Wednesday, May 6, 2009

I Have Come Into The World As Light

Whenever Jesus speaks, his words point beyond himself. “Whoever believes in me, does not believe in me only, but in the one who sent me. Whoever sees me also sees the one who sent me. I have come into the world as light, so that no one who believes in me will remain in darkness.”

The science of physics teaches us that light is invisible in itself but makes other things visible. Looking out the window, I see grass, and at the other end of the greensward, hundreds of tiny yellow flowers; but at this distance, I can’t tell you if they are buttercups, or dandelions, or what. If I look out the same window after dark, I won’t see flowers or grass, but I will see stars and, depending on the time of the month, a full moon, a waxing moon, a waning moon or no moon at all, depending on the angle between the moon, the earth and the sun which is the main light source in this part of the created universe, which began with a powerful statement “Let there be light! And there was light.”

The one who sent Jesus, the Father, is invisible, “God, the blessed and only Ruler, the King of kings and Lord of lords, who alone is immortal and who lives in unapproachable light, whom no one has seen or can see. “ (I Timothy 6:14-16) Clearly, light is a metaphor for God, and a very good one, too. The English noun “divinity” and adjective “divine” come from a Sanskrit word deva which itself derives from a Proto-Indo-European root *deiwos which means “shining”. But still, whatever the language, everything we say about God is metaphor.

Saint Augustine, in his Confessions, writes:
Urged to reflect upon myself, I entered under your guidance the innermost places of my being; but only because you had become my helper was I able to do so. I entered, then, and with the vision of my spirit, such as it was, I saw the changeless light far above my spiritual ken and transcending my mind: not this common light which every carnal eye can see, nor any light of the same order; but greater, as though this common light were shining much more powerfully, far more brightly, and so extensively as to fill the universe. The light I saw was not the common light at all, but something different, utterly different, from all those things. Nor was it higher than my mind in the sense that oil floats on water or the sky is above the earth; it was exalted because this very light made me, and I was below it because by it I was made. Anyone who knows truth knows this light.

Twenty five days ago, in darkened churches throughout the world, a deacon, or if there was no deacon, a priest took up a tall candle, lit its wick, lifted it high, and chanted Lumen Christi (Light of Christ) or equivalent words three times in God only knows how many human languages, as he proceeded down the center aisle , and when he placed the Paschal Candle in its base, the church was filled with light.

The Light of Christ, the divine light, is our birthright. But darkness still clings to us – or is it the other way round? The great English Poet John Milton, who became totally blind in 1652, wrote Sonnet XIX, often called “On His Blindness”, probably in 1655.

When I consider how my light is spent
Ere half my days in this dark world and wide,
And that one talent which is death to hide
Lodg’d with me useless, though my soul more bent
To serve therewith my Maker, and present
My true account, lest he returning childe,
“Doth God exact day-labour, light denied?”
I fondly ask. But Patience, to prevent
That murmur, soon replies: “God doth not need
Either man’s work or his own gifts: who best
Bear his mild yoke, they serve him best. His state
Is kingly, thousands at his bidding seep
And post o’er land and ocean without rest:
They also serve who only stand and wait.”

Milton’s blindness blotted out the light of this world to him, and it tried, but did not succeed, in dimming his faith in the divine light. He understood, and expressed poetically, the truth that God is absolutely self-sufficient. God did not create the universe, or the human race, out of necessity. God has no needs: not our work, or our worship, or our very existence. On the other hand, we need to learn to “do his bidding”, that is, to know God, love God, and serve God and God’s children, the brothers and sisters of Jesus, who are our brothers and sisters as well, since we share the one God and Father of us all. In this life, some serve God by preaching, some by teaching, some by doing works of charity -- and the list goes on. But eventually, when we are no longer capable of being as active as we once were, we also serve by standing and waiting, and by offering our lamps to the Lord to be filled with eternal light.

Eternal rest grant unto them, O Lord
And may perpetual light shine upon them.

May their souls, and the souls of all the faithful departed
Through the mercy of God, rest in peace. Amen.

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