Written on: January 15, 2020
As a child I feared the dark. My sister and brother capitalized on this occasionally and enjoyed, lovingly I think, building up the fear by whispering ghostly warnings in the night to alert me to their approach. I’m still not happy to walk into a dark space.
At a meeting a few weeks ago, a friend and spiritual guide word-painted an image from a time before electricity. It was a time when a lamplighter had the important job of lighting the street lamps of the city, one by one, poised carefully on a ladder that he leaned against the pole as he bent toward the wick and lighted it, changing the darkness surrounding that pole into light. As he did his work, he moved step by step into darkness, while behind him, that same darkness was vanquished. Since his job called for him to keep moving, he didn’t see the brightness – only the dark and the need.
I have been haunted and also hope-filled by this image since I heard it several weeks ago. In my Catholic Christian tradition, we have heard several times in December references to this darkness/light theme that seems so fitting for our particular circumstances as citizens of this time and place. From the gospel according to St. John, we hear:
All things came to be through the Word… What came to be through him was life, and this life was the light of the human race; the light shines in the darkness and the darkness has not overcome it. (John 1:1-5)
In the very first words from the book of Genesis, we read:
In the beginning… the earth was formless and desolate. The raging ocean that covered everything was engulfed in total darkness and the Spirit of God was moving over the water. Then God commanded ‘Let there be light’ and light appeared… (Genesis 1:1-3)
One of my favorite books, The Little Prince, also has a lamplighter who is an important character. Of him, the prince exclaims,
For at least his work has some meaning. When he lights his street lamp, it is as if he brought one more star to life, or one flower.
I believe we are called today to be lamplighters.
We know there is so much darkness – enmity, evil, destruction, disrespect, violence, devastating conflict, hunger, killing, death. We feel overcome by it. And yet, as people of faith, we know that we are called to join all those millions of people who are finding ways to allow divine light to shine. We often cannot see the way the light wins out because we have to keep walking bravely and filled with hope, often seeing only the dark and the need, but lighting the path behind us with generosity, forgiveness, and loving compassion, willing to reach up and reach out to be the spark that spreads the light that God so longs to provide.
I have known many “lamplighters”. I spoke to a former colleague the other night who told me that she was quite suddenly inspired to contact all the lost and found members of her extended family at Christmas – people she hadn’t seen in decades, including some who are excluded everywhere because of their addiction. A woman of meager means, she nonetheless gathered 30+ and helped them experience the warmth of family love all the while completely unaware of being “the light in the darkness” of our sometimes so lonely world. Who are the lamplighters you know and how will you be God’s lamplighter in this new year?
By: Sister Eileen White, GNSH. Bucks County Courier Times, January, 2020. Printed with permission
Photo: Landon Martin/Unsplash