This might not be something we think about very often, but it’s true: Every single life is a story of the light unfolding. In some people, this is obvious; in others, it’s not; and in some, it may look like they are running from the light as fast as their legs will carry them. But we can all feel this, inherently, in some way: Just sitting here this morning, we can probably think of a places in our lives where love comes easy, where we really feel the light shining through us—maybe when we’re doing something with our kids or grandkids, enjoying an evening with friends, or we’re engrossed in an activity we really enjoy. That sense of feeling connected to the light might be different for each of us, and that’s as it should be, because we each have a unique one-of-a-kind relationship with spirit. When I feel especially in tune with God’s light, there’s a deep sense of peace, a heightened awareness of beauty, and a kind of appreciation for everything and everyone around me.
Last night is a good example. In the middle of writing this message, I suddenly realized that I’d given my cat Mabel her last can of cat food for supper and the pet store would be closing shortly. I really didn’t feel like leaving just then, but I knew I couldn’t ask Mabel to skip breakfast in the morning. So I saved my file and got my car keys and headed for the pet store. I was feeling a sense of pressure inside, saying to myself, “I have too much to do to be taking time out to run to the store!” Noticing my stress, I said a simple prayer. “Please help me remember that all things happen in your perfect time.” That helped me remind myself that all was well and that in God’s timing, everything would get done that needed to be done.
It’s fascinating to me that instantly, I started noticing colors—the soft pink of evening clouds, the green and gold of the fields I passed, the haze of the shadows beneath the trees. I felt grateful that there was little traffic and I caught all the lights at green. I found the pet store was still open, and I had time to get what I needed. In the aisle, a woman noticed the cat food I was carrying. “Oh, I have a coupon for that,” she said, handing it to me. “And here’s another one, for next time.”
At the register, the clerk rang up the food and then his computer did something wonky. He had to call the manager to enter a code and straighten it out. He got very nervous very quickly, not wanting to make me wait, probably afraid I’d get annoyed. I assured him it was okay. I noticed how sweet he was—and this sounds funny, but he had beautiful skin. And bright blue eyes. The manager came up and fixed the problem, and we all stood there and joked together for a few moments. The clerk’s nervousness was long gone. We were all smiling when I left. Just a little lifting of love.
And in the moment, I wasn’t thinking about that experience as being part of the legacy of love, but when I got home, I realized God had just given me an object lesson on the message I was writing. Those little moments of love demonstrate the living legacy of the light. Day in and day out, we have an uncountable number of opportunities to let God’s light show us how to bring more love to ourselves, to others, to situations that need it.
The psalmist writes about this, when he says, “O send out your light and your truth; let them lead me; let them bring me to your holy hill and to your dwelling.” He says when he looks at the circumstances of his life from that higher perspective, he finds joy: “I will go to the altar of God, to God my exceeding joy; and I will praise you with the harp, O God, my God.”
I would guess that most of us have lived long enough to know that the light doesn’t just lead us into feel-good emotions that lift us up when we need it, although it does do that. The light of God is also an active, flowing force in us—a force for truth—and it changes and heals us from the inside-out. That kind of inner work doesn’t always feel good. Sometimes it hurts; sometimes it shines a spotlight on what we fear; sometimes it prompts us to let go of old ideas or limiting perspectives that have served their purpose. Sometimes it shows us where we need to change.
This happens because the light will illumine in us anything that holds us back from loving fully, truly–the way God loves us. I like the way Florence Scovel Shinn, a New Thought writer in the 1920s, puts this. She said that, “every person on this planet is taking his or her initiation in love.” That rings true in my life. It also goes along with one of my favorite quotes from Rumi, a 14th century Persian poet, who said:
Your task is not to seek for love, but merely to seek and find all the barriers within yourself that you have built against it.
The light of God helps us do just that, by showing us the places in ourselves where we are becoming hard-hearted, or discouraged, or cynical. The light helps us see it. And once we recognize it, the love of God begins to flow into that place again, renewing our hope, clearing our vision, and opening our hearts to the needs of those around us.
Last week the world lost Ann Kendall, a long-time member of Indianapolis First Friends, a trustee at Earlham College, and for the last 20 years or so, a spiritual friend and loving role model for me. Ann was one of those rare people who really lived love. It just poured out of her. It was evident in her smile, her eyes, and the sound of her voice. Ann loved God and people, animals, flowers, music, and light. Whatever had life, no matter how small or overlooked, Ann loved it. She told me stories of the ducklings on her pond—she knew them individually by their markings and their own particular waddle. She shared the peaceful movements of the blue heron on her lake—to her, all this life, all this beauty, was evidence of the loving light of God in her life.
Love was something Ann took very seriously. She wanted to be love, to share love, to spread love. She told me once that in silent worship she would prayerfully paint the inside of the meetinghouse with love, so in her mind’s eye she saw a rainbow of love spreading across the ceiling and walls, pews and people. Even though to many of us it looked as though Ann just loved that way naturally, I learned as I got to know her better that it was a choice she had made, a way she felt she could help the light of God show up in the world. She put effort into it. She told me of harrowing times she’d had as a young executive’s wife in a new part of the country, far away from home, feeling isolated and without a purpose of her own. She shared that in those days she’d spent much time in tearful prayer in front of a large picture window that looked out over beautiful mountains—maybe God’s holy hill for her—as she struggled and worried about her children, and the world, and her place in it. She’d had strong faith since she was a child, but during those painful times she forged a new relationship with the light. She learned to turn toward it and depend on it in a new and vital way. The light of God became more than something that comforted her and gave her insight—it was now the bedrock of her life.
By the time I met Ann, those times of hardship were long behind her but she readily shared stories from that time in the hopes that they might encourage others. She shared what she learned with candor and her stories left you with hope, because you could see God’s love and care for her—and by extension, for you–in the stories she told. You could see it because Ann could see it.
At University College Hospital in London, there is a program called “Beads of Life” in which therapists work with young cancer patients to help them uncover and share stories from their lives that give them strength and hope. At each gathering, the young people choose beads to represent the many different stories they have inside—stories of their strengths, their fears, their courage, their hope; stories of the love that surrounds them, the helpers they’ve met, the futures they want. I love the image of these children stringing together colorful beads that represent their best qualities, making long, beautiful chains of blessings that help them remember who they are, what they want, and what love is drawing them toward in their lives. How wonderful it would be if we could see that kind of legacy growing in our lives each day, with every tiny colorful bead of loving action—we let someone go first in traffic, we call a lonely friend, we forgive an old hurt or smile at a stranger—and soon we have a long chain, a legacy of love, evidence of light shining in our lives each day.
In any life, the light may start as a glimmer, but in the right place, it can give light to the whole house. From the smallest touch of love can come the life-changing realization that God has been with us all along, leading us step by step, helping us love more fully, more truly, like him. That’s what the kingdom of God will look and feel like; our lives will shine freely in love, unhindered, with no barriers to separate us from one another. When we let the light lead us, the psalmist says, we are drawn into joy. When we see it and share it—as Ann did—our lives become a testament of love.
Jesus told his disciples on the hillside that they were the light of the world and encouraged them to let their light shine out, so that people would see and know that the light was God’s. Whether we see it or not, our lives, too, shine with the joy of peace and the fruits of love, even if they show up bead by bead by bead. The light will continue to lead us to places where we can be just the ray of hope or the friendly shoulder another needs. Those kinds of things may seem small in the moment, but taken together, and magnified across time, they leave quite the legacy.
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