Monday, December 25, 2017

Spirituality as Resistance: Light in the Darkness

It has always been one of the core beliefs of my faith that resistance to the world’s ways is at the heart of the Judeo-Christian ethic. It may also be at the heart of other faiths, but this is the one I know best and am steeped in. Between now and Epiphany Sunday on January 7 I will take one of the traditional themes of the season and relate it to our present day resistance to some difficult and troubling things happening around us. I don't believe we are to withdraw from the world, but rather engage with the world (in, not of the world) with the Word in mind.

Christmas Day
December 25, 2017
Light as Resistance

Rage, rage, against the dying of the light!
- Dylan Thomas

I wonder if people at the time of Jesus’ birth felt hopeless? Were the “good, old days” the vision they kept in their mind? Might they have said these things?
• Remember when our people were led by Moses? No one like him since.
• Remember the bravery of the Maccabees reclaiming Jerusalem? Where are they now when we need them again?
• Remember the way Isaiah and Jeremiah had such great contact with God? Why are our religious leaders so dishonest now?
• Remember when Judea was great? Who will make us great again?
As a result of being human, did they believe that the world was winding down into some kind of darkness?

It wasn’t physically any darker than it had ever been. Bethlehem on the first Christmas was as dark as ever. The fields where the shepherds were quietly taking care of their flocks was as dark as any such night might be. The manger was as surrounded by darkness as it would always be in the middle of the night. Light came only from oil lamps or torches. Defeating the darkness was one of those basic human drives whether by campfires and torches or today’s LED flashlights and streetlights blocking the light of moon and stars.

We 21st Century westerners have little to no idea about such darkness. Or at least not exterior darkness. We have conquered the outer darkness and hidden the stars from view. The darkness we often rage against is an inner darkness found in our hearts and the actions of others. We may argue whether the times are any darker than they have ever been or what to do about it. We may disagree about how that darkness manifests itself. The past year has seen many examples of darkness attempting to conquer the light many of us believe God has placed in the center of humanity.
• Terror in Las Vegas, Fort Lauderdale, and Manchester.
• Devastating historic-level hurricanes.
• Threats of nuclear attacks.
• Ravaging wildfires.
• The rise of white supremacists and neo-Nazis.
• Terror in the Bronx, Barcelona, and Manhattan.
• Sutherland, Texas murders.
• Attack on congressional ballgame.
We have experienced a daily onslaught of tweets and counter-tweets, the seemingly unending attacks on social programs aimed at helping the least and the lost, the regular twisting and spinning of news to fit “my” ideologies, the degradation of science as a way of understanding our world, the misuse of the title “Christian” as a political “big stick”, and smaller, but just as hurtful, abuses and assaults on decency and character.

But we are also growing and improving.
  • The amazing shift in dealing with sexual abuse and harassment is causing a long hoped-for movement into honesty, empowering women to speak out. 
  • The Women’s March in Washington started that movement and gave it early momentum. 
  • The election victories in Virginia and Alabama have given many an awareness of what can happen when people do get out and vote. 
  • The solar eclipse was a cross-country unity of awe. 
  • The many pictures of individuals reaching out to strangers in the midst of terror and destruction reminds us that we are better than the headlines might indicate.

It would be easy at the end of this year to be sad, discouraged, or even angry. To do so would be to surrender to the power of the darkness. Most, if not all, myths and cultural foundations remind us that to do so is counterproductive. From the "Odyssey" to "Star Wars", light does find a way to win. We get that image from simply watching a sunrise- or just turning on a light in a dark room. One cannot turn on a darkness switch. It does not work that way. We can hide the light, put it under a covering or a basket, but there is still light and it shines somewhere.
  • Let it shine and defeat the darkness.
Dylan Thomas may have written the above words when his father was going blind and dying, but they are words to be read each day when the darkness surrounding us seems to be getting stronger. It is not. The light must not be allowed to dim. To “rage against the dying of the light” is to shine more brightly ourselves, to affirm what we have already celebrated through Advent:
  • Hope
  • Love
  • Joy
  • Peace.
To live these each day is to push back against the darkness.

One commentator on the web forum Quora said this about Thomas’s poem:
It is a strong invocation for us to live boldly and to fight. It implores us to not just "go gentle into that good night," but to rage against it. Even at the end of life, when "grave men" are near death, the poem instructs us to burn with life. The poem's meaning is life affirming.
Light is not just resistance, it is the way resistance works. It is a light in the darkness, a word to break the night into a place of revelation, an action to push for life. Always for life!! As long as there is light, there will be the promise and hope of life.

Christmas is the Word become Flesh and the light shining in the darkness, breaking through hate and fear, despair and greed.

Sing it loud, let it shine.

Merry Christmas!

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