“Through him all things were made;
without him nothing was made that has been made.
In him was life, and that life was the light of men.
The light shines in the darkness,
but the darkness has not understood it.”
(John 1:3-5, NIV)
“This is the verdict: Light has come into the world,
but men loved darkness instead of light because their deeds were evil. Everyone who does evil hates the light,
and will not come into the light for fear that his deeds will be exposed. But whoever lives by the truth comes into the light,
so that it may be seen plainly that what he has done
has been done through God.”
(John 319-21, NIV)
“And God said, ‘Let there be light,’ and there was light. God saw that the light was good, and he separated the light from darkness.”
(Genesis 1:3-4, NIV)
I enjoy photography. In the January 3rd edition of the Billings Gazette there was an article about Paul Whiting who happens to be a photographer from Billings. The article served two purposes . . . one, to announce that he was the feature speaker at this year’s “Art in Sacred Space” seminar at Saint Andrew Presbyterian Church . . . and the other, to let people know that he considers light to be a key element in his art. The seminar is about combining art and faith, and for Paul Whiting the two cannot be separated . . . especially when it comes to light.
Paul Whiting is a Quaker. According to him, Quakers talk a lot about light . . . as do many other religions. Light is critical in his “art” . . . which happens to be photography. He explains that when it comes to his photography . . . to his “art” . . . that the subject doesn’t really matter that much, but that “it’s the light and shadow that makes it work.” He goes on to say that the root word of photo is “light,” and graph is “to draw,” and the two together—photograph—make pictures of light. In the same way, photography and spirituality go together.
I really appreciated the article and what Paul Whiting had to say because I have believed this for a long, long time when it comes to photography . . . it is all about the light . . . learning how to capture the light . . . how to use the light to reveal the “message” of the picture. I love how photography is “light drawing” or “drawing with light”. I love that because it conveys such a powerful image and message . . . not only for those who are photographers and artists, but also for those who are among the followers of Jesus—the faithful.
Light is a pretty powerful metaphor in religion. It is through light that people can see . . . it is through light that people can maneuver through life and find the way . . . it is through light that the darkness is driven away . . . it is through light that the Holy is exposed. In the Gospel of John we have heard the writer equate Jesus as being “the light” . . . the light that pierces the darkness of the world and reveals the Holy into the lives of all who choose to see. We refer to Jesus as being “the light of the world”. In Genesis we hear how the first thing that God created was the “light” and that the light was separated from the darkness . . . and, that the light was good.
In the metaphor of light we equate goodness and holiness . . . in the darkness we equate that which is scary and unknown . . . and, even bad. In religious paintings of Jesus and all the others of the early Christian faith there is always a field of light . . . a glow . . . that surrounds them . . . an aura that we equate with holiness. In the writings of the mystics we read about how the sojourner must endure the darkness of the night to get to the light of the day . . . that the journey is always towards the light. And, we have heard and read countless stories of those who have had near-death experiences state that they were drawn towards the light.
Light is a powerful and wonderful metaphor for the Holy . . . and, even God declares light to be good. As God created with light, we—the followers of Jesus—are called into this drawing with light. That was the challenge we were given in the charge and benediction of our Christmas Eve worship service . . . to go out into the world and share the “light” wherever we might be. We symbolized that challenge as a candle was lit from the Christ Candle and then passed through the sanctuary . . . one by one . . . as we sang Silent Night, Holy Night. As each candle was lit a little more light broke through the darkness of the sanctuary . . . broke through the darkness of the world. We were beginning the process of “drawing with light”.
I stand in awe that the Christmas story . . . the nativity story . . . come smack dab in the darkest time of the year—winter. The story of light piercing the darkness of the world . . . literally and figuratively. Singer/songwriter Leonard Cohen writes: “There is a crack in everything. That’s how the light gets in.” I think that it is so cool that the light comes to us in the time of darkness and calls us out. Calls us out to bask in it warmth . . . to dance in its brilliance . . . and to discover the Holy. And, I stand in awe of the challenge to draw with the light.
Drawing with light is not easy. I can attest to that as I have been taking photographs since I was in my early teens and I am still working at learning how to do it well. The pictures I took in my earlier years are a far cry from the ones I take today . . . but, there is still a long ways to go before I become really good with this drawing with light. It takes a lot of practice . . . a lot of work. I have always told anyone who listens that it is me taking a lot . . . and, I mean, a lot . . . of pictures to get one good picture. For that I am thankful that photography entered the digital age. Because it takes practice and constantly taking pictures, I continue to do so in the hope that someday I will master that gift of drawing in the light.
So it is with the light of faith. We are called to pass the “light” on into the darkness of the world around. Yet, when we look around it seems as all we see is darkness . . . and, we wonder, how in the world will one little candle, one little light, ever pierce the darkness and make a difference? It seems so hopeless.
Thus it is that I remind you of that Christmas Eve service. One candle was lit . . . then another . . . and another. Slowly, but surely with each candle being lit, the darkness was driven back and the light shined for all to see. In order for this to happen a candle had to be lit—one candle, and it had to be shared . . . one at a time. So it is with the sharing of the light of faith . . . it begins with a willingness to share the light with another person . . . just one person.
Author Kate DiCamillo, in her book The Tale of Despereaux, wrote this in an exchange between two of the characters in her book: “Stories are light. Light is precious in a world so dark. Begin at the beginning. Tell Gregory a story. Make some light.”
To draw with light we must begin at the beginning . . . just as God did. We begin where the story begins and we share that story with others . . . one on one. We tell the story as we know it . . . as we have experienced . . . and, we allow the light to shine. That is all that we can do . . . we shine our light into the lives of others . . . and, it is up to them whether or not they will step into the light, light a candle, and brighten not only their world, but the world around them. We draw with the light . . . we tell the story.
God began with the light and so should we.
Drawing with light . . . remember the camp song, Pass It On, where it begins: “It only takes a spark to get a fire going, and soon all those around can warm up in its glowing; that’s how it is with God’s love, once you’ve experienced it: you spread God’s love to everyone, you want to pass it on.”
Our Advent hymn was One Candle is Lit. We have received the “light” . . . as God as drawn with the light in our lives, let us do likewise in the lives around us. Anne Frank said: “Look at how a single candle can both defy and define the darkness.” And, from another quote attributed to many others: “A thousand candles can be lighted from the flame of one candle, and the life of the candle will not be shortened. Happiness never decreases by being shared.”
We have received the gift of “light” . . . and, it is good. What are we waiting for . . . let us go forth and draw with the light. Amen.