Dark night of the soul, Darkness, Light, Spiritual and emotional darkness, Vision

So Much Light We Cannot See

Photo by Shane McNary in Poprad | Slovakia
“The clouds may hang heavy, but the light still shines.”

Clouds hang heavy at times. They loom overhead as if they are holding something destructive. Rain, snow storms, hurricanes, tornados . . . whatever disaster our minds might envision. Sometimes ominous-looking clouds just move away or dissipate, as if to remind us that our deepest apprehensions are able to resolve themselves without our help. Other times, the dark clouds release their fury.

There is a point to all of this, and I think it is this: Humans have a tendency to see only what is dark and ominous, and fail to see the light surrounding it. Sometimes the light is there all the time, but we cannot see it. I want to borrow some words, actually the title of a beautiful war novel written by Anthony Doerr, All the Light We Cannot See.

An abundance of light surrounds us to warm us and brighten our days. Dark clouds do come into view, but the light is still there. We simply cannot, or will not, see it. I cannot help but name what we do as being unaware in the light. I know that, for me, the words, ”all the light we cannot see” stand as a description of my faulty vision, both physically and spiritually. It is in the spiritually dark times that I read again the treasure of Isaiah’s prophecy.

The people that walked in darkness have seen a great light: they that dwell in the land of the shadow of death, on them has the light shined. No longer will the sun be your light by day, nor the brightness of the moon shine on your night; for the LORD will be your everlasting light, and your God will be your splendor. Arise, shine; for your light has come, and the glory of the LORD is risen upon you . . .

From Isaiah chapter 9 and chapter 60

Physically, emotionally and spiritually, there is so much light we cannot see. or perhaps we refuse to see it. Realities claim their strongholds. Realities harm us, to be sure—realities of war and rumors of war, realities of violence, injustice, poverty, racism, abuse. The list of harms among us could go on and on. It harms our vision and steals our light. And there is much light we cannot see.

We cannot see the good around us against backdrops of the many forms of evil. We cannot see kind people, because so many people are unkind. We cannot see the dreams we dreamed in the light, because ominous darkness has hidden them. We cannot see the light of trust, because we have seen betrayal. We cannot see the people we love when we see only their flaws. We cannot accept the light of love from another person, because other persons in our lives have refused to love us. Even the light in our own souls suffers the darkness at times when the ”dark night of the soul” takes over within us.

Could we believe that, around us and in us, there is an abundance of light we cannot see? Might we push our hearts nearer to the light we can see? And can we acknowledge that ”all the light we cannot see” has been our reality far too long?

May God help us see all the light we have never seen before. May we see the light of Christ within us, and the light of the Spirit in the world. Amen.




Please spend a few moments listening to this lovely song, ”I See the Light.”
Vocals by Olivia Collingsworth and Joseph O’Brien,


Piano: Kim Collingsworth
Bass: Phillip Collingsworth
Guitar: Grayson Lilly
Mixed By: Phillip Collingsworth (Solid Sound Studios)
Video Edited By: William Blair

Frederick Buechner, Lostness, Madness, Noise, Silence

Silence ~ Holding Your Breath to Listen

“Silence” Photography by Daniele Colucci

Silence is at a premium at my house. The only time of day that is silent in my house is in the early morning—after the meowing cat goes outside; before anyone else in the house wakes up; before the iPad starts with its incessant sounds for incoming messages; and even before the sound of brewing coffee. I cherish that silence because, immersed in it, I learn all kinds of important things about myself. Including how much my soul needs silence and how little it gets.

I suppose silence is hard to come by for most people, at least those of us who are barraged by life’s incessant activity. Many culprits steal silence from us, but they are not always bad culprits. Many silence breakers are wonderful sounds like children’s laughter or a baby making baby sounds, or soothing music, gently falling rain, gentle breezes, the ebb and flow of the ocean, a flowing stream, birdsong. Some sounds are beautiful sounds.

The silence thieves I’m talking about are those that assault our places of solitude and peace. I think you will know some of them—like the sounds of gunfire in cities and communities, the sounds of family violence, the sounds of war, and even the sound of the broadcast news that tells us about all of those sounds and so many more. You will name your own sounds, the ones that strike fear in you, create inner turmoil for you, shatter your silenced places.

I think it’s important, at least for me, to find moments of silence and, in those silences, to think deeply, to calm my soul, to help mend my broken places, to discover my self and learn the truth of who I really am. And for me, I need silence to help me find my spiritual center. Believe me, silence eases every kind of headache and relaxes every painful muscle.

