“You are the light of the world … let your light shine before others” (Matthew 5:14-16)
I was in London in December, when the days are the shortest of the year. It rained a lot and there was a snowstorm, the first in five years. Sunshine was scarce. One Saturday I walked from the Regents Canal, near the London Zoo, up the steep hill known as Primrose Hill. It was a glorious view over London. Despite living in London in the 1970s and visiting many times since, I never knew that Primrose Hill was the highest point in London. At the top there was a low semi-circular wall on which people were standing for the view. I noticed there was a quote from William Blake carved into the concrete surface of the wall: I have conversed with the spiritual sun. I saw him on Primrose Hill. At that very moment the sun burst through the clouds and I received the double blessing of sunshine and a quote from one of my favorite poets. The next day I enjoyed a day with my niece and nephew and their spouses and delightful daughters. Even though the rain had resumed the sunshine was in their eyes.
Jean and I (back in Attleboro, Massachusetts) were exercising by walking at our local indoor shopping mall on an inhospitable day in January (for 2 weeks we endured temperatures as low as -5 F/ -20 C). I noticed a 30 feet long dancing light display on a wall with all the colors of the rainbow (like the up and down motion of a hospital heart monitor). I stopped to watch this amazing light display and detected that it was the result of sunlight being refracted through water from melting snow at the base of a series of skylight windows. My scientific explanation in no way lessened the marvelous light effect. I doubt that any artificial light source could replicate the miracle of that dancing rainbow light.
Recently we participated in the Art Lovers Book Club at the Attleboro Arts Museum in a discussion of the life and work of Maud Lewis, Canada’s premier folk artist. I confess we had not read the book but watched a movie instead, “Maudie” with Sally Hawkins playing the heroine. Maud as a child in the early 1900s was overcome with rheumatoid arthritis, which gnarled her hands and bent her back. She had a wonderful mother who took her to the Baptist church in Yarmouth. But her mother died when Maud was 34 years old. Her brother took all the money and Maud was left in the care of a stifling aunt. To get away from the oppressive atmosphere Maud sought a position as a live-in housemaid with an austere bachelor, Everett Lewis. They were married and there was love between them, more from her than him, but he did give her a home and freedom to pursue her art. And she produced the most beautiful works of folk art. We were left wondering how did she create such beauty out of such miserable circumstances. Video of the real Maud Lewis was included at the end of the movie and her eyes were radiant. There was the inner light that shone in the darkness. As Oprah Winfrey said at the Golden Globes: I’ve interviewed and portrayed people who’ve withstood some of the ugliest things life can throw at you, but the one quality all of them seem to share is an ability to maintain hope for a brighter morning, even during our darkest nights. That was Maud Lewis.
We attended the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. interfaith celebration held at First Baptist Church, Attleboro recently. The Brockton High School Concert Choir (about 60 strong) sang several pieces including Martin Luther King’s favorite hymn, Precious Lord, Take My Hand. The choir was too numerous for the front of the sanctuary so they stood in a circle around the perimeter of the sanctuary and the director, Matthew Cunningham, stood in the center of the church. It was an amazing light-filled experience to hear these multi-ethnic young people surrounding us, embracing a diverse congregation with the beauty and power of their voices. They were followed by a group from Providence RI called Project 401 who introduced the congregation to the beauty and power of Hip Hop. It was another marvel to behold. For an interfaith congregation which included many social activists it was a needed shot in the arm, a spiritual boost of light in this time of national darkness.
In the Christian Year we are in the season after Epiphany, the season of light. I thank God for these and other light-filled moments. They illustrate the encouragement of Jesus in Matthew 5:11-14:
“You are the light of the world … let your light shine before others …”