stay open to where and how the light does come into the world…it often comes in very unexpected ways…

    (I’ll quote the Grateful Dead here) “Once in a while you get shown the light in the strangest of places if you look at it right…”

  6. BC Gordon says:

    That’s a beautiful story Aaron. It reminded me of the idea of being “present” to someone. To be present you have to be willing to truly be in the moment with them. For Kevin, living in that moment meant losing the roof over his head. That’s a kind of bravery that seems often in short supply these days.

    Tying the idea of the present moment to the light discussion; I feel that it is only in the present that the light is truly brightest. When we get too focused on the past and and future, things are darker, probably because the future in unknown, and the past gets all bogged down by false-rememberance, regret, or nostalgia. When we are present, there is light, and often more clarity.

  7. stmatthewsmn says:

    So true, Brian, and yet such a challenge to focus on the present moment. I find that music helps me with that more than anything, and I’m amazed at the deeply spiritual themes I hear listening to The Current these days. Another Cloud Cult fan here (anxiously awaiting word about Craig Minowa’s heart surgery), and I’m glad that “There’s So Much Energy In Us” is getting so much radio play right now. The first time I heard that one and got to the lyric about turning the church’s veil into a mighty sail, I instantly thought of the Lego model we built during last year’s discernment process, of St. Matthew’s as a ship ready to be blown around by the “Holy Gust.”

    I can’t wait to pick up “The Illumination” — I love Kevin Brockmeier (and highly recommend his books to anyone who hasn’t read them yet). Amazon was supposed to send me an e-mail when “The Illumination” was released, but apparently they forgot about me. Thanks for the heads-up, Brian!

  8. stmatthewsmn says:

    Sorry, that last comment was mine — forgot I’m still logged in as St. Matthew’s!

    — Terese

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