But then there’s that incessant news on tv! I know—I can just turn it off. The problem is that turning it off feels like turning my back on news I need to hear. If people are languishing from hunger, or suffering the violence of war, or living in fear for their lives, or dodging the violent fists of an abusive parent, or running away in fear of a terrorizing spouse, I need to know. I need to know because I care and just maybe I can do something about it. Like pray, reach out, call an ambulance, call the police, pray, offer words of comfort, cook a meal, call my Congress people, pray.

So yes, the television gives information that makes us care about our neighbor, about our communities and about the world. Still, it creates noise and sometimes we need silence. Our silence gives us the compassionate heart and the strength to help other when we can. The silence helps me find my own truth, and it is my truth that motivates me to care about what happens to others. A quote by Maxime Lagacé is full of wisdom, ”Noise creates illusions. Silence brings truth.”

I need silence and I need truth, about myself and about the world of chaos we seem to have created for ourselves. In his wonderful book, Whistling in the Dark, Frederick Buechner tells a story about Advent, how much we need to silently wait during the season of Advent for the coming of the Christ child, and also how we usually don’t get a silent moment. What overtakes our world is the noise of traffic, the noise of shoppers in overcrowded stores, the terrible noise of violence that the season always brings and, this year again, the noise of lament about those suffering from Covid-19 and the noise of the news that tells us about all of it—again and again and again. We can’t get a break and we can’t get even a smidgen of silence.

I am deeply moved by Frederick Buechner’s Advent story, especially when he writes about what he calls “the silence of a midwinter dusk.” In that dusk, he says, ”there is far off in the deeps of it somewhere a sound so faint that for all you can tell it may be only the sound of the silence itself. You hold your breath to listen.”

For me and for you, I hope for an escape from noise and constant activity, and instead slipping into a sacred space where we find silence and stillness. I don’t know about you, but I need that. I think we can somehow break away from the “madness and lostness” of the world and hightail it towards our places of silence.

But if you concentrate just for an instant, far off in the deeps of yourself somewhere you can feel the beating of your heart. For all its madness and lostness, not to mention your own, you can hear the world itself holding its breath.  

– Frederick Buechner

May it be so for you.

Epiphany, Star Words

The Star Word on the Floor

In my Voices Sunday school class . . . 
On Epiphany Sunday,
After we all had chosen our Star Words,
And discussed their most profound meaning,
Our Zoom call ended.

I spiritedly rose up to my feet! With great enthusiasm!

After all, the Star Word I had just chosen
Read, “RISE UP?”
The “Rise Up” worried me a bit,
       As Star Words often do,
Because those words always make me feel.

So I as I was “rising up” from my desk chair 
Expecting new vigor for a new year,
Suddenly . . .
       Something startled me.

Oh, my! There’s a Star Word on the floor!
Thank goodness it’s face down.

For a long time, I just carefully walked around the Star Word on the floor,
Wondering what I should do about it.

I couldn’t leave it on the floor;
        Because then people feet, cat feet and the desk chair wheels would destroy it.

What should I do?
Was this another Star Word meant for me?
          Or could it be for our Voices class, for all of us?

I decided to pick it up, turn it over, and see the Star Word;

But I couldn’t just pick it up
          Unceremoniously, without any sacred intent.

Remember, I always feel something when I choose a Star Word.
         Every time! 

Every year on the day we celebrate Epiphany,
         And hear again Epiphany’s story of the Magi getting a glimpse,
                 An extraordinary glimpse, to be sure;
                          Of a brilliant star in the night sky!

A star that probably left them breathless.
         A star that would miraculously show them the way ahead,
                  Even in the dark.

In the retelling of the Magis’ story, 
I always feel something;
       Always!

Just like I always feel something 
When it’s time to choose my Star Word,

Breathless, anxious, excited, afraid . . . 
     I wonder where and how my Star Word might lead me
              Into night’s darkness.
              Into the uncertainty of the year to come.
              Into a new way of being . . . 

All the while, pondering . . . 
       Things to change, 
            Resolutions to honor,
                 Amends to make,
                      Newness to discover,
                             New and holy promptings that will beckon me to rise up!

What will they be? Could my Star Word give me a hint?

All of these thoughts swept over me 
As I picked up that Star Word from the floor
And held it in my hands,
Holding my breath,
Hesitant to look on the other side.

Finally, I turned over the Star Word I had rescued from the floor.

When I read the Star Word, I knew instantly!
That this Star Word from the floor was for me.
It was for all of us.
It was for everyone

Who prays for,
               Who hopes for,
                               Who longs for,
6e31efa1-56e5-4867-b0d7-b62d4db5de5f

What about the Star Word on the floor?
What was its holy message for us?

Forgiveness.

Amen.

