“All the darkness in the world cannot extinguish the light of a single candle.”
~The Little Flowers of St. Francis of Assisi
Mic drop right? And Francis walks off the altar.
Francis masterfully links the images of physical light and spiritual light. This, he believes, is the gamechanger in the herculean struggle against darkness. Dark world, dark soul, dark depression, darkened hope, dark, dark, dark.
Current polls reveal that people who live their lives outside of the church or faith world are not choosing to come inside the church. Today, more than at any other time, fewer people believe in God and many others who once filled a pew seat are living as spiritual nomads no longer seeing the church as the answer to their spiritual quest.
Why the decline?
Why is the church often the last place people go to find help and answers?
Why has the church lost her once unassailable position as a sanctuary in our turbulent world?
A drumbeat of answers heard playing out in response to these questions from church-goers and church-leaders generally say the problem is with our culture, our world, our politics or our theology.
“We are slouching to Gomorra!” “The end is coming” “We need new politicians” “We just need the Bible and prayer in schools again!”
However, if we are living as light, and instructing our kids to live as light, the presence and power of God should be everywhere we find ourselves whether Bibles or prayer are sanctioned or not. True we need ethical politicians, and I know many who are, but darkness still seems to roll in like a sleepy fog inching its way over the desolate moors of the political landscape even when they are elected.
If Francis is right, the answer is in the quality of a person, not the designation of a person. So, I wonder if it might have something to do with light or lack of it.
When you enter a space or room that is utterly dark a natural tendency is to start rubbing your hands along the wall where you intuit a light switch should be in order to splash on the light. If you are stuck in the dark, unable to find the switch, you will try anything to capture the smallest sliver of light. Without thinking you quickly grab and ignite your cell phone or instinctively squint your eyes hoping to seek out and capture shades of light. When that doesn’t help we go back to the drawing board desperately running our hands along the wall like a mime trying to find the switch, right?
So, I am thinking that if we feel darkness is so bad, no matter who you are, light is something you want.
Here’s where it gets tricky yes? If the church is supposed to be the bearer of light radiating out the beauty, grace, and love of God to people who are desperately mucking about in dark swamps, moors, and deserts, shouldn’t churches be packed with people?
Maybe the light that people are encountering these days isn’t actually light.
When people see followers of the light stand up for and defend darkness it’s no wonder they flee…
When sexism is promoted by demeaning and suppressing women, limiting their divine calling it extinguishes the light…
Saying “Come as you are” but really meaning “only come if you have no apparent and glaring sin or lifestyle difference” extinguishes the light…
Focusing on politics to the exclusion of what the Gospel of Christ commands (compassion, mercy, love, forgiveness) extinguishes the light…
When the message is one of hatred, bigotry, and isolationism, it extinguishes the light…
Francis danced in the light. He knew that it wasn’t about producing light, or creating light or enhancing light. He simply longed to be bathed in the Light. He knew in and of himself, there was darkness…until…the light of Christ filled him. With his soul full of divine light, his goal and driving purpose was to allow that light to lead him and illuminate his every breath.
On another “light” thought, Francis also said “A single sunbeam is enough to drive away many shadows.” Here he declares the power of light is greater than the power of darkness which is wonderfully intoned in his famous prayer when he writes:
“Lord, make me an instrument of thy peace.
Where there is hatred, let me sow love,
Where there is injury, pardon;
Where there is doubt, faith;
Where there is despair, hope;
Where there is darkness, light;
Frances knew that we are light-bearers who cause darkness to evaporate simply by showing up, having been prayed up, and willing to be used up. When God’s light spills out of a full human cup, it’s fragrance is grace, peace, joy, compassion, forgiveness, and love. To these, darkness flees.
Francis’ love of God so wonderfully spilled over into his love for all that God created. Mountains, trees, birds, streams, stars, and people. Even in his love for creation, the light was the pinnacle. In the Canticle “Brother Sun and Sister Moon” he writes:
“Be praised, my Lord, through all your creatures, especially through my lord Brother Sun, who brings the day; and you give light through him. And he is beautiful and radiant in all his splendor! Of you, Most High, he bears the likeness.
The sun simply shines…
Day in and day out she illuminates our world…
Her warmth is given to everyone without distinction…
The sun shines because it exists much like God loves because God is love. God cannot be other than He is. I cannot imagine the sun determining to stop giving light to a certain region any more than I could imagine God withholding love from anyone. The sun is light and warmth, just as God is love. When love becomes the inner fuel of God’s presence you will light up your world.
There is a cavernous difference between thinking you are light, telling people you are light, and actually being light. Jesus told His followers to “…let their light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.” (Matthew 5:16),
So, when we live out the light that is in us, people notice. But not only do they notice, Jesus tells us that they see the goodness of Christ within and give God glory.
Thinking that I am light can lead to an inflated ego…
Telling people I am light can lead to divisions and perceived judgmentalism…
Being light because you are filled with light is self-forgetfulness at its best. To be light is to acknowledge that you aren’t the light, but humbly long to be immersed in the light. This was the secret Francis found, and it changed his life and the world.
The light metaphor links us back to the sun. The sun warms, sustains life, and allows sight. The sun is an image of passion, consumption and purifying presence
The ancients asked, “Why not be totally changed into fire?” This was the goal of the Light of Francis. Not just an aid for the spiritual journey, but the consummation of the spiritual encounter with Christ. Why not be engulfed in the passionate, consumptive, light that is God revealed in His love?
I wonder if Francis allowed the closing words of the Revelation to form his thoughts on light?
I saw no temple in the city, for the Lord God Almighty and the Lamb are its temple. 23 And the city has no need of sun or moon, for the glory of God illuminates the city, and the Lamb is its light. 24 The nations will walk in its light, and the kings of the world will enter the city in all their glory. 25 Its gates will never be closed at the end of day because there is no night there. ~Revelation 21:22-25
Did you catch that? It seems that when all things are finally redeemed, healed, and made new light is at the center of this new beyond Edenic reality for our eternity.
There will be no need for the sun, moon or stars. There will be no need for your powerful flashlight on energy creating centers. There will be the awesome, majestic, beautiful, sustaining presence of God revealed in light.
May we choose to be totally changed into fire, may we choose to be light.