Striving to absorb the light

Rev Ruth Fitter, 2020-02-16 (Genesis 1:1-2:3; Romans 8:18-25; Matthew 6:25-34)

Click on the bible verses above to read them at biblegateway.com


Come Holy Spirit and touch my lips; come Holy Spirit and illuminate our minds; Come Holy Spirit and fill our hearts with love for you. Amen.

For my birthday a very dear friend gave me a book entitled ‘Divine Beauty.’ It is written by the great Irish priest and theologian, poet, author and philosopher – John O’Donohue who is probably best known for popularising Celtic Christianity and spirituality during his life (although I personally think that sells him short). He was, in short, quite an extraordinary man who seems to have had an inside knowledge of the mystery of God and humanity like no other. The book explores things like music, art, colour, silence and voice and how they each help us to know God more fully and ourselves too leading to a greater need to know God on a daily basis. Essentially these are the building blocks of life in all its fullness – these are the elements in life that create relationship with our Creator and lead us into spaces which fulfil a deep spiritual need within us. Something that we are perhaps not even aware of until we hear a particular piece of music, glimpse a painting or sculpture or sit in silence with God.

What a shame then that the first subjects to be taken out of a more academically driven curriculum are all the things that bring beauty and reflection into our children’s lives. Surely if we want our children to develop into reflective thinkers we need to provide them with those opportunities to access art, music, theatre, singing and most importantly silence. We always seem to think our children want entertainment but lots of children, given the option would take silence – particularly if we taught them how to use the silence to let their mind be free from stress and worry.

However, the same question arises for us as adults. As spiritual, faithful disciples where do we access this beauty through music, art, dance, theatre, singing, speaking, silence, creation, colour etc etc? As we approach Lent, now only 10 days away, it is timely to ask ourselves the question – where and how do I make space for these reflective activities that might enable us to encounter God more fully? What space do we need to clear to experience something new this Lent?

John O’Donohue’s writing is beautiful to read but it also takes quite a lot of continuing thought to sometimes grasp where he is coming from or taking you to. I love having my brain stretched and when ordained we promise faithfully to keep up our study, not only of the Bible, but of wider texts. This always seems impossible during the busyness of the day and I’m not sure the articles in Grazia magazine are what the Bishop had in mind when I promised to ‘with the help of God’ fulfil this oath. I was, therefore, pretty determined to read Divine Beauty and to do it justice. The fact that my birthday was over two months ago now and I am only just half way through reminds me that the challenge for me this Lent is to clear more space for reading and study – something which undoubtedly brings me closer to the God I love.

All of this is all very well I hear you thinking but actually what has your reading pattern got to do with anything we’ve heard this morning. Well in one word it is ‘light.’

During the last few weeks I have been reading through – one paragraph at a time as I fall asleep over it each night – a whole section about light and colour. I’ve had to re-read it and re-read it to try to make sense but it really makes sense when read in conjunction with our readings today.

Colour is born of light. When we look around and we see objects that are every colour of the rainbow they are the result of light being or rather actually not being absorbed. Light comes to us as a whole spectrum of colour – every possibility is seen in the white light around us. All of life and all of God is in light. Is it any coincidence that the first thing God, as Trinity, creates is light. This is the first thing that is called forth by God and it is the touchstone we keep coming back to in the Bible. The rainbow given as a sign of covenant – faithful promise – is a promise of light. Jesus comes as the light of the world – the new covenant – a new faithful promise. For the past few weeks our readings have all been about the revealing of the light and the revealing of those things that have been hidden by light.

Two weeks ago we found ourselves in the temple with Mary and Joseph as they brought Jesus to give thanks. Simeon and Anna, reflective, thoughtful, spiritual and patient people recognise the light in the midst of them precisely because they kept their minds open to the light and hope of God – in all its fullness. Last week we heard the words of Jesus to each of us – ‘you are the light of the world’ and this week we are reminded about the nature of light – the awesome majesty of our Creator God.

The astonishing thing for me as I read was the dawning realisation that colour is the bit of light that is not absorbed by the object. Let me try to explain. A red rose is red as we look at it but this is because the rose has absorbed all the other colour spectrums of light but has rejected and resisted the red element – this then is the colour that we perceive when we look at the rose. A daffodil is yellow because this is the part of the colour spectrum it has resisted and not absorbed. Wood is brown because this is the colour spectrum within the light that it has rejected and resisted.

John O’Donohue goes on to write then that if a rose or a daffodil or a piece of wood could see itself in a mirror it would be shocked to find it was red, yellow or brown – the very part of the spectrum it had resisted becomes the very nature of its being. Take a moment to absorb this information yourself – it’s maybe a stretch for you to think about these things in this way because we just know that roses are red, daffodils are yellow and wood is brown. But have we ever thought about why?

