Last night I hosted the staff Christmas party here at the rectory. In preparing our home for the festivities—which always includes a raucous round of Yankee Swap—I lit all the candles in the living room.
Because the room is large and has no ceiling light fixture, we have a number of lamps scattered around. But it’s never enough light. So we put candles and votives all along the mantle, on end tables, on the piano, in the window sills, on book shelves. Maybe twenty flames.
At night’s end, when everyone went home, I cleaned up the last of the dirty plates and glasses and blew out all the candles. I started with the tapers surrounded by globes on the mantle and worked my way around the room, whiffing one flame after another until a light haze of smoke hovered near the ceiling.
Then I turned off all the lamps and started to leave.
That’s when I saw it. One light flickered in the darkness. One votive tucked beside a vase on a corner table—I’d missed it.
I could see it only in the darkness.
This is the season when we watch for the light. If you want to see the stars, though, you would be foolish to stargaze at noon. Just so, our search for that one small flickering light is hindered by a kind of light pollution. There are too many flashy images, too many garish temptations, too many glowing video screens.
The Light of Christ is powerful but small. It is a little like the half-hidden votive that I could not see until I had extinguished all other candles and lamps. If we want to see that Light, we are wise to turn things off for just ten or fifteen minutes, be for a time in the darkness until it isn’t really dark anymore, because our spiritual eyes adjust and we begin to see another kind of light—as if our inner eye were seeing with night vision goggles. This phenomenon is what St. John of the Cross called “luminous darkness.”
Blow out the other nineteen candles in your life, turn out all the lamps. My, what Light you may see!
Well said, David!
Yes, yes….I want to be more aware.
Taking your challenge…thank you!
David Anderson says
Thanks, Jeanne–loved hearing from you.
The darkness is where I have learned everything about myself, anyone can maneuver in the light.
David Anderson says
You got it.
Pam Anderson says
When I turn out all of the lights, I see the glow of my recharging phone, wifi, and computer. Gotta do something about that too!
Loved this one, David. In “luminous darkness” I see the mystic poet struggling to say what he means. We had an experience like this once (Pam, I’m responding to your comment): Our son-in-law, Aaron, was having a concert in our basement and wanted it completely black. He wanted us to hear his music, recorded music, in total darkness. You have no idea how hard it was to create that for him, even at night in a basement with no windows. The little LEDs on the dimmer switches, and the LED readouts, the power on, power off buttons on the CD player, these tiniest light-emitting diodes were wreaking havoc with the almost dark. It took several layers of masking tape over each one to put them to to sleep. But it worked. And then when the lights went off and the music began–it really was beautiful and we heard it so much better for having nothing, no one to see, as all eyes surrendered to the ear. But for me, the deeper beauty of that evening was the experience of total black, luminous darkness, holy night.
clark johnson says
David, a very meanigful and enlightening piece Thank you!