Tag Archives: light

Riding Into the Darkness

16460554715_7e0e09e482_cLast month I wrote here about the disappointment I felt when a physician diagnosed my chronic knee pain as the early stages of osteoarthritis.   She said that my marathon running days were over.  Her diagnosis has felt like a dark shadow creeping into my life, robbing me of my identity as a runner.   I recognize that I am over reacting.  After all I can still walk and bike and paddle and swim.  I can remain active if I choose.  Yet running remains something I embrace, something I share with many of my buddies, even in the dark days of winter.

The season of Advent comes during the shadowy, short days of December.  In Minnesota we often drive to and from work in the dark. It is challenging to find ways to get outdoors for exercise.  Thus the darkness often can be internalized.   A favorite Advent scripture verse captures the season’s gloom and yet offers hope.

The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light, those who dwelt in a land of deep darkness, on them has light shined. (Isaiah 9:2)

One recent Saturday two of my running buddies invited me for a winter bike ride.  We each have one of those fat tire bikes that make possible riding in snow.  It was still dark as we started off, our headlamps pointing the way. As we rode the Gateway Trail, the sun rose and the clouds turned pink and red. It was beautiful morning and I gave thanks for chance to ride with friends.  I adapted Isaiah, thinking, “Those who ride in darkness have seen a great light.”

I continue to miss running.  When I drive pass runners, I feel a pang of sorrow.  I wish that I could tie up my running shoes and go for a quick run around the local trails.  Yet I recognize that my emotional attachment to running will fade and that I am capable of finding other ways to be outdoors.  My identity as a runner is not my core.   My simple daily prayer has become, “Lord, let me rest in my identity as your beloved child.”

As Isaiah states, “a great light shines.” The promise of God’s love continues to illuminate our days.  Jesus’ birth is celebrated in the depth of winter because Christ is the light of the world that shines in our darkness.   On Sunday, with the whole church, I can sing

Silent Night, Holy Night, Son of God, love’s pure light!
Radiant beams from thy holy face,
With the dawn of redeeming grace,
Jesus, Lord, at thy birth, Jesus, Lord, at thy birth.

Mountain Light and Dark

Sunday is Transfiguration Sunday, the conclusion to the church season of Epiphany. (I wrote about the light of Epiphany here). The story of Jesus’ transfiguration fascinates me on several levels. Partly it is the description of Jesus (“the appearance of his face changed, and his clothes became dazzling white” Luke 9:29). Partly it is the sudden arrival of Moses and Elijah, long-dead prophets whose ministries foreshadowed Jesus’ own mission. Partly it is God’s command, “Listen!”  A big part is the location, a mountain.

The Wonder of God's Creation

Mountains have always been spiritual place. Humans have climbed peaks to seek the heaven throughout our history. Moses climbed Mt. Sinai to receive the ten commandments directly from God (Exodus 20). Elijah ran away to Mount Horeb, the mount of God, where he encountered God in the sound of sheer silence (I Kings 19:11-13). Solomon’s temple was built on Mount Zion and the psalmist sang about its beauty,

His holy mountain, beautiful in elevation, is the joy of all the earth, Mount Zion (Psalm 48:1-2).

So when Jesus took his closest disciples, Peter, James and John, up the mountain to pray, they should not have been surprised that God met them there in a special way.

I enjoy climbing mountains (I wrote about one here).  On occasion I have used an ice axe and rope, but mostly I climb mountains that anyone in decent physical shape can scramble up.  A climb becomes both a physical and spiritual challenge.  I gain a sense of perspective sitting on top of a peak: how very large the world is and how very small I am. As I gaze across the surrounding peaks, I realize that God is in charge. The glory of his creation surrounds me and uplifts me.

But mountains have a darker side as well. The first significant mountain story in the Bible is when God ordered Abraham to take his son Isaac up on a mountain in order to sacrifice him (Genesis 22). The Israelite often created shrines to the Canaanite fertility gods on the mountain tops.

