My paraphrase of Deuteronomy 30:11-14 reads, Surely, what is asked of us is not too hard for us, nor is it too far away. The light is not in heaven, that we should say, ‘Who will go up to heaven for us, and get it for us so that we may see it and walk in it?’ Neither is it beyond the sea, that we should say, ‘Who will cross to the other side of the sea for us, and get it for us so that it might illumine our way?’ No, the light is very near to us; it is in our heart and soul that we might be the light we long for.
The hitch is that we don’t want to be the light we long for. We want to talk about the light as though we are 2,000 years away from it. When Moses came down from the mountain the people requested that he veil his face because he radiated the light of God and it was too much for them to look at. We want distance between us and the light. Yet, at the same time, we speak longingly of the light, and burn advent candles, and talk of epiphany as though we would like nothing better than to be visited by the light, but. We don’t want to have anything to do with the light.
The Gospel readings put us in our place. They start out comfortably enough, with the light being far off, “in the beginning,” when “the life was the light of all people,” as though we might see it from a distance and be comforted in the darkness, knowing we are not alone. We like it even better when John has Jesus say, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.” But Matthew does us no favors. He quotes Jesus as slamming us against the wall with, “YOU are the light of the world,” and “Let YOUR light shine before others that they see (how you are living) and glorify (the Source of light by bringing forth their own light)!”
The light, remember, is the life that was in the beginning and lives in us waiting to come to life through us as we get out of the way and let our light shine, and live the life that is life, that is the life that waits to be lived. We are the light we seek but generate darkness by living lives that reflect our idea of how life ought to be, and we do not easily set our idea for our life aside in order to live the life that is truly our life to live. We are afraid that life will not be what we want it to be, even though it will be more than we can ask, or seek, or imagine. We are afraid.
Mary Oliver highlights our dilemma in her poem “Lightning.” (In the thunder storm) it was hard to tell fear from excitement; how sensual the lightning’s poured stroke! and still, what a fire and a risk! As always the body wants to hide, wants to flow toward it—strives to balance while fear shouts, excitement shouts, back and forth—each bolt a burning river tearing like escape through the dark field of the other.
The light that is the life of all people terrifies us and thrills us with its possibilities. We work out a compromise and talk about the light as though it lived in Jesus but not in us. We can be safe that way in the lives we construct for ourselves. We comfort ourselves with talk of 2,000 year old light and douse the flame that flickers faintly within us all, erecting mercury-vapor lamps to hold back the darkness we also fear—creating little islands of artificial light by living inauthentic lives in the service of plastic and superficiality, while life dies unlived within.
Rumi calls us out: “Darkness is your cradle…” “To thee light by darkness is made known…” The darkness that brings forth our light is not-knowing what to do and waiting there in that dark place, trusting the spark of realization, of awareness, of light—trusting the epiphany of perception and understanding—to guide us in the way of life that we might offer what is ours to give to the moment as it unfolds, to the situation as it arises. This is letting our light so shine before others that they see how we are living and glorify the Source of light by bringing forth their own light.
Of course, we are afraid, and seek to disappear our fear by making up rules to live by so that we don’t have to wonder what to do and run the risk of making mistakes, of being wrong. But “darkness is our cradle,” and we have to trust ourselves. We have to trust the light that lives within, the life that stirs within, and wait, listening, looking, for what needs to be said, for what needs to be done, in responding appropriately and offering what is called for out of the gifts we have to give to each moment of our living.
The moment is the adventure. We must not shrink back, afraid, resorting to the same old same old tried and true formulas for living that are the purview of the dead and dying. The light that is the life of all people is the creative source of ingenuity and genius that splits the darkness like a thunderbolt and shines like the sun bursting forth in the night to draw all people to the brightness of its rising to send them forth into their own lives to live there in bold new ways that light up the world. Amen! May it be so with us all!