The First Day: The Light of God

To say that light is created on the first day is to say that light is at the heart of life. It is the beginning of creation in the sense that it is the essence or centre from which life proceeds. At the heart of all that has life is the light of God.
–J. Philip Newell, The Book of Creation, 3.

Then it seemed as if men must proceed from light to light, in the light of the Word,
Through the Passion and Sacrifice saved in spite of their negative being;
Bestial as always before, carnal, self seeking as always before, selfish and purblind as ever before,
Yet always struggling, always reaffirming, always resuming their march on the way that was lit by the light;
Often halting, loitering, straying, delaying, returning, yet following no other way.
–T.S. Eliot, “Choruses from the Rock.”

Though many people were (wrongly) disappointed with its ending, I was a huge fan of the show LOST. Ultimately, the show was about a battle between the attempts for good and the distractions of evil that we all work our way through in this life. I thought of the show particularly during Peter’s sermon this week, as he described the unfortunate heritage of “light” and “dark,” which are often described as good and bad respectively. In LOST, the two embodiments of the struggle on the island were visually represented by the physical colors of white and charcoal gray, but neither side was ever thought to be thoroughly good or bad; they simply were the two sides. It was a dichotomous conflict that the show’s writers detailed through six seasons of flashbacks, flash-forwards, flash-sideways, and moral ambiguity. It was difficult to know who was or who would end up being “good.” The characters all had sordid pasts filled with mistakes, missteps, misfortunes, and misunderstandings. But on the island of a million confusing and mysterious questions, they were forced to choose who they would trust and who they would not. In the end–and I’ll try not to spoil too much–the characters found the ultimate goodness, the true ability to “step into the light,” in their commitment to one another. They found love and friendship and community and life together. As Jack Shepherd, the de facto leader of the survivors of Oceanic 815, always said, they could “live together or die alone.”

For me, I resonated with the overarching message of the series because of its willingness to explore the complexity of our journeys as human beings and its insistence that, in the end, the most important piece of who we are, the true light that we can all walk in, is found in our journey together. As a community of faith, I feel that we are continually discovering and re-discovering the beauty of that light. And as we so often walk into the unknown ahead of us, may we carry each other as bright lights into an uncertain future.

I really like this John Mayer song and was reminded of it during these past couple of weeks. As you listen to it, I’d invite you to jot down your own thoughts about light and darkness. If you feel comfortable, share your own thoughts and responses in the comments section as we continue our ongoing conversation through this series.

The Book of Creation

I open the book
and the words
fly out of the page.
            –Scottish Poet Kenneth White

Every once in a while, I have these experiences in which I am overwhelmed by the beauty of the world. I remember vividly the first time I saw an ocean. I stood on the beach, transfixed by the sheer vastness of the open water. I remember squinting to see the horizon, where the water met the sky. It looked like the edge of existence, even though I cognitively knew there were people living on the other side. When I lived in Bolivar, my friends and I would often drive the 2.5 minutes it took to get out of town and into the middle of nowhere. We’d sit in the bed of my friend’s truck and stare up at millions of stars and talk about our relative smallness. Or last fall, when Laura and I went to New Mexico. I snuck away during one session to climb a nearby mountain. From the peak, I was struck by this view:

Thinking back on these experiences, I’m reminded of Henry David Thoreau’s Walden. For Thoreau, the ability to recognize the beauty of nature was directly connected to the human ability to achieve self-awareness and art.

Thoreau wrote,

We must learn to reawaken and keep ourselves awake, not by mechanical aids, but by an infinite expectation of the dawn, which does not forsake us even in our soundest sleep. I know of no more encouraging fact than the unquestionable ability of [a human being] to elevate his[/her] life by a conscious endeavour. It is something to be able to paint a particular picture, or to carve a statue, and so to make a few objects beautiful; but it is far more glorious to carve and paint the very atmosphere and medium through which we look, which morally we can do. To affect the quality of the day, that is the highest of arts.

Celtic Christianity has long seen this same connection between the goodness of creation declared in the Genesis poems and the goodness that exists in each human soul.  In The Book of Creation, Celtic theologian J. Philip Newell describes it this way:

God’s wisdom is born with us ‘in the womb’, as Ecclesiasticus says, or, as St. John says, in us is ‘the true light that enlightens everyone coming into the world’. Sin has buried the beauty of God’s image, but not erased it. The gospel is given to uncover the hidden wealth of God that has been planted in the depths of our human nature.

So, what is left for us to do? It is as Thoreau said,

We are constantly invited to be what we are; as to something worthy and noble.

Resurrections and ruptures

This Eastertide, our conversations will focus on the reverberations of the resurrection throughout our tradition. The story of Jesus has inspired a global religious movement that has a wide-range of diverse beliefs and practices. Though they are so diverse, these different pieces of our tradition all trace their origins to the story of Jesus. As we continue to discern where God is leading us as a community of faith, we’ll be looking at some aspects of these traditions and searching for the hidden kernels of resurrection that have inspired those who follow in the way of Jesus for such a long time. Some of these thoughts might make us uncomfortable, but we may also be surprised to see where life shines through the many strands of the Christian history.

So join us for the next few weeks as we explore our past(s) and discover our future together.

Times of pain

Lent is often associated with a wandering in the desert. Occasionally, we have our own deserts to face. Often we encounter others on our journeys who, though they only intend to help, seem to offer more pain than comfort. For example, I’ve heard people offer condolences to a young family who had lost a child by suggesting that “God must have needed another angel in heaven.” I’m sure these people were struggling to find something–anything–to say, but I couldn’t help but wonder if what they managed to come up with did more harm than good.

This week, we want our conversation to come from our own voices. We’re asking you to respond and to give us your feedback.

What is the worst thing someone has said to you during a time of pain?