An alternative to going dark

Friday brings a change to the White House, a power shift in Washington. I hope—whether you’ll be commiserating with family and friends, celebrating, or marching in protest—that you’ll take a few moments first to ponder darkness and light, contempt and compassion, condemnation and grace.

I’ve seen buzz growing around the idea of going dark on Facebook this Friday by posting a completely black rectangle where your cover photo would normally be. I confess the idea has some appeal to me, but I also know I have to carefully guard my own soul and heart and mind from settling in with dark thoughts and fears.

Church this past Sunday offered a scripture reading that reminded me of an essential truth to cling to in the days and weeks and months ahead. God calls each of us to reflect God’s light to others:

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I will also make You a light of the nations, that My salvation may reach to the end of the earth. — Isaiah 49:6

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Good tidings of great joy

We’ve made it through the darkest day of the year. The solstice is behind us, and the light is returning. On Friday we celebrate the birth of the Light.

I’m guessing you’re busy today. Perhaps family has already come with suitcases and packages. Or maybe you’re the one packing to head over the river. Or you’re stuck at work trying to wrap up that project. Or you feel chained to the stove preparing one last batch of cookies. Or no one is helping you with the mounting pile of dishes, and you’re left feeling anything but full of Christmas cheer.

Will you take just a moment to savor these verses today? To prepare for the blessing that is Christmas?

And an angel of the Lord suddenly stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them; and they were terribly frightened. But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid; for behold, I bring you good news of great joy which will be for all the people, for today in the city of David there has been born for you a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.”
– Luke 2:9-11

I like the good “tidings” from other translations, but good news works just as well. Can you imagine the shepherds as they beheld the angel? Can you picture the angel’s great joy at getting to be the one to deliver the news?

closeupChristmasangel2012_FT

I shared this angel’s photo here several years ago. She remains one of my favorite Christmas decorations, and I’m happy to share her with you again this year.

Merry Christmas, dear friends. May peace and blessings—and the Light—surround you in the coming days.

Flowers and candles: What we tell the children and ourselves

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By now you’ve likely seen the video of the French immigrant father with his small son discussing the terrorist attacks in Paris. If you haven’t seen it, many sites have pulled it  because of copyright issues, but you’ll find it here at the 6:22 mark of the video. (For English subtitles click on the CC icon at the bottom of the video screen, and select English.)

I’d also encourage you to watch the clip right before this sweet father and son, starting around the 4:30 mark. In that part of the video, a French Muslim girl and her mother talk about their reactions. The mother says, “We must be humans and not barbarians.”

The young girl smiles bravely and says she’ll try not to have nightmares. The little boy lets a relieved smile creep across his face as he looks from his father to the flowers and candles. “C’est pour protégé?” he asks. This is for protection? The expressions of both the girl and the boy fill my eyes with tears and my heart with hope.

What do we tell our children and ourselves in times of darkness, when we hear reports of jihadis hoping to spark an apocalyptic war? How do we comfort our children when they see adult fears threatening to overcome our sense of compassion and our common humanity?

Perhaps the French father is on to something that could comfort us all. The candles and the flowers will protect us—not literally from the guns, of course—but because they suggest a willingness and a desire to let goodness rise up, to cause goodness to triumph over the evil.

I don’t know enough of other religions to speak of them, but Christians believe in the capital L Light that triumphs over darkness: “The Light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not comprehend it” (John 1:5).

There is light and there is darkness in this fallen world of ours. The light is stronger, and the Light will protect us. Perhaps not in the ways we expect or hope or imagine. But to me, flowers and candles are a good start.

This past Sunday, I attended a prayer service at the Episcopal church I’ve been visiting. I’d like to leave you with the evening prayer that we spoke together at the end of the service. May it be an offering of light to you:

Keep watch, dear Lord, with those who work, or watch, or weep this night, and give your angels charge over those who sleep. Tend the sick, Lord Christ; give rest to the weary, bless the dying, soothe the suffering, pity the afflicted, shield the joyous; and all for your love’s sake. Amen.

Thankful for trees and books and a book about trees

I’ve got exciting news this Thanksgiving Eve! My book The Flourishing Tree is available for purchase.

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Available now at Lulu.com

It will be available only through Lulu until sometime early in the new year, when it will be widely available (Barnes & Noble, Amazon, etc.). For those of you who prefer electronics to paper, you may purchase the eBook through Lulu, too. To celebrate the Thanksgiving holiday, the eBook is on sale for $3.99 through Monday (it’s regularly $8.99). The paperback version is on sale for 20% off.

Thank you for your support
How many of you remember the Bartles & Jaymes commercials from many years ago? You know, the ones with the two old guys who always ended by saying “Thank you for your support.” Well, let me quote them here: “Thank you for your support.” Those of you who follow this blog have encouraged me and lifted me up and helped me get here today. I am deeply grateful for you.