O mortal, set your face toward the mountains of Israel, and prophesy against them, and say, You mountains of Israel, hear the word of the Lord God! . . . , I myself will bring a sword upon you, and I will destroy your high places. Your altars shall become desolate, and your incense stands shall be broken; and I will throw down your slain in front of your idols (Ezekiel 6:2-4).

The darkest mountain of all is Mount Calvary or Golgotha where Jesus was crucified. Not much more than a hilltop outside of Jerusalem, yet the darkness of human sin caused the sky to turn black as Jesus cried, “My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?” (Matthew 27:46). Mountains can be places of terrifying death as well as peaks of glorious enlightenment.

My boyhood home had a view of Mt. Rainier

My boyhood home had a view of Mt. Rainier

Yet whether hidden in darkness or bathed in sunlight, God’s glorious love is the bedrock of each peak. Mountains call us to trust in God in all circumstances.  Jesus came to bring all creation back into full spectrum of God’s love, including you and me.

Shine, Jesus, shine in me today.

Through A Mirror Dimly

Drew Jonell’s recent photograph ignited some deeper reflections for me on Jesus’ resurrection and my faith.

First, we see our risen Lord in “a mirror dimly, but then we will see face-to-face” (I Corinthians 13:12). We can never fully comprehend the wonder and reality of Jesus’ resurrection; he moves beyond our limited understanding of the universe. I once thought that if one had a video camera set up outside the tomb on Easter morning, one could “record” the resurrection and place it on you-tube for all to see. But with today’s CGI special effects one could not trust such a video. People still need to make a faith step.

Second, the dark window frame is in focus, just like I tend to focus on my immediate needs, situation and experiences. I can become self-absorbed. Even this blog can become an exercise in seeking attention for myself. Yet I must confess that I am called to be a frame that holds the glass through which the sun shines. God can use me, in spite of myself. The resurrection calls me to see life beyond my closed “tomb” like world, out in the glorious light of Jesus’ ever living presence.

Third, the morning sun shines bright, even though it is partially blocked by the frame. Jesus is alive, and though my witness may be streaked and pitted, his light will shine through. Peter, James and John were all flawed witnesses, yet the good news of the crucified and risen Lord shone through their testimony. Even the skeptic Thomas came to faith.

What do you see with the eyes of faith?

Lord Jesus, open my eyes that I might see you today.

Drew Jonell is a member of Resurrection Lutheran Church and you can see more of his creative photography here.

Christmas Light

Christmas Eve may not be cute, but it certainly can be magical. One of my deepest memories of Christmas Eve was driving to candlelight worship while listening to the Apollo 8 astronauts, who were circling the moon, read from the first chapter of Genesis: In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth.  I remember looking up an the moon and thinking of the light of God coming for us.  The mystery and wonder of that night changed how I look at the world.

And God said,” Let there be light;” and there was light. And God saw that the light was good: and God separated the light from the darkness. (Genesis 1:3-4)

This evening at Resurrection Lutheran Church we had candle light at worship as we sang “Silent Night, Holy Night.” And once again in the golden glow of awed faces, the Christ child was born into our lives. He brings the magic of hope, the promise that he will rescue us from sin, Satan and death. Thanks be to God.

Lord Jesus, be the light of my life once again.

Gloom, Doom and Light

My nephew, Andy Young, an avid photographer, snapped this gripping photo of Seattle on a gloomy afternoon. I immediately thought of both the prophet Jeremiah and the season of Advent.

First, Jeremiah spoke to the people of Jerusalem of the impending disaster that was coming. The people had forsaken their covenant with God and so God gave them a real wake-up call.

But my people have forgotten me, they burn offerings to a delusion; they have stumbled in their ways, in the ancient roads, and have gone into bypaths, not the highway, making their land a horror, a thing to be hissed at forever. Like the wind from the east, I will scatter them before the enemy. I will show them my back, not my face, in the day of their calamity. (Jeremiah 18:15-17)

In 587 BC Jeremiah’s “Word of the Lord” became reality. The Babylonian army march into Judah and conquered Jerusalem. The temple of God was destroyed. The leadership and skilled laborers were taken as prisoners into Exile in Babylon. It was a day of calamity.

