When my youngest son was in college, he and some of his friends undertook a project in “sensory deprivation,” studying what happens when one is almost totally deprived of external sensations—no sight, no sound, almost no feeling, etc. They built an isolation chamber in their apartment—a completely enclosed tub of body-temperature water with no light or sound allowed to enter. Such experiments have been conducted in various places around the world, and sometimes put to negative use as torture techniques. The general conclusions from such research are that “short-term sessions of sensory deprivation are . . . relaxing and conducive to meditation. However, extended or forced sensory deprivation can result in extreme anxiety, hallucinations, bizarre thoughts and depression.”
Adam Bloom, a participant in a 48-hour “total isolation” experiment aired on the British Broadcasting Corporation, commented during the process (the communication itself being a break in his “total isolation”), "Its really hard to stimulate your brain with no light. It's blanking me. I can feel my brain just not wanting to do anything.”
God has long been associated with light. In I John 1:5 we read, “God is light and in him there is no darkness at all.” In the following chapter, the writer speaks of “the darkness . . . passing away and the true light . . . already shining.” Sounds a lot like the declaration in a couple of the lectionary readings for this Sunday. “The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who lived in a land of deep darkness on them light has shined.” (Isaiah 9:2) The words are quoted in the Gospel reading, applied to Jesus. (Matthew 4:16)
The reading from Isaiah is part of a description of the coming Messiah, words that have since been used by Christians to describe Jesus. After speaking of seeing a great light, the reading from Isaiah goes on to the familiar words about a child being born who will be called “Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.” (Isaiah 9:6)
Epiphany is often seen as the season which recognizes the dawning of new light in human history, the presence of light which overcomes darkness. The Psalm also declares “The Lord is my light and my salvation,” placing it in the context of not being afraid. (Psalm 27:1) Some children, even some adults, are afraid of the dark. They want the light left on; then there is no reason to be afraid.
All these references set me to thinking about light. I’m not often there to watch the sun come up in the morning. Some of you probably see it more often. Isn’t there something in the experience that stirs the human soul? Where there was nothing but shadow, a soft glow begins to appear. On a recent trip to the Oregon coast, I sat at the window in our motel, looking westward and watched the light of the rising sun bringing a brilliant white glow to the surf. When the sun begins to rise, what was an indistince blur of hillsides or water, takes on flesh as individual trees and drops of water rising from the tops of waves. Dawn overcomes the coolness of the night and offers the beginning of the warmth of day. “Ah,” we may be tempted to say, “this is life.” Indeed it is, quite literally. Without light, there is no life.
I spent a three-month sabbatical living as part of a Quaker community. Quakers talk much of the light of God in each one of us—“the inner light.” In the community kitchen there was an old fashioned refrigerator—more like an icebox, except with electricity—where we could go for snacks whenever we wished. As is the case with most refrigerators, there was a light inside. It didn’t come on automatically, but had to be turned on and off. There was a note posted on the door instructing us to turn off the light when we were done. Some ardent Quaker has added his or her own note: “How unQuakerly.” How unbiblical, how unhuman, to become disconnected from the light within! When the epistle of I John declares that God is light, it goes on to encourage us to “walk in the light.” (I John 1:7) It is a sign that we are in fellowship with God’s light as seen in Jesus.
I encourage every reader of this blog to do his or her own reflection on light—his or her own experiences with it, its characteristics, its significance, etc.
The reading from I Corinthians, and the rest of the Matthew passage, offer some other things to think about, beyond the direct focus upon light. I Corinthians, among other things, is relevant to the debates that go on in current politics. Among the many conflicts in the Corinthian church was the division into “parties” following this leader or that leader—Paul, Apollos, Cephas, Christ. (I Corinthians 1:12) Paul tries to call them to something higher, their commitment to the Gospel message, calling them to humility. (vss. 13 & 17-18) Without further analysis, we might let these verses call us all to focus upon a higher purpose, rather than petty party loyalties, in our public discourse.
Other things of note in the Gospel lesson.
1. This story is Matthew’s account of the beginning of Jesus’ ministry. “From that time,”
it says, “Jesus began to proclaim, ‘Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.’”
Repent means simply to turn around, to turn toward the light, one might say. Repent, for
many, has become a negative word. Is it possible for us to reclaim it as a word calling us
to new opportunities and new possibilities?
2. Jesus also calls his first disciples. The details about Peter and Andrew differ from the story we had last week from John’s Gospel. This story tells of the calling of two sets of brothers working side by side as fishermen—Peter and Andrew, James and John. (Matthew 4:18 & 21) Somehow both their family connections and their occupation—fishermen—seem to be an integral part of their calling. Jesus wants them to come fishing with, filling their boats with people who are ready to walk in the Way of Light. (vs. 19) Startlingly, “immediately they left their nets and followed him.” (vs. 20)
Light can do that. It can dazzle us and make everything else seem pale. It can come into our everyday relationships and activities and bring new illumination. When that happens, we are invited to follow and walk in the light!
Aren't humans amazing? They kill wildlife - birds, deer, all kinds of cats, coyotes, beavers, groundhogs, mice and foxes by the million in order to protect their domestic animals and their feed.
Then they kill domestic animals by the billion and eat them. This in turn kills people by the million, because eating all those animals leads to degenerative - and fatal - health conditions like heart disease, stroke, kidney disease, and cancer.
So then humans spend billions of dollars torturing and killing millions more animals to look for cures for these diseases.
Elsewhere, millions of other human beings are being killed by hunger and malnutrition because food they could eat is being used to fatten domestic animals.
Meanwhile, few people recognize the absurdity of humans, who kill so easily and violently, and then call for Peace on Earth.
~Revised Preface to Old MacDonald's Factory Farm by C. David Coates~
Anyone can break this cycle of violence! Everyone has the power to choose compassion! Please visit these websites to align your core values with life affirming choices: http://veganvideo.org & http://tryveg.com
"Cowardice asks the question, 'Is it safe?' Expediency asks the question, 'Is it politic?' Vanity asks the question, 'Is it popular?' But, conscience asks the question, 'Is it right?' And there comes a time when one must take a position that is neither safe, nor politic, nor popular, but one must take it because one's conscience tells one that it is right."
~ Martin Luther King Jr.
Reflections on the Revised Common Lectionary by Rev. Rick Skidmore and Rev. Jim Ogden.
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