If you like the book, would you do me another favor? Would you rate it on Lulu? Would you leave some feedback for me here? Or at hopesquires.com? I’d love to hear how this book touches you.

My hope for the book
I hope those of you who read the book will walk away with a renewed sense of God’s unfailing love and grace for you. I hope you’ll be encouraged in your faith journey. I hope you will experience a new (or renewed) excitement for pursuing a relationship with God. And I hope the book will fill you with God’s light.

Together, you and I can be bearers of the light. We live in a broken world, and it is easy to feel overcome by the strife and despair and sorrow and violence in this world. Yesterday morning, the morning after Ferguson erupted in fresh riots, I was out running with my dog. Two chickadees dropped to the road from a high limb of a tree, hitting the pavement with a loud “thwack.” I thought they might be babies falling from a nest, but they were full-grown and in full fight mode. Their battle made me despair, “If even the birds are at war with one another, what hope is there for humans to heal their differences?”

Yet God calls us to let our light shine and to love one another. In the days to come, may you find moments that heal the broken places inside of you, and may you encounter ways both tender and loud that shine through with the light of God’s love for us all.

Happy Thanksgiving, y’all. I hope your travels will be safe and cheerful. I hope you find yourself in the company of those you love. I hope your bellies and your hearts will be filled with all good things.

 

Trying to control the darkness and the light

We set our clocks back Sunday (though some of you reading this may never change your clocks and others may change yours on different dates). This artificial change brings light earlier in the morning but also summons darkness earlier in the evening. Is this a human attempt to control the uncontrollable nature of time? Is it part hubris for humans to attempt to wrangle obedience from the sun and force it to rise and set on our command?

I used to love this weekend every year when I was younger. I relished the extra hour of sleep and waited all day to change my clocks. Each time I looked at the clock, I’d celebrate a small triumph over time: “Hah!” I would think, “I really have an extra hour,” when in fact I only had the same amount of time as always. I could pretend there was a 25-hour day in the fall and ignore the required 23-hour day in the spring to balance the truth that we all only get 24 hours in every day, no matter how much we try to cajole and shift and control time.

Maybe in youth, I walked in a different sort of light, didn’t need the sunlight as much as I do now, wasn’t as influenced by the shorter days and the lessening of the light. As I age, this day and the week that follows grow more difficult for me. It’s like a week of vertigo for my brain as I attempt to adjust to a new pattern of light and dark in life. The dog gets antsy in the afternoon, thinking I’ve forgotten her walk and dinnertime. My husband runs mostly in the dark—whether he runs before or after work—and all too soon, he’ll also leave for work in the dark and return in the dark. I’ve heard from several friends recently, bemoaning the coming dark in this way: “Only the Christmas lights make it better this time of year, but then …” They all seem to trail off at the same point, with an agonized look toward post-Christmas and winter’s dark. This is a hard change.

There’s a Bible verse that comes to mind especially during this week following the time change:

The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.

— John 1:5 (NIV)

I especially love the NIV translation of this verse because it’s about light (and God) winning, light equaling strength, light defeating the darkness and by extension, good defeating evil.

I’ve been pondering this balance of light and dark more than usual lately as my move looms ever closer. Each goodbye is tinged with both light and dark, but I like to think that the joy of each friendship outweighs the dark sadness of saying a temporary farewell.

I also fret about the light in my new home. Will there be less light in the winter there? And if so, how will it affect me? But the simple truth is this: I am not in control of the darkness and the light. I have to trust that the light can and will overcome the dark.

I bought a golden mum earlier in the Fall, and this is one of my favorite photos of it:

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Light overcomes dark.

 

This mum positively shimmered in place. I would walk by a window and glimpse a golden halo through the glass, the mum defeating darkness and mimicking the sun’s own light.

I should print the photo and write John 1:5 on it. And maybe set it nearby as a reminder to hope even as the dark sets in. Something like this (feel free to print this out, if you like):

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Attempting to control light and dark
Will we forever try to control time and dark and light? This National Geographic article suggests that the answer is yes. It’s a great read if you’d like to learn more about the history of US efforts to fiddle with the sun. My favorite line: “‘As you can imagine, the Congressional Record on daylight saving constitutes the great comic novel of the 20th century.'”

Check out this Washington Post article about the politics of time. The article also provides a map of countries that practice the time switch. If the time change itself hasn’t already made you dizzy, this list of countries and their decisions about time zones and changes may leave you feeling a little off kilter.

And if you’re looking for a defense of the dark, this is a beautiful read. My favorite line: “Surrendering to the dark was my only hope of making peace with the light.” Because, after all, even the light can overwhelm us somedays.

So how about you? How are you adjusting? Does “falling back” affect you?