Christmas, Christmas bells, Inner peace, Mourning, peace, Silence

Let All the Earth Keep Silence

A silent, holy night

There are times when sound does nothing but cause pain—the harsh words of disagreement, the disturbing reverberation of gunfire, the abrasive words of political battles, the crying of a baby. This Christmas season for me has been a tender time. I have longed for Christmases past that were more simple and free of worry. I have not heard this year the sound of Christmas bells ringing in this joyful season. Instead, I have needed to find a holy, silent place.

A dear friend captured my emotions in her blog today:

Many of us miss Christmas moments
familiar from other years
and expected for this one.
Many of us miss someone so precious
who was with us and will not be.

Perhaps mourning loss has made me unable to hear all the ”joyful and triumphant” sounds of Christmas. Instead of craving those familiar joyful sounds, I have been drawn to a place of silence. I feel compelled in these days to seek silent spaces and to open my soul to holy whispers. It seems that silence brings peace as nothing else can.

As I have thought through all that I feel, an old hymn came to mind. It seems to capture where my soul is right now. I will listen to it a few times today, as I try to rest in the silence I need, ”Let all the earth keep silence before him.”

I will also turn again to these comforting words in my friend’s blog:

Look around on Christmas Eve
and Christmas Day
for the tip of angel wing prepared for you.

If sounds of Christmas joy feel painful to you this year, I invite you to find the holy silence you need. As you do, listen to this calming hymn.

Most of all, I wish for you ”the tip of angel wing.”

Christmas bells, Inner peace, peace, Peace on earth

Hear the Bells

“Spirit of Christmas” by Eric Dowdle

I ran across this painting by Eric Dowdle as I was nursing a bit of holiday doldrums. It’s easy to fall into doldrums while anticipating Christmas. We expect an ”all is calm, all is bright” kind of Christmas, but sometimes that’s not reality at all. Instead, we can’t hear the singing of choirs, the sweet sounds of the organ or the ringing of Christmas bells.

When I look at this art, I see everything we long for as Christmas nears: a bright and beautiful tree with a sparking star on top, Santas everywhere and the people encircling the tree as if to say, ”Right here among us, there is peace on earth among people of good will.” If the painting miraculously had sound, I imagine I would hear the ringing of church bells heralding the magnificent coming of peace on earth.

Yet, we have reality in our sight instead of this joyful painting. Peace among us in these days, even peace within us, seems to be in short supply as division, war, poverty, and racial injustice continues to hold sway on our world. Not insignificant is that our personal relationships seem to be less than peaceful. The place within us where peace ought to be is often in chaos, filled with anxiety or just plain empty. Peace in our hearts and spirits—that sacred sense of serenity and inner calm—simply eludes us.

When my spirit is not at peace, I can barely see peace anywhere, even at Christmas. Such was the story of Henry Wadsworth Longfellow who wrote the words of the beloved carol, ”I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day.” Some of the stanzas of Longfellow’s beautiful poem are familiar to us, but other stanzas we have seldom, if ever, heard. Here is the poem in its entirety.

I heard the bells on Christmas Day
Their old, familiar carols play,
    And wild and sweet
    The words repeat
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!

And thought how, as the day had come,
The belfries of all Christendom
    Had rolled along
    The unbroken song
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!

Till ringing, singing on its way,
The world revolved from night to day,
    A voice, a chime,
    A chant sublime
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!

Then from each black, accursed mouth
The cannon thundered in the South,
    And with the sound
    The carols drowned
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!

It was as if an earthquake rent
The hearth-stones of a continent,
    And made forlorn
    The households born
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!

And in despair I bowed my head;
"There is no peace on earth," I said;
    "For hate is strong,
    And mocks the song
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!"

Then pealed the bells more loud and deep:
"God is not dead, nor doth He sleep;
    The Wrong shall fail,
    The Right prevail,
With peace on earth, good will to all!


I cannot help but look around at what I see and hear on the streets of this city and all over the world and see despair, hatred, division and violence taking over the peace I so need. So as the carol says, ”And in despair I bowed my head; “There is no peace on earth,” I said;” For hate is strong, And mocks the song of peace on earth, good-will to men!”

As you seek peace this Christmas season, know that God is the giver of a deep peace that abides in our hearts. I invite you to take a few moments out of your day to enjoy these videos. The first is a choral and orchestra performance of the carol. The second is a lovely group of young people singing the hymn with the addition of handbells. The third is a beautiful performance by the Mormon Tabernacle Choir with the narrated story of Longfellow’s writing of the carol.

May the Christmas blessing of peace fill your heart, and may you hear, above all other sounds, the wild and sweet ringing of the bells of Christmas.

 


Advent, Love

A Contemplative Advent ~ Love

We end Advent with Love—that heart emotion that makes its way into our souls and remains there. Love isn’t always easy. Love may well require putting away your self-interest, your tendency to be self-absorbed and your compulsion to hold grudges.

