Love Lights

            A couple of years ago, we observed the lighting of the Menorah candles for Chanukah. We are not ethnically Jewish nor do we claim Judaism as our faith tradition. We do, however, deeply appreciate the rich traditions that do stem from our Christian faith. My second oldest, then a freshman at Illinois State, laughs as she explains to her friends, “yeah, we’re not Jewish, but my mom makes us light the Menorah, haha.” I am certainly no model observer of any tradition, often forgetting to mark our more usual rituals (that year the first week of Advent slipped past virtually unnoticed due to a frantic race to complete some writing for my dissertation). This is likely the reason for my insistence we join our Jewish friends to celebrate God’s provision. So, we lit Chanukah candles.

            On the final night when each family member lit a candle, we described a way that God provided during the past year when it felt something nearly ran out. Clark mentioned a rock wall climb when he didn’t think he had the strength to make it to the top—and then, he did. My other kids described similar situations with friends or school. When I lit the last candle, I realized a remarkable thing: despite frustrations or disappointments with one another, our family never runs out of love for each other; we always come back to each other in forgiveness or understanding or support or all of the above—in love. I know this is not true of all families, and so I am especially grateful—humbled, and grateful.

            Mary’s Song

I’m bursting with God-news;
    I’m dancing the song of my Savior God.
God took one good look at me, and look what happened—
    I’m the most fortunate woman on earth!
What God has done for me will never be forgotten,
    the God whose very name is holy, set apart from all others.
His mercy flows in wave after wave
    on those who are in awe before him.
He bared his arm and showed his strength,
    scattered the bluffing braggarts.
He knocked tyrants off their high horses,
    pulled victims out of the mud.
The starving poor sat down to a banquet;
    the callous rich were left out in the cold.
He embraced his chosen child, Israel;
    he remembered and piled on the mercies, piled them high.
It’s exactly what he promised,
    beginning with Abraham and right up to now.

– Lk 1:46-55, MSG

            The poet, Jennifer Michael Hecht, wrote about community and beholding-into-being that I thought so appropriate to the season: “We are indebted to one another, and the debt is a kind of faith, a beautiful, difficult, strange faith. We believe each other into being.”

And, despite not ascribing to her Jewish faith tradition, or any other faith tradition, Hecht went on to say, “We make the meaning for each other. And the culture makes the meaning. And we have these friendships in our head of people who thought life was really terrible, and yet decided that there’s this beauty in it, and this communalism. So, yeah, I certainly believe we believe each other into being. We’re not much when we’re not in the eyes of someone else at least some of the time.”

            What a powerful idea—that beholding another, noticing someone summons faith that this person matters; I cannot exist without you, and we create meaning together, and we become more of who we are when we are together. Of course, all of this is the oil, the fuel Love. And, because Love is so immense that Love became a person, and Love is the light that will not run out.

For an interview with Jennifer Michael Hecht, follow this link.

OnBeing with Krista Tippett

            Last Sunday I spoke of knowing joy by paying attention, being attentive to things we often overlook, such as moss. Maria Popova, is one of my favorite resources for paying attention to beautiful literature. Her website, BrainPickings, is where I found the moss expert, Kimmerer. Popova summarizes, “The remarkable diversity of moss varieties known and named only adds to the potentiality for intimacy with the world at all scales. But among this vast multiplicity of mosses is one particular species inhabiting the small caves carved by glaciers into the lakeshore, which alone embodies immense wisdom about the mystery and meaning of life.”

            Kimmerer writes:

Schistostega pennata, the Goblins’ Gold, is unlike any other moss. It is a paragon of minimalism, simple in means, rich in ends. So simple you might not recognize it as a moss at all. The more typical mosses on the bank outside spread themselves to meet the sun. Such robust leaves and shoots, though tiny, require a substantial amount of solar energy to build and maintain. They are costly in solar currency. Some mosses need full sun to survive, others favor the diffuse light of clouds, while Schistostega lives on the clouds’ silver lining alone.”

