There is something about the morning light at this time of the year that intrigues me and makes me smile. I love light at all times of the year, but the morning light, right now, in late winter, before the time changes and as we are just beginning to really notice how much the days have already lengthened, is always stunning to me. It returns to me each year, like a long, lost friend that teases me, as if encouraging the world to yawn and stretch and wonder if it needs to sleep a few minutes longer or if it is time to jump up, shout, and revel in the joy that this light brings.
This morning that teasing light poured in through my windows, tickled my eyes and called to me: “Get up. Go get your coffee. Come outside. Breathe the air. Greet the birds. Greet your locust tree. Come and let me bid you ‘good morning!’”
If the truth is told, I have always been fascinated by light and by the way light and shadows dance with each other. The morning light is my favorite, but I love the late afternoon and evening light too. I love the light of the sun. I love the light of the moon. I love firelight and candlelight and bits and pieces of light that show up in unexpected places and unexpected ways, like the light that sparkled through the ice sickles last week on a cold, clear day.
There is always something to see in the different light that shines throughout our world. Evening light shines differently than morning light and summer leaves can filter light in a way that bare winter limbs cannot, causing the light to shimmer and dance on the ground. When I am paying attention to light I notice subtle differences in the treasures of the earth from one season to the other, from one day to the other, from one moment to the other and I am astonished at how Creation can reflect the light and love and genius of the Creator.
I can’t seem to get enough of light. And maybe this is one reason why one of my favorite names for Jesus is “Light of the World”
The Gospel of John identifies Jesus as the Light of the World with eloquent words. I love standing in a dim and candlelit sanctuary on Christmas Eve, reading those words. It brings hope and peace to me.
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2 He was in the beginning with God. 3 All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being. What has come into being 4 in him was life, and the life was the light of all people. 5 The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it. (John 1:1-5, nrsv)
Light has a special way of communicating to us. The Light of the world has a special way of getting our attention, of shining on us, of shining through us. The Light of the World that shines in the darkness does so for everyone, neither picking or choosing where his light shines or who receives the Light shining in the dark places of this world. There are no conditions. The Light of the World that shines with love and compassion, mercy and grace, shines on all.
Several years ago, I had the opportunity to see beautiful stained-glass windows as I traveled throughout Europe. I made it a point to photograph the light coming through the windows and watching the light as it moved across walls and floors of tiny church buildings and large cathedrals, old, dusty buildings and bright, new buildings. As a result, I have hundreds of photos of stained glass just from that one trip.
One experience has stayed with me. I traveled to Zurich, Switzerland, primarily to see the stained-glass windows in the Fraumünster church that were created by my favorite artist Marc Chagall. Chagall was born into a Jewish family in Russia, immigrated to France, and had to deal with anti-Semitism that was rampant and frightening in the twentieth century.
I had already seen his peace windows that he created as a gift for the St. Stephens church in Mainz, Germany. It was on a beautiful, sunny April afternoon. Standing in front of those windows was a dream come true for me. I was in awe of the afternoon light coming through ethereal blue, a color that I have come to call Chagall peace blue. It is a color that I can often see, in my mind’s eye, when I pray. The windows were a gift of reconciliation, a gift of hope, a gift of peace to mark the end of a horrific time in the history of the Jewish people. Standing in the light of the windows, I did not think that my experience with light of the Light of the World could be any better.
Until a couple of months later, in Zurich.
The windows in Zurich told stories of creation, of Moses, of judgement, but the one that took my breath away was the one of Jacob struggling with the angel. In that window, Chagall had placed his signature peace blue, surrounding Jacob in that window, but there were other bold colors that were there as well. When I first saw it, I was spell bound. The afternoon light poured through the colors of the windows and I could not stop staring at it. I kept going back just to sit in front of that window. I went so many times over three days that the attendants at the door stopped charging me an entrance fee. They just smiled and waved me in.
As a photographer, my only disappointment in the beautiful Jacob window was that I was not allowed to take photographs and that could be one of the reasons why I kept going back to sit in front of that window. I wanted to drink in what the colors were trying to tell me and never forget the feeling of being washed in the colors of God’s love. I wanted to know what Jacob’s struggle had to say to me and what the angel wanted me to notice. I wanted to remember, always, the light coming through those windows and to know what the Light of the World wanted to say to me and to think about as well. One afternoon, I sat in front of the window for three hours and I still wonder how the time past so quickly.
I couldn’t take photographs of this deep and moving experience with the Light of the World and the light through the windows, but I did find myself writing a poem about what I heard the Light of the World saying to me through that experience and about what I wanted to say to others. The poem is called Chagall Light and You, and while much of it is still too personal yet to share, some of the words express what I truly felt Jesus, the Light of the World saying to me and calling me to tell others.
I love the part of you that I see
In the blues of Chagall’s peace windows
And feel in the struggle
Chagall masterfully captured in the Jacob window
I love that part of you that I hope
At times feels the
Love and Light
That surrounds you
That part of you
That I know
Somewhere deep inside
Remembers that you are
That part of you that shines
(copyright 15 May 2018, C. Alicia Randolph)
This past Sunday, the second Sunday in Lent, as we were examining the words of Jesus in the Gospel of Mark, telling us to take up our crosses and follow him, I preached about how over and over again, we are called to listen—to listen carefully to what Jesus is saying to us. When Jesus asks us to take up our crosses and follow him, he is telling us that following him is not always easy, that sometimes, the path that leads to suffering, rejection, and death. Jesus wanted the disciples and us to know what we are agreeing to when we say: I have decided to follow Jesus!
The Gospel story also reveals to us that following Jesus leads to Light and life, astonishing, unconditional, abundant life. Listening to Jesus’ words, reading his words, pondering his words, over and over again keeps our eyes turning upon Jesus and reminds us that we too are part of the Light of the World and that the Light of the World, shining through us—our words, our actions, our compassion, our longings, our hope, our lives—brings color and hope and compassion and love to the world too, like the light that shines through stained-glass. Jesus spoke about this in the Sermon on the Mount:
“You are the light of the world. A city built on a hill cannot be hid. 15 No one after lighting a lamp puts it under the bushel basket, but on the lampstand, and it gives light to all in the house. 16 In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven.” (Matthew 5:14-16 nrsv)
You are the light of the world. I am the light of the world. We are the light of the world, joining with the Light of the World that shines in the darkness!
May it be so.
Soli Deo Gloria!