Being and living the presence of light in the world: How we might consider our foundations as a Christian school
The image of light is one that is woven through the Bible with the opening lines of this Sacred text being God’s spirit hovering over what is still formless and desolate and in a state of chaos, not order. “Everything was engulfed in darkness, and the power of God was moving over the water.” (Genesis 1:2). This is, until the first act of creation came about through the presence of light being brought forth and into existence. A light that was pleasing to God and a light, that with the darkness was fashioned into day and night; order and purpose being the creative acts of God.
No longer will the sun be your light by day
Or the moon be your light by night;
I, the Lord will be your eternal light:
The light of my glory will shine on you.
Your days of grief will come to an end.
I, the Lord, will be your eternal light,
More lasting than the sun and the moon…(Isaiah 60:19-20)
This passage coming from the prophet Isaiah , written at a time when the people of Jerusalem were looking to God for reassurance that justice and righteousness would reign after being in exile for many many years. The understanding that this light is a promise and hope in a time when it seems that there is little that makes sense and a reaching out, almost in an instinctive like manner, to a reality that reaches far beyond what is visible and known. To a reality that moves and has its being beyond the ordered created world. This light is eternal and independent of this world, and yet finds its presence among us. John’s Gospel, a gospel not so much concerned with providing a synoptic account of Jesus’ life, but rather exploring the cosmology of Christ and engaging with the symbolic nature of everyday realities such as light and water to point to spiritual truths. The beginning of John’s Gospel too draws on this image and presence of God’s light in the world, a light that is in the created world through the presence of Christ and a light the “shines in the darkness, and the darkness has never put it put.” (John 1:5) And in turning to the motto and foundation upon which SCEGSS is built, we, too are awakened to the presence and power of light in life.
“Let your light shine” (Matthew 5:16), with the passage reminding us that it is God that we show to the world when we do this.
We realise that, through our school’s motto, we come into the folds of this image of light that has been weaved through the Bible and we too, here at SCEGGS are cradled by its wisdom, truth and beauty. In thinking about and writing this article, I have come to a much deeper understanding of what letting your light shine is. Or, perhaps, as is true of Scripture, I have responded to the invitation to think about, contemplate and know the meaning of this for me in a way that I didn’t before. That is the beauty and mystery of our Sacred texts; they are conversations with our inner most being and what we bring to this is where we need our God to listen and respond.
In thinking about this image of light, I was caught in moments of deep reflection about both light and darkness for light is really only present and visible and seen, when there is darkness. Without the dark, there is no light. The passages from Genesis, Isaiah and John remind us that this is true. This understanding, obvious as it is, is a consideration that invites us into reflection on the nature of the world in which we live. A contemplation that calls us to consider how we relate to this world. We are being called to notice, engage with, and be a loving presence to the things in this world that aren’t always moments of love, joy and happiness. That are experiences and realities in life where we may see suffering and pain in others, or truths about ourselves that we would rather remain hidden and buried within as they are the not so good truths about ourselves. Truths that divide us, separate us from who we truly are and the dignity and light that we created out of and with. This darkness of the world is manifest in a myriad of ways. The light that Jesus came to teach us about is a light that is called upon to respond to the and be present to that which is where people are in pain, suffering and broken. We are called to that which we might be apprehensive about. To that which we know we will probably be challenged by. We are asked to know in this, and trust, that we can bring something loving to the suffering in the world. That we can be the Christ’s loving presence in this world. A loving presence that does not judge, nor seek to criticise.