But Jeremiah continued to speak God’s Word and so streaks of light and hope came to the people. Jeremiah promised a new covenant, a new relationship between God and God’s people.

But this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, says the Lord: I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts; and I will be their God, and they shall be my people.  No longer shall they teach one another, or say to each other, “Know the Lord,” for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest, says the Lord; for I will forgive their iniquity, and remember their sin no more. (Jeremiah 31:33-34)

This promise is one reason Jeremiah fits so well in the season of Advent. Though we may wait in the dark gloom of winter, praying for spiritual light, we lean towards the coming light of Christmas. A new covenant that will be born in Bethlehem. Alleluia!

Lord Jesus, let your light shine bright through me.

Still Light

After posting about Lent the past two days, I had to remind myself that it is still the season of Epiphany, the season of light in the midst of darkness.  Epiphany began on January 6th with the light of the Bethlehem star leading the magi to baby Jesus (Matthew 2) and it ends Sunday, March 6, with the story of  the Transfiguration when the glory of Jesus is revealed to the disciples in a blaze of light.  And I certainly feel the need for light this winter.

Having grown up in Washington state, I had to learn to adjust to Minnesota winters.  In the learning process, I discovered that for me the severity was not as difficult as the duration.  I could be kind of macho about big storms or severe cold.  I remember running with some friends in -15 below temperature, basically so we could brag to other runners about our devotion (or our foolishness?).  But this winter seems to have started early and just settled

Foolish Runner or "I can't hear you due to the icicles in my ears"

in for a long stay.  And though we had a few days of teasing warmth last week, I know that winter could easily stretch into late March.   I can wish or complain or rant or blog, but the climate will not relinquish its grip based on my reaction to it.

So I come back to the season of light, Epiphany, and the glimpses of God’s glory.  One glimpse is that now, as I drive home, I see the sunset.  And what glorious sunsets I have witnessed. Beauty is one way God reveals God’s self, even in the midst of a long winter.  The sun light on freshly fallen snow has such an intensity that I have to squint or wear sunglasses. Yet not every day has that intensity.  Light can brilliant or muted, just as God’s power and presence can be for us.  I recently heard Bishop Rogness preach that God’s light permeates all of life, even when we think everything is dark.  We tend to seek the spectacular fireworks of glory, yet God is often in the flickering candle.  The light of Jesus shines in every season, even the Minnesota winter.

When or how has God’s light shone for you?

Light Work

Shoemaker as Light to the World

Jesus declared, “You are the light of the world. . .  Let your light shine before others so that they can see your good works and glorify your Father in heaven” (Matthew 5:14). I am convinced that our light is to shine in our workplaces, however challenging that might be.  The challenge can come in various ways as we seek to love our neighbor through our work.

I have adapted a story (attributed to Martin Luther?) that helps illustrate the idea that our vocation (calling) is to love our neighbor and by doing that we glorify God.  A cobbler was noted for making very good shoes and he had many customers who valued his craftsmanship.  One day the cobbler had a spiritual awakening and decided he needed to make a more overt witness to Jesus.   He determined that he would place a cross on every pair of shoes as a testimony to God.   At first his customers had no strong reaction, they liked his shoes and the cross was okay.  However the cobbler began to spend more and more time on the crosses and less and less time on the shoes themselves.  The quality of the shoes began to suffer and his customers were disappointed   They first came because they needed good shoes; now they had to go elsewhere to find the shoes they needed.

The cobbler loved his neighbor when he made good shoes for them.  When he neglected that calling, his neighbor and his business suffered.  The cobbler had a good intention when he wanted to bear witness to Jesus by attaching crosses to the shoe.   To bear evangelical witness to Jesus is part of our calling as Jesus’ disciples.  We can pray for opportunities to bear witness to Jesus at work.  There are  times and ways to speak to our faith in Jesus, even at our work place.  Yet the very quality of the work we do can be a light to the world.     

We all have gifts and talents that are needed in the world.  By doing that work well we glorify God in heaven.  We make “Light Work.”

How does God’s light shine at your workplace?