Light and Love

by Pastor Heath Howe, Family Ministries

"Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that."
                                                                                  Martin Luther King, Jr.

I find this quote by Dr. King very appropriate for February of this year. The two parts of this quote capture the two Christian seasons we celebrate in this one rather short month.

We begin February in the liturgical season of Epiphany. As you know, Epiphany is the season of light. The winter season serves as a reminder of the season of light as the days are slowly becoming lighter and brighter as we creep toward spring. We begin Epiphany with the Wise Men who have followed the light of a star all the way to Bethlehem where they find the light of Christ in the baby Jesus. As Christians today, we spend Epiphany remembering this part of the story into our own lives. We are invited to pay attention to how the light of Christ is being given to us: by whom and from where does it come? We reflect on how we are bringing the light of Christ into the world. When we are gathered together for Holy Communion we hear the words of the final blessing for the season, "May Christ, the Son of God, be manifest you that your lives may be a light unto the world." What a call from God, to be a light in a world filled with darkness. A Light that is so strong it scatters the darkness. The Light of Christ and nothing else. Dr. King is wise to remind us of this. We are in the season of Epiphany. The season of light. When we see, feel, or hear of acts of hate and pain, acts of darkness, we are to respond as children of the Light. Nothing less.

Interestingly enough, February ends in the season of Lent. In chapel I always tell the children that Lent is the "getting ready" time for Easter. To live as Easter people, folks who know firsthand that nothing, not even the darkness of death, can separate us from the love of God, we must get ready. Funny how we spend most of Lent getting ourselves ready all by ourselves. We decide on our own to give up this and take on that as a way of getting ready to live as Easter people, people of the Light. I think such efforts are fine for the most part. I understand our intention, but I think when we spend Lent this way, busy proving ourselves, we risk arriving at Easter exhausted, spent, and ready to return to habits and practices that do not serve us.

Maybe because we have forgotten one important piece of the Lenten season, God. Maybe we do not need to decide how to get ready to live as Easter people on our own. Instead we can listen to God and how God might have us spend Lent. If God were to give us one discipline this Lent, to get us ready to live as fully alive, risen folks, what would it be?

I think the answer is found at the end of Dr. King's quote, and we celebrate this one practice in the middle of this month. The answer is Love.

Love is not a new word for us. We hear it and say it often. We love chocolate, the smell of a baby's head, a favorite nightgown, a good piece of music, the sunrise, a good joke, a long hike, our spouse and children, our parish family. There are many pieces of God's world we love, and thanks be to God for that fact!

However, the type of Love Dr. King seems to be pointing to is the Love that is the source of all the other things we hold so dear. This Love is more than a feeling. It is a way of being and, just as it was with the Epiphany light, the Love we need to prepare us for Easter is found in the person of Jesus. He did more than feel love for all of creation. He chose it. That Love was in him just as blood and bones were. Love directed him. No matter what he was asked he answered in Love. No matter what he saw he responded in Love. This did not mean he was always happy and pleasant. Love for Jesus did not mean a life that saw or knew no injustice. Quite the opposite, but it was Love that told him how to respond to unjust acts, those within the heart of one person or a whole community. Love was always the answer. He knew that nothing else could wipe away all the pain, fear, and anger alive in his lifetime. As his disciples we claim to believe the same. We can meet fear with fear, and fear will only grow. We can meet hate with hate, and hate will only grow. We can meet pain with pain, and pain will grow.

We can meet all of the hurt, fear, hate of the world with Love, and Easter will come. Life, not death, will result. It seems to me the month of February is the perfect time to begin Lent, our getting ready time for Easter. We know we are people of the Light. We are handed the gift of Love. All we need to do during Lent is allow God to teach us how to recognize, give, and receive it. Sound easy and challenging all at once? Of course. That is why we have Lent every year.

There is no question that the world seems to have turned away from the Light and forgotten to Love. Death of all kinds infects all of creation. As Easter people, we are called to bring the Light and Love of Christ into the world regularly. To prepare for this call I invite you to this challenge: Allow God to teach you about Love this Lent. I was taught by Jane Wolfe that God talks to us through our heart/soul, not so much our mind, and the language of God is love. A first step in learning about the type of love God calls us into is to sit and allow God to love us. I mean this literally, sitting, if even for a moment once a day, and just listen to your heart. Listen for the love of God within. If we are going to carry out the call of the Christ, to love God, our neighbor and ourselves we must first allow ourselves to be loved by our creator.

After experiencing the love of God try choosing one of the following to practice. Through such a practice you begin to give to God, yourself, and others the love you have received. Love is in action. Choose one:

Fast from judging others; feast on the Christ dwelling in them.
Fast from emphasis on differences; feast on the unity of life.
Fast from apparent darkness; feast on the reality of light.
Fast from thoughts of illness; feast on the healing power of God.
Fast from words that pollute; feast on phrases that purify.
Fast from discontent; feast on gratitude.
Fast from anger; feast on patience.
Fast from pessimism; feast on optimism.
Fast from worry; feast on divine order.
Fast from complaining; feast on appreciation.
Fast from negatives; feast on affirmatives.
Fast from unrelenting pressures; feast on unceasing prayer.
Fast from hostility; feast on non-resistance.
Fast from bitterness; feast on forgiveness.
Fast from self-concern; feast on compassion for others.
Fast from personal anxiety; feast on eternal truth.
Fast from discouragements; feast on hope.
Fast from facts that depress; feast on verities that uplift.
Fast from lethargy; feast on enthusiasm.
Fast from thoughts that weaken; feast on promises that inspire.
Fast from shadows of sorrow; feast on the sunlight of serenity.
Fast from idle gossip; feast on purposeful silence.
Fast from problems that overwhelm; feast on prayer that undergirds.

                               William Arthur Ward (American author, teacher and pastor, 1921-1994.)