I really don’t like twilight. I’m not talking about the vampire series that made the Washington rain forest famous to teenagers and adults alike from Finland to Japan. Seriously, teens from places like Reykjavik are dragging their parents to middle of nowhere, Forks, WA, to swoon over Bella’s rusty truck. But I digress.
What I don’t like is the twilight time of day. Dusk.
And it seems, particularly in the Northwest, large quantities of our day are spent in dusk. Sure, we just “sprung ahead”, but with our low-slung clouds, the incessant drip, drip, dripping and our spired evergreens, even with those extra hours of daylight, we are relentlessly wrapped in a state of gray. Until about July.
Now I grew up here, so this doesn’t get to me like it does transplants from the south (cough, California). Instead, what bothers me about dusk is that seeing anything becomes near impossible. It’s too dark outside to not have the lights on inside, but it’s also too light outside for the lights inside to do much good. It’s as if an oppressive gloom is sitting over everything, never to be dispelled. As many candles get lit and lights ablaze, there is no combating the pall that is dusk.
Add to this that dusk is so half-hearted. Nighttime should come strong, like a poorly edited episode of 24 where Kiefer Sutherland chases a terrorist in broad daylight, only to return from commercial break to find him chasing the same terrorist, in the same gravel quarry, but now in pitch black. But I digress again.
I am apparently not the first person to be obsessed with light, or lack thereof. Something about Lent, coupled with the dark days of March, causes me to return to the poetic introduction to John’s gospel. He too loves light. In fact, the gospel of John uses more than double the amount of light imagery than any other gospel. He evokes light as a metaphor of life, brightness, and fullness, a metaphor well understood two-thousand years ago. Even in our colloquial phrase “shed some light,” we understand that light is not just a source of literal brightness, but also a way to find truth – to blast out the shadows and gloom in all corners – literal and figurative.
The writer of John is setting up what he will emphasize again and again in his gospel: that Jesus is not simply a brilliant man come to bring us intellectual and spiritual depth but is the embodiment of Light Itself. The light that brings life to all creation. The light that blasts darkness to utter oblivion.
The light that blasts darkness to utter oblivion.
In John’s gospel, Jesus says five times in various ways, “I am the light of the world, and I have come so that no one will be in darkness.” He is not only echoing John’s theme, but harkening all the way back to the prophesy of Isaiah about the Messiah: “The people walking in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of the shadow of death a light has dawned.” (Isaiah 9:2)
Jesus keeps talking about being the light that dispels the darkness. And it is not just physical darkness; the context of these proclamations has very much to do with seeing as understanding or comprehending, shedding light on situations so that the truth will be revealed. And we, on this side of the cross, get to live that goodness, in that light, every day. Regardless of the weather.
And yet, this can seem so remote. So far away and long ago and haven’t we heard this “light” passage so many times now that it has lost all its anticipation, all it’s power, all it’s wonder? It’s all fine and good that Jesus is the light, but it is hard to see any light right now. We look around and see the Ukraine and Syria, continued unemployment, street shootings, our loved ones gravely ill, the economy still precarious, planes disappearing out of the sky, and (yes, Al Gore is right) Greenland melting. Sometimes it’s all we can do to claw ourselves out of bed, leading lives of quite desperation in constant dusk. There is no light to be found, so we strain to find it wherever we can. We are satisfied to fumble around in the dark, grasping on to random objects hoping they turn out to be a lamp. The darkness has overcome us.
How are we supposed to see in all this darkness?
We’re waiting for that one shock of an experience to shake us out of our self-imposed darkness. Except, sometimes the light isn’t a blazing explosion. Sometimes it’s just a pinprick.
The problem is, we are waiting for some exhilarating blast of divine light – like Paul on the road to Damascus – so blinded by light, we can fall to the ground and worship. We’re waiting for that one shock of an experience to shake us out of our self-imposed darkness. Except, sometimes the light isn’t a blazing explosion. Sometimes it’s just a pinprick.
Before I was married, my now husband and I were hiking and quite lost. The trail simply disappeared into a large meadow, but because we were young and smart, we knew we could find the trail on the other side. Of course, it just kept getting darker and darker as we bumbled around the woods growing more desperate at each random turn. At one point we were rappelling off vines over a ravine and my husband almost blurted out, “If we get through this I’m going to marry you!” to which I probably would have responded, “If we get out of this, I’m going to choke you.”
We finally got to level ground, but it was dark. Really, really dark. The dark that makes every large shape a bear or a back-woods murderer. I could’ve sworn I heard banjos.
But then we saw this one tiny little light, maybe a mile away. Just tiny – like glitter on a fruit fly. If we followed that light we knew it would get bigger and brighter and pretty soon envelope us completely. Would it have been nice if it were Qwest stadium bright? Yes. Did we need it to be that bright? No. Because that little light got us out of the woods.
The Light that is life has come for us all, John tells us. The True Light that gives light to everyone has come into the world. And because this light is to everyone, we have all encountered the light – not just those few who have been blasted by divine lighting. In fact, rarely is the divine encounter a sudden flash that consumes us in one gulp. More often it is a small light far off in the distance that begs us to look, hush, see, come.
Where is that light? Look and see: a kind word spoken to a stranger instead of a cold shoulder turned, a nurse selflessly giving her skill to those who can’t pay – see the light? A child’s heartfelt squeal of joy at seeing her father return home from overseas, a choir singing praises in perfect pitch – hush, do you hear? A man gives a small loan in India, a woman forgives those who stole from her – do you see? Peace has proliferated, where once there was only war, in places like South Africa and Rwanda, a chubby bumble-bee has landed on honeysuckle – look, look at the light! The stars blaze and the sun and the moon shine their glory, the whole earth hums with the splendor that is the blessing of life – look at the light!
We encounter Jesus’ light of life in all the beauty – small and large – that we see in the world. The light of Christ is all around us. And, through the Spirit we are prompted to actions of grace and joy and peace and love. Even in the dank, dark gloom of Seattle we can not only see the Light around us, we can be that light for others. Simply because light defines who we are.
As we take time this Lent to reconnect to our power source, to plug in to the light of Christ by spending time in the word, in community and in prayer, take time to notice the still small joys that are the stuff of life, knowing that we cannot help but shine in the darkness. And the darkness might not understand. But we will still shine, because the darkness doesn’t win – the darkness does not, cannot and will not overcome the light. That is our hope and our joy.
So let it rain, let it gloom, let us nestle in our hobbit hole coffee shops with the confidence that comes from not having to wait for the light, but knowing we carry the Light with us.