There are much better things to hold than grudges. Like the constant Love you hold for your children and grandchildren. Like the lasting Love of a life partner. Like the deep love you hold for your family. Like the soul-Love you experience when you remember a baby laying in a manger in Bethlehem.

When you remember that baby, with a brilliant star shining over him and angels singing overhead, that is when you know genuine Love. That is the Love of “God With Us.” That is the Love that dwells in us for eternity. That is the Love that helps us Love one another as God has Loved us.

God loves you simply because God has chosen to do so. God loves you when you don’t feel lovely. God loves you when no one else loves you. Others may abandon you, divorce you, and ignore you, but God will love you always. No matter what!
— Max Lucado

Don’t let anyone or anything take that Love from you like the grinch stole Christmas! Don’t let your quarrels and your anger steal that Love from you. Don’t let petty misunderstandings crush the Love that is in you, because that Love became flesh and came to live among us and in us.


Glory to God in the highest,
and on earth peace,
good will toward all people!

Advent, Love

A Contemplative Advent ~ Love

I’m a little short on words this year for Advent’s Sunday of Love.
Love is fragile, you know. Love can turn on a dime.
Or at least love can turn on the turn of a phrase
A difficult conversation
Or a harsh word.

Then you lose it—love, that is
If only for a time
But you look around for it
And love is gone
Replaced with heartbreak
Uncertainty
Bitterness
Broken hearts
Angry words.

Can’t get it back, either
At least not right away.

Left then with Advent Hope
You hope for a kinder moment
To make its way into your heart.

Left with Advent Peace
You look for other things
That might fill your heart
With calm
With serenity.

Left with Advent Joy
You can only mourn its passing.

But Advent Love
Well, you just hold your heart tightly
so that it doesn’t shatter completely
Before Love comes down at Christmas.

Emmanuel!
God with us!

Uncategorized

Angels of Light

Angels of Grace ~ Artist, Christine Bell

May the angels of light
glisten for us this day.

May the sparks of God’s beauty
dance in the eyes of those we love.

May the universe
be on fire with Presence for us this day.

May the new sun’s rising
grace us with gratitude.

Let earth’s greenness shine
and its waters breathe with Spirit.

Let heaven’s winds stir the soil of our soul
and fresh awakenings rise within us.

May the mighty angels of light
glisten in all things this day.

May they summon us to reverence,
may they call us to life.


— John Philip Newell

Please enjoy this video.

Advent, Inner joy, Jude

A Contemplative Advent ~ Joy

I learned today that happiness in America is at an all-time low. A recent survey from the University of Chicago found that happiness among Americans has fallen lowere than it has been in five decades. What has caused the public’s happiness to plummet is fairly simple—living in the midst of the coronavirus. And that’s the current status of happiness in America.

But happiness is not joy. We can be happy when we find success, or a have a new relationship, or a win a sweepstakes, or watch our children graduate. Yet, even in a state of happiness, we can be without joy. Happiness is an emotion that brings bursts of intense pleasure, excitement, and satisfaction, while joy is a enduring state of being that results in feelings of inner peace and contentment. Joy does not depend on our good luck or our happy circumstances. Joy lives in our hearts, in the deep recesses of our souls. Happiness comes and goes; joy is abiding and eternal.

Still, joy can seem elusive in troubled times. No one escapes trouble. It is an inevitable part of life and, at times, all of us encounter pain, grief, hardship, sorrow, loneliness. Life brings us joy-destroying circumstances. Even Advent Joy cannot change that. We can light the pink candle in our Advent wreaths over and over again, but the pink joy candle cannot bring us joy. The hope, peace, joy and love that Advent might bring to us does not always reach us.

I ask myself: What is it in me that prevents joy from filling my heart? Why does melancholy replace joy in me so often? How do I find joy?

Often, children teach us by their words and actions. Most of them exude joy. I remember hearing children sing, ”I’ve got that joy, joy, joy, joy down in my heart.” The song is actually good theology for children. It is also good theology for adults, especially adults that have lost their joy. I don’t have to search for joy after all. It is ”down in my heart” or maybe down deeply in my soul.

Advent joy is not something you have to work for. Instead, it is something that you hold in your soul that stays with you always. Consider this wise thought:

When you do things from your soul, you feel a river moving in you, a joy.
― Rumi 

Or maybe this thought:

I will give thanks to you, O Lord,
    for though you were angry with me,
your anger turned away,
    and you comforted me.i

Surely God is my salvation;
    I will trust, and will not be afraid,
for the Lord God is my strength and my might;
    he has become my salvation.

With joy you will draw water from the wells of salvation.

Isaiah 12: 1-3 NRSV