… It is a great message which is given to us—good news indeed—that the light overcomes the darkness. But to give the message we must also be the message!
– Thomas Kelly
Monday morning following the Paris attacks I take my seat across from an older man with an open face whom I’d met on this train exactly one week before. He has the look of one who’s lived a full life with its attendant ups and with lots of downs, but whose gentle spirit has persisted.
“A lot has happened since we met,” he says, shaking his head. “Terrible things.”
“Yes.” I shake my head, too, and look away, appropriate words fleeing my mind like mice before a bulldozer. No words of mine could have any significance in the face of this. “Yes.” It’s all I have.
“I can’t imagine that kind of hatred,” he says. “I’ve disliked people, I’ve been angry at them, but I can’t imagine wanting to kill like that.”
How many such conversations have taken place on trains and in bars and at kitchen tables? With children, on the way to school, to basketball games, to sleep-overs?
In this time that feels so dark, each of us is especially called to be the message of light that overcomes darkness—it’s a message not meant exclusively for times of peace and well-being, though it’s easier to believe in those times. In this particular dark period, our point in history, when some cry that religion not only has no answers but is the mechanism bringing evil to the world, we are called yet more deeply to embody that message.
People of all ages have lived through hardship, disaster, darkness, evil—Christians no less than others. Imagine how it felt to live in some regions of France or Germany or England during the World Wars when battles raged. Or how it felt to be one of the soldiers. What must it have felt like to our Jewish brothers and sisters, as they were hunted down and massacred? To Rwandans in 1994? The end of the world, it must have seemed like.
Good news? Is there really good news when evil rears its head and seems to overcome God’s kingdom? When innocents are attacked in Paris, Beirut, Syria, Sudan? Jesus’s life was not a jaunt over tranquil waters. Living in an occupied land, an enemy of the state, tortured and murdered, we know his was not a life of ease. The light of the world came among us and lived among us and is with us now. The darkness does not overcome the Light.
Thomas Kelly knew darkness. He knew the darkness of Nazi Germany; he knew personal darkness, ego-killing failure. He once experienced the massive, incomprehensible awesomeness of God. Kelly, a Quaker who had studied philosophy, was overcome by that awesome power while on his knees in the great Cologne cathedral in 1938; he likened God’s love to “flames of fire” and told a friend, “I have literally been melted down by the love of God.” From here on out, his philosophy was centered on obedience to God and love.
We become the light shining into the darkness through trust and faith and hope and yes, through consent. We don’t just carry it, we become it, as Kelly said. We can’t do it ourselves; we don’t become Christ’s light through sheer willpower and effort. We yield. We say yes. We pray. Come Lord Jesus.
How would I have responded, had I been personally impacted by the Paris atrocities? I don’t know—I’m not brave. I can only hope that someday I will be transformed enough to turn to the light, to be that light, no matter what. It may be on my deathbed.
Religion can’t be, for us, a fount for plucky platitudes that carry us along when everything goes well, or a lifeboat we leap into on choppy seas, jumping out again when we spot safer shores. We want Truth! We want Him. We have to consent to be transformed, to become the light, to stick around through thick and thin. To prefer the person of Jesus to the easy comfort of . . . well, comfort.
It isn’t a matter of believing in the Inner Light, it is a matter of yielding your lives to Him. It is a matter of daily, hourly going down into the Shekinah of the soul, in that silence, find yourselves continually recreated, and realigned and corrected again and again from warping effects of outer affairs. It is having a Center of creative power and joy and peace and creation within you.
Kelly is one who knew what he was talking about, for he yielded his life. He knew darkness, and he knew the Light. “The light for which the world longs is already shining,” he told us. And he knew.
The Paris bombings affected all of us, for we are, indeed, all one. They had a warping effect, which evil always does. To some extent, and certainly a much lesser extent, that evil touched each of us here in Denver, almost five thousand miles away from the epicenter of the attacks, as surely as it did those present. It touched a woman walking through a field in a remote region of Thailand. A boy playing a video game in Argentina. Somebody fishing out in the middle of the Atlantic. Every one of us. But when we love and pray and bring our attention to the light, when we say yes to the light, we affect all. Therefore, we have a responsibility.
He plucks the world out of our hearts, loosening the chains of attachment. And He hurls the world into our hearts, where we and He together carry it in infinitely tender love.
– Thomas Kelly
This window illuminated the heavy wood door of a chapel I visited while on a morning retreat a couple of weeks ago.
Light overcomes the world’s darkness again and again and again because the darkness cannot and will not overcome it.
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Christina Manweller publishes poetry and creative nonfiction and is blessed to work with the people of light and integrity at Creator Mundi.