At the end of today’s Gospel reading we hear the words of Jesus saying, “strive first for the kingdom of God and his righteousness.” These words are in response to a whole host of ways Jesus has told his disciples and the crowds then and by extension us today, how to live. He has talked to them all about giving alms, praying – teaching them the Lord’s prayer along the way, fasting, consumerism, light versus darkness in terms of spirituality and finally about not serving two masters – wealth and God. All of which I’m sure sounded pretty impossible to those listening then and those of us who read it now.

But he ends with “do not worry about your life.” Easy for him – hey! He was the Son of God and didn’t really have much to worry about surely. Although I don’t actually think that is true. If he was truly human then he worried just as much as you or I about his life. Maybe he got the odd dove land on him to give him a nod to say he was going in the right direction but essentially I am sure he woke up each morning wondering what might happen and who might come to him that day; he probably went to bed at night worrying whether he had done enough and maybe thinking he could have perhaps healed one more person if he hadn’t been so tired and got in the boat to disappear; perhaps he worried what would happen to his friends and his family as the authorities closed in and as we are shown in the

Garden of Gethsemane he sweats drops of blood as he asks God – is there another way – is this really the plan? Jesus was really worried about his life.

I suppose though, ultimately, the difference between Jesus and us is that he was willing to expose himself to and absorb the complete light spectrum of God – He was God and the light of God. He knew that the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit were inseparable and because He constantly abided in the Father the light and strength of God abided fully in Him.

I want us to think for a moment then about the everlasting and all encompassing love of God being white light. All of the colour spectrum and all possibility is there as he shines his light on us through Jesus. And yet, do we absorb all the spectrum of light or are there parts of it that we will resist and reject? Remember it is what we resist and reject that will give us the colour of ourselves for other people. We might inherently be shocked to see what that colour is as we may perceive ourselves very differently to how someone on the outside might see us.

For example if one part of the spectrum of God’s light upon us is forgiveness and yet we resist and reject this because we continue to feel unworthy and wear the guilt as heavy shackles around our neck and ankles, we end up wearing the colour of guilt into every encounter, bringing ourselves down into despair and others with us.

If one part of the spectrum of God’s light upon us is unconditional love and yet we resist and reject this – even in part – we end up wearing the colour of anger, jealousy and rejection into every encounter.

If one part of God’s light upon us is a delight in our gifts and talents and we resist and reject this because we have lost confidence or been told that we are no good then we end up wearing the colour of insecurity and usually in so doing will try to exert our power through control of others.

If one part of God’s light upon us is free will and trust and we resist and reject this by being selfish then we end up wearing the colour of bitterness and selfish gain. The creation groans with birth pangs precisely because of this bitterness and selfish gain. Jesus’ words to us about not worrying about our life is a warning against selfish gain. We see it across our world where the rich get richer and the poor get poorer. Selfish gain is what has led to a climate crisis and what ultimately leads to our worry. If you only had one set of clothes you would not need to worry about what you would wear; if the fridge was not full you wouldn’t worry about what to eat – you would just have to eat what you had. In a world where so many will go hungry, thirsty and naked we need to worry about selfish gain and how we change the structures of an unjust society not live out that selfish gain in our own lives. In order to do that however, we need to fully accept God’s light in our lives.

And finally, if one part of God’s light upon us is to give hope in every situation and we resist and reject this then we become hopeless and the worry creeps in. As we look around our world and perhaps at our individual lives with all the worry that comes we could be forgiven for feeling hopeless but then we give up on the fullness of God.

Ultimately we cannot control everything and anything that happens in our lives. Bad things will and do happen to good people. Good things will and do happen to other people. But it is how we absorb or resist the light that will make all the difference. This is what striving for the kingdom looks like – striving to absorb the light.

When light hits an object we cannot see all the light – we only see what is rejected. Hope then is the epitome of all the light – the fullness of God at work in the world even when we cannot see it. The hope of God in Christ Jesus is the light in the world. All the light – the whole spectrum. Paul writes, “for in hope we were saved. Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what is seen? But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience.” We cannot see the whole light of God – except in Jesus – and even then it is difficult to hear and see what he tells us and shows us fully. The work of the Christian disciple then, it seems to me, is to go on continually trying to accept the invisible and to absorb the light so that eventually there is nothing of God that we would resist. Perhaps that is what we mean when we say we want to become more Christlike every day. It’s not about becoming more perfect; it’s actually about becoming more and more open to absorbing the light of God.

There is no denying it is hard and we, like the objects around us, naturally reject what is best for us sometimes. I wonder what part of God’s light you might be resisting at the moment? What does God want to show you or need you to absorb?

[Silence for thought]

Finally, I’d like to finish with a quote from Rainer Maria Rilke – I think it is what God is trying to show me at the moment and asking me not to resist and reject. It might be helpful for you too.

“Have patience with everything unresolved in your heart, and try to love the questions themselves as if they were locked rooms or books written in a very foreign language. Do not search for the answers, which could not be given to you now, because you would not be able to live them. And the point is to live everything. Live the questions now. Perhaps then, someday far in the future, you will gradually, without noticing it, live your way into the answer.”

Amen.

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