Sunday, January 26, 2014

God is light, and we are reflectors!

My turn to give a reflection at Emmaus Inclusive Catholic Community today...

First Reading: Isaiah 9.1-4
Psalm 27
Second Reading: 1 Corinthians 1.10-13 and 17-18
Gospel Reading: Matthew 4.12-23

Today's readings contain such riches, and challenges, for us to consider. I have always loved the idea of God being light, and we hear it over and over in today’s scripture.

To begin with, we have Isaiah’s prophecy that all those who live in the lands of Zebulun and Naphtali will see a great light. Zebulun and Naphtali were two step-brothers of Joseph the dreamer, lesser known sons of Jacob. They settled in the lands eventually known as Galilee, where, as we hear in the Gospel reading, Jesus began his ministry after John the Baptist’s arrest. The descendants of Zebulun and Napthali were among the first to be sent to Assyria during the Babylonian captivity, which means that they lived the longest in the darkness of exile. Isaiah is encouraging them, saying that they will eventually be especially blessed... and he was right. Jesus to began his ministry in Galilee, among the descendents of Zebulun and Naphtali, so they heard God's word from God's lips first! When I think of Jesus, I imagine him to be the warmest, kindest, most loving person to ever walk the earth. I don’t work nearly as hard as the Galilean people did, but I get goosebumps when I imagine Jesus saying to me, “Come to me, all you who labour and are heavily burdened, and I will give you rest.”

In Psalm 127, we hear that “God is my light and my salvation,” echoing Isaiah’s words about God bringing light. At this end of salvation history, we can see that Jesus IS the goodness of our God in the land of the living – so of course we can take heart and hope in God!

Then we have St. Paul pleading for unity in the minds and hearts of the Christians in Corinth. Paul is basically telling them that everyone belongs to God, and that Jesus himself, through the wisdom of accepting his own suffering on the cross, wants the Corinthians -- and us -- to accept life as he did, to see wisdom and God’s light in each other, and to love one another as sisters and brothers even through disagreements and sufferings.

Finally, in the Gospel we see Jesus actually fulfilling Isaiah’s prophecy, being God’s light for the lands of Zebulun and Naphtali by teaching in the synagogues, proclaiming the good news of God’s reign, and curing people of EVERY disease and EVERY sickness. God is light, and the light has come in Jesus.

But sometimes it’s not easy to see God's light in our world today. We live in a society that has many diseases and sicknesses, and not just the physical kind, some of which are visible in the way we handle ourselves, one another, and the planet God has given to us. Many people seem to forget that life, all life, is sacred, especially when that life is causing them inconvenience. It’s so easy to get caught up in the me-first thinking of individualism, the my-stuff-first thinking of materialism, consumerism and capitalism, and the my-species-first thinking of putting human interests above the interests of the rest of creation. Somehow, though, I don’t think God intended for us to drive other created beings, or ourselves, to extinction!

I think that if Jesus was here in the flesh today, he would want to cure us of these ways of thinking because they are bringing about so much unwellness in our world. We are living on a planet that is ailing because we are using it up almost faster than it is able to regenerate itself. We have poisonous tailings ponds killing our brothers and sisters in Fort Chipewyan, supertyphoons killing our brothers and sisters in the Philippines, the dumping of waste killing our sister and brother species who live in the oceans, terrorism and fear killing our brothers and sisters of many species in Central African Republic, South Sudan and Syria, depression and addictions killing our sisters and brothers in downtown Edmonton, and our own hopelessness and apathy adding to it all.

But darkness can't drive away light -- and you can't "shine darkness" into the corner of a room. The only way we have darkness is if we remove light. Light immediately banishes darkness, and Jesus, the light who shines in the darkness, offers us hope and wants us to be hope with him! He gives us many ideas about possible cures for individualism, materialism, consumerism, capitalism, and extinction of organisms throughout the Gospels. 

Even just his beatitudes tell us so much about how to turn these things around. To paraphrase: Live like the poor in spirit, and understand our place in the web of creation. Live like those who are in mourning, and understand what is really important in life, rather than chasing after material things that leave us unsatisfied. Live meekly, and the earth will be able to provide for everyone’s needs. Hunger and thirst for righteousness in every situation, and bring about the common good for all of creation. Be merciful, and receive mercy and compassion. Be peacemakers, and fear not because all of creation is God’s beloved. And even when being laughed at or persecuted otherwise for doing all these good things, know that the kin-dom is already present in our actions.

I know that’s a strange paraphrase, but I am a practitioner of what is called Voluntary Simplicity, and that’s how I have come to hear Jesus’ Beatitude message over time. Practicing Voluntary Simplicity means that I am doing my best to live in God’s creation as simply as possible, with as few possessions as I can get away with, doing as little damage to the earth as I possibly can. I do this because I think it’s part of coming out of the darkness of individualism and consumerism and living in harmony with all that God created. 

If God is light, I am a reflector! So it means that I set an example. I avoid buying things I don’t really need. My family gets by with only one vehicle, which can be rather inconvenient, but we make it work. We make an effort to grow our own food as much as possible. We think about our brothers and sisters in the developing world and use our purchasing power to support fair employment practices for them. We work at composting and reducing waste, fixing things instead of sending them to the dump. We turn off lights and appliances when not in use, and turn down the heat to conserve energy for future generations. I could go on and on, but I already have!

I believe that Jesus, being the light of the world, calls us all to reflect his light for the world, and how we live and use the planet’s resources speaks volumes about the light we have been shown. St. Francis of Assisi, the patron saint of ecology, wrote a beautiful song singing the praises of all of God’s creation and how Brothers Sun, Wind, Air, Fire, and Sisters Moon, Water, Earth and Death show God to us. If we can live in the same kind of awareness that Francesco did, an awareness of God’s light in everything, we will see many opportunities to make choices to protect God’s creation, and to spread light rather than increase the darkness that is trying to engulf our world through human selfishness. We will find ourselves rejoicing before God “as with joy at the harvest, as people exult when dividing" -- the winnings of the lottery, or whatever is today's definition of "plunder.” Our yoke, the burdens of our brothers and sisters, and the rod of oppression weighing down God’s creation will be lifted.

Still, I sometimes get overwhelmed by the weight of the oppression of creation and our human family, but my good spiritual director often reminds me, “It’s not up to you to save the world, Maria. Jesus already did that.” Then I remember that my job is to start small, but to make a start, acting justly, loving tenderly, and walking humbly with all of God’s creation as Jesus did. I’m guessing we each can do one small, simple thing to lighten the burden on creation today, to shine a little light in a dark corner. And maybe we can do a different one tomorrow.

So I’d like to invite us all into a little discussion about finding our way out of the darkness and allowing God’s light to shine through us in our small, personal acts that leave individualism, over-consumption and materialism behind. What are some practical things that you already do to live more lightly in God’s creation? And what is one small thing that you’ve never done, or have been meaning to do, something that you could start doing tomorrow? 

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