A loving presence that through understanding what true love is, wants only to be what is going to bring us closer together and unite us as one creation. This loving presence that remained so, even through the agony of pain, suffering and disappointment is what we see in some of Jesus’ final words on the Cross. Words said after he was witness to the ways in which fear and power in people’s hearts caused them to act in a way that was unjust and not right. Jesus said,
“Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.” (Luke 23:24)
In being light in this world, we must let this light first transform us into what it is. And we see Jesus’ words being one of seeking to understand, not lord over or condemn. Jesus’ choice was a choice to come to accept and realise that when we act in ways that cause pain and destruction it is an expression that we have not fully come to know the healing power of love. Jesus’ insight into this enables us to consider when it is, we too may not know what we are doing. What a generous response from Jesus. And what a call to our humanity to notice when we are unaware of the impact of our being on others in this world. We are asked to be light to all people in this world, to those we hold dear to ourselves and cherish as they are familiar and to those, we don’t know but whose realities we need to acknowledge and reach out to. In each of these experiences we go to where there is a loss of hope and a need for light. We are asked to bridge the divide and bring light into the darkness.
A light that here at SCEGGS, we understand to be that of God and of goodness and love.
When considering this and considering that this is the motto of the school, it is something that we are guided to have at the core of our being. It is the lens by which we are encouraged to see the world. A lens that engages with the whole person. Their whole being. Our own being. It is something, as all mottos are, that we are to be formed and shaped by. In reflecting on this, my thinking turned to wondering about how we can be that light. The images of God that are used in the Bible are at times comforting ones, and other times given our distance in space and time from the writing of these texts, ones that we may not easily associate with. The image of God as light is one that is not only particular to the Judeao-Christian world. It is a universal, archetypal image of hope. Of the presence of life. Of a deep yearning and longing within the human spirit to pay respect to that which transcends this material world. It is in essence, the recognition that within each of us we are both the light and the darkness. A beautiful piece of music, Jeff Buckley’s “Hallelujah” expresses this so well.
“There is a blaze of light in every Word, it doesn’t matter which you heard, the holy or the broken Hallelujah”. If you don’t know this song, I would encourage you to listen to it. In it is the expression of a religious truth and the basis of our Christian worldview. God, or the divine that is there in both our joys and our struggles, being present to us and taking us for what and who we are. Jeff Buckley reminds us that we can come to knowing and experiencing God in and see God in all that we know to be going well for us in life, and through our brokenness. We can all appreciate that God’s goodness can be recognised and felt when things are going well. The feeling and experiencing of contentment and joy in life naturally creates in us an impulse to be thankful and grateful for what is going well in life. However, the darkness, brokenness and suffering, how can these be times when we see God? God’s presence in these times can be known and experienced when it us who allow the light to be present and soften ourselves to it. This may that that we are the ones who are in need of healing, or that we notice and respond to life as it is around us and see this brokenness in others and respond to it. All of it is God’s presence. All of it is this because it takes us out of experiencing the world as an individual and enables us to connect to one another and creation and in so doing, we are connecting to a reality far greater and bigger than our own.
This light can only be light, if we are transformed into being it. And it can only be light if we see, know and recognise it as so. And this is tough going! This is the transformation of the ego driven self, the ego that wants to be right over wanting to be loving. That wants to self-promote, rather than respond to life. That wants to be seen, more than it wants God or love to be seen. The transformation of the self through both the presence of light and darkness is what I believe walking the path of a religion is meant to do.
In Year 8, after learning about the nature of the Christian worldview in our unit, “The Big Questions in Life”, the girls are asked to consider what caring for others looks like. It is at this point in the curriculum that we can see growth and development in their understanding of what is at the heart of Christianity. “Much is required from the person to whom much is given; much more is required from the person who to whom much more is given” (Luke 12:48). An initial reading of this might only remind us to be generous in our giving of time, money, material goods; all things that are needed more of in this world to help address social justice inequalities. Yet, we need to add to this rights and freedoms. We need to add to this patience and kindness. All these things are needed in our world and they are the things I believe that Jesus really was speaking about. These are the ways we connect with others, we build communities and understanding, and we move from an existence of division and disharmony to a greater and more everlasting reality of connection. They form the foundations of the Kingdom of God that Jesus taught about. The Kingdom of God that is not a distant reality but, can be and is meant to be a living presence in the here and now. However, the giving of these things is not meant to be end in themselves. The giving of things and of self is meant to be there so we too, are part of the process. That we too, take a journey, for if we don’t it may just risk being paternalistic. If we give and are not present in the giving, transformed by the giving, changed to see life differently, what has been the point of the giving for us? For humanity? For the divine command to love? Jesus walked this earth as Christ. Pointing to, showing us how God and humanity can live as one. He showed us that to include all in society was not something we could do, if we did not have a change in understanding about the nature of life. Of people. Of dignity for all. Jesus ate with outcasts, with sinners, with the sick. He defied social norms in doing so. He risked being seen as ritually unclean by associating with people who were deemed outcasts.
