Monday, March 7, 2011

Light, Thomas Traherne, And Enjoying The World

Since the day I got here I have known Nevada is a special place.
Over 3 years deep into it now, two things about Nevada
still amaze me – the people and the light.
On this Transfiguration Sunday, I want to talk about the light.
I can’t describe what is different
about Nevada light, but it is decidedly unique.
It makes the sky bluer.
It surges up behind the mountains
in gold white auroras.

The only other place I have been so struck
by the sheer quality of light is the Outer Hebrides of Scotland
in the North Sea.
The Holy Island of Iona there also has light that elicits prayer.
That’s how it is with our light here.

Light is one of God’s great gifts.
In fact it was his first one.
In Genesis, when the earth was without form and void,
God spoke into the dark chaos
and the first thing God said was,
“Let there be light.”

Whether you read Genesis or a scientific account
of the Big Bang, creation begins with light.
The existence of time depends on light.
Life cannot exist without light.

So light becomes a metaphor in the spiritual life.
To see the light of day means to live.
We say Christ is the world’s true light.
When someone an insight, we say that have seen the light.

Throughout the Hebrew Scriptures,
when God appears to people
as God appeared on Mt. Sinai in today’s lesson,
God appears as “glory.”
Glory means a captivating light,
a light so beautiful we cannot look away.

Epiphany, the season of light,
concludes with the transfiguration,
that mysterious occasion when the disciples saw
holy light emanating from Jesus.
This is where we get our prayer for Vespers,
the Phos Hilaron,
“O gracious light,
Pure brightness of the everliving Father in Heaven,
O Jesus Christ, holy and blessed. . . .

We can appreciate light in two ways.
First, we can enjoy its beauty all on its own.
Some lights are harsh and unpleasant.
But other lights have their own distinct loveliness.
Think of starlight in the desert
or moonlight sifting through clouds.
You have just immeasurably improved the quality of light
in your chapel.

Light matters.
Light is its own art form, its own medium.
But there is a second way to appreciate light.
Without it we cannot see anything at all.
Light may be beautiful in itself,
but the main thing it does
is showing us everything else.

Now, the light of Nevada is unique and wonderful.
The only place I have ever seen this special light
is this special place, this unique landscape.
I wonder something though.
I wonder how another place might look
in Nevada light.
If we could bottle Nevada light and shine it on
Georgia or Texas or Colorado,
I wonder how they would look.

That’s impossible, of course, but if it were possible,
I bet those states would look different.
Light makes it possible to see things at all,
and the quality of light makes a difference
as to how things appear to us.

Just so, the season of Epiphany,
especially this Sunday of the Transfiguration,
teaches us that our joy and our salvation
depend on our seeing things through new eyes.
Being happy doesn’t depend as much on changing our circumstances
as changing our outlook – seeing the same people, the same situations
in a different light.
If we are going to find serenity and joy,
we need a new perspective.

The path of the classical Christian spirituality
is in 3 steps: purgation, illumination, and union.
Purgation is a process of detachment from the snares of life.
Illumination is enlightenment, seeing things in a fresh way.
That comes before union.
Before we can unite our hearts to the will of God,
we have to see the world anew.

Illumination is what our Epistle lesson means
when it speak of “the day dawning and the morning
star rising in our hearts.”
The day does not dawn and the morning star does not rise
in the world around us until it happens inside.

The 17th Century Anglican poet Thomas Traherne said,
Your enjoyment of the world is never right
till every morning you wake in heaven,
see yourself in your Father’s palace
and look upon the skies, the earth, the air
as celestial joys: having such a reverend esteem of all
as if you were among the angels.

To be a Christian isn’t just to acknowledge the existence of God.
It is to know that God is the beauty of all Reality.
God is a radiant beauty, the Bible calls it glory,
the splendor that shines over our mountains at the sunrise
and with a softer reflective glow at sunset.
God is the star shine over our deserts
and the firelight of our hearth
in a dark room on a winter night.

To believe in God is far more than acknowledging
the existence of a Supreme Being.
To truly believe in God is to trust
that everything that exists
comes from a primal beauty
and is destined for an ultimate beauty.
That includes ourselves and our lives.
To truly believe in God isn’t to have an idea
about something we cannot see.
It is to look at the things we do see
with what Traherne calls “reverend esteem.”

That includes – in fact it begins with –
how we see ourselves.
No matter how unfinished and crude we feel at the moment,
we trust that we came from primal beauty
and are destined for ultimate beauty.

If we see ourselves in this light, in God’s light,
it will set us free to see everything through new eyes,
like Bartimeaus or any of the other people
to whom Jesus gave vision.

God is glorious.
That’s the main message of the Hebrew Scriptures.
God radiates a light that is so beautiful
we cannot turn away from it.
God’s radiance shines upon our lives
and our world to show us their loveliness.

How often have we been critical of someone else,
until we learned something new about them,
learned about some wound they had suffered,
or some good deed they do or some burden they bear.
Suddenly we see them differently.

That is God’s gift to us, to show us ourselves,
to show us each other, to show us the world
in a way that evokes love.

Thomas Traherne spoke the God’s truth:
(O)ur enjoyment of the world is never right
till every morning (we) wake in heaven,
see (ourselves) in (our) Father’s palace
and look upon the skies, the earth, the air
as celestial joys: having such a reverend esteem of all
as if (we) were among the angels.

Jesus didn’t come just to get us out of trouble for our sins.
He came to show us ourselves, each, other and the world
in the way Traherne describes them.

So if we would have insight, if we would be enlightened,
if we would enjoy the world aright,
we must look at it through Christ’s holy eyes.
And we can practice that.
Brother David Stendahl-Rast teaches a very simple
practice in seeing the world anew.
It is called blessing.
That’s what God does.
That’s what God means for us to do.

Each day, we bless four people.
They can be friends or strangers on the street.
We bless them in two steps.

First we notice something good about them,
however small or insignificant.
We notice something good,
then we wish them well.

Remembering the source and destiny of all things,
we practice enjoying the world aright,
for that is how we praise and glorify God.
Your enjoyment of the world is never right
till every morning you wake in heaven,
see yourself in your Father’s palace
and look upon the skies, the earth, the air
as celestial joys: having such a reverend esteem of all
as if you were among the angels.