This singular species subsists solely on the light reflections emanating from the lake’s surface, which provide one-tenth of one percent of the solar energy that direct sunlight does. And yet in this unlikely habitat, Schistostega has emerged as a most miraculous jewel of life:

            “The shimmering presence of Schistostega is created entirely by the weft of nearly invisible threads crisscrossing the surface of the moist soil. It glows in the dark, or rather it glitters in the half light of places which scarcely feel the sun.

            “Each filament is a strand of individual cells strung together like beads shimmering on a string. The walls of each cell are angled, forming interior facets like a cut diamond. It is these facets which cause Schistostega to sparkle like the tiny lights of a far-away city. These beautifully angled walls capture traces of light and focus it inward, where a single large chloroplast awaits the gathering beam of light. Packed with chlorophyll ad membranes of exquisite complexity, the chloroplast converts the light energy into a stream of flowing electrons. This is the electricity of photosynthesis, turning sun into sugar, spinning straw into gold.

Robin Wall Kimmerer

            [Popova] “But more than a biological marvel, Schistostega presents a parable of patience and its bountiful rewards — an allegory for meeting the world not with grandiose entitlement but with boundless generosity of spirit; for taking whatever it has to offer and giving back an infinity more.”

             Kimmerer continues:

            “Rain on the outside, fire on the inside. I feel a kinship with this being whose cold light is so different from my own. It asks very little from the world and yet glitters in response.


            Timing is everything. Just for a moment, in the pause before the earth rotates again into night, the cave is flooded with light. The near-nothingness of Schistostega erupts in a shower of sparkles, like green glitter spilled on the rug at Christmas… And then, within minutes, it’s gone. All its needs are met in an ephemeral moment at the end of the day when the sun aligns with the mouth of the cave… Each shoot is shaped like a feather, flat and delicate. The soft blue green fronds stand up like a glad of translucent ferns, tracking the path of the sun. It is so little. And yet it is enough.

            This tiny moss is a master of “the patient gleaming of light” — and what is the greatest feat of the human spirit, the measure of a life well lived, if not a “patient gleaming of light”?

Julian of Norwich, spent the better part of her life meditating on a revelation shown her when she was deathly ill. The vision consisted of Jesus’ bloodied body hangin on the cross, and presented her to be read, as it were, like a book. The problem of sin and so-called evil in the world eradicated by this act of God-with-us was confounding, at first. After decades listening to the voice of the Spirit the answer became clear: Love was his meaning. And this is Love, that God first loved us.

            Simone Weil, in, Waiting For God puts it this way: “not only does the love God have attention for its substance”, that is, the meditation and consideration of the profound nature of Love, “the love of our neighbor, which we know to be the same love, is made of this same substance.” The act of such contemplation is not uncomplicated—approached naively—nor a simple gaze, but a “negative effort [that] . . . consists of suspending our thought, leaving it detached, empty, and ready to be penetrated by the object.” Turned toward one in pain, “[t]he soul empties itself of all its own contents in order to receive into itself the being it is looking at, just as he is, in all his truth.” (111-155)

            Advent is the beginning of the liturgical year. It is the one space that occupies, points to, the multidimensional: past, present, and future. It is where we know Love fulfilled, Love lived. Hope, Peace, Joy – all because of Love.

            Julian of Norwich sees the wound in Jesus’ side as an opening to humanity, an encompassing of all into the eternal embrace of death and regeneration. And to understand that profound work on the cross is also to understand Compassion as a hollowing out of the self; it is “mynde of his blessyd passion,” in which one’s suffering is displace by Christ, who is possessed of all of creation’s suffering.” And, so, my suffering is suffered by Jesus on the cross who suffers in solidarity with our pain while redeeming it so that we may see clearly – Love. But, Jesus suffers all of our suffering, so that when we identify (see) Christ’s pain for what it is (Love) we are free from attention—attachment—to self, free to have compassion on, know the pain of—love—the other.

            Christ was born. Christ lives among us. And Christ crucified, the wound that encompasses, embraces me, my pain, my hopes, my joy, so I may see Love. Know love. Live love. Love.

            My prayer is that I may be especially attentive to each person around me during the last days of this Advent season, and that together we might notice the particular ways in which we believe each other into being. Jehovah Jireh, Emanuel, God-with-us, Love—from everlasting to everlasting.