Something worthy for consideration is that Jesus was not put to death because his message was easy. It was one that angered people. Upon reflection of this, we can see that we too, may be easily angered or offended by a vision that is loving and just and inclusive. Is it not such a tragedy that over 2000 years later, we still think God wants division! And that God doesn’t love us as we are! How we choose to see the “other”, whoever they may be, speaks volumes about how much we have come to know in our hearts what is called of us to be like when Jesus compels us to do. He respected the Law. And because of his respect of it, he also challenged it. His understanding was that by our love we fulfil the requirements of the Law. And from this we get the call, to love your neighbour as yourself. A call that when considered, recognises that we too are complex beings. Courageous and frail. Understanding of what is right in life and aware of how that reframes our being and makes for us, if we let it, a life that isn’t always easy or comfortable. Where we are led to act with integrity in life will look and be different for each of us, as it was for Jesus. What remains the same, is that we have lived with our eyes open and our hearts aware of life around us. We too, as Jesus was, are beckoned by God to be transformed through being present to all of life and be transformed into love because of it. Transformed by the presence of light and love into something greater than we ever though we were. It is through this process, that we can let our light shine. Turing into and not away from the darkness, and letting it work in and through us.
I read a little while ago something that has stayed with me. It was written by a theologian, Ron Rolheiser and he said of Christian faith that is isn’t so much having faith in Jesus, but rather having the faith of Jesus. How wonderful this way of seeing faith is! Faith isn’t then an object. To be had. Held onto and owned. It is a vision to be lived. A way of relating to the world. Whether or not you agree with him, he certainly does make a point. That the values of our Christian community, and that in particular of those here at SCEGGS, ought to be about being Christ’s presence in a world that is in constant need of healing. Be it in our personal lives, or the wider communities. And Jesus, by being the living presence of love, showed that it is an approach to living that is not always easy. It is one that asks a lot of us and one that asks us to have trust that by living love, we too can be transformed. One story that speaks to me about what this transformation looks like is the story of Jesus with the woman at the well (John 4:4-16). He speaks to a woman who has been shunned by society and, as a result has to collect jars of water in the midday heat to avoid the gossip of the other women who make the journey early in the morning.
Jesus speaks with her at this well. He sees her as a being, not through her mistakes and shortcomings; something we all have. He engages with her humanity, as well as her spirit. He sees her as being dignified and worthy, as we all are, of love.
A love that heals and nourishes and provides freshness and growth to our lives, just as the water she was collecting from the well would in a very practical way. We can only wonder about this encounter. Wonder about how we might feel if we were seen and engaged with by those around us in a way befitting our inherent dignity. A dignity that is God given, eternal and a gift of love. It cannot be taken away by God. It is Jesus who shows us that we must go into who we are as people, before we can be transformed. Once we know and understand this, I believe the giving of light is the giving of healing for our lives too, as we begin to see us in others, as they are on ourselves. And so, at SCEGGS, it is my hope that we engage in being present to life in all the ways we encounter it, and bring life to it through our transforming love, honouring too, that we are part of that journey and integral to it. And that when we do this, we can be the light. We can let our light shine because we have come to know what true light is, and how to give of it generously, humbly and with integrity.
Religious Education Teacher