Learning to See

The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it. John 1: 5

This year I’ve had to replace my Advent wreath candles one by one as they spent themselves illuminating the darkness. Lit not only for dinner or in the evening, they have burned for long stretches of time at all hours of the day and night, feeding my light-hungry soul. The flames flicker from within a small collection of colorful vigil lights circled on a plate that holds the non-traditional wreath. Small earth gifts surround them—a feather, fossilized shells, a lava rock, driftwood, an arrowhead found on a Cape Cod beach, silver crystals, and sea glass. All are reminders that I do not wait alone. All creation waits with me.

Longing for soul-light has been the underlying current of my Advent prayer as I struggle with darkness within and without. The words “underlying current” evoke an image of something powerful at work, sustaining all that is. Some call it “Ground of Being,” or “God,” or “Source,” or “Presence,” or simply “Love.” Something unseen but somehow sensed, it’s a force that carries everything along as it carves a path through time and space.

As scientists learned about gravitation by observing its effect on ordinary objects, I better recognize Holy Presence by paying attention to its movement within people and creation. My practice has been to look for traces of it. To expect God in unexpected places.

At the beginning of Advent, my wreath glowed in the middle of a mess on the table. I learned to see not the mess, but God’s willingness to be with us in it. Slowly I made an uncluttered space to hold the beauty. Slowly, I’ve been creating spiritual spaciousness to receive the gift of ongoing Incarnation that we celebrate this season.

Quieting my heart and mind, I can hear bits of Love’s song as it courses through the universe. The mystical sound isn’t heard with ears but with heart. Snatches are familiar to me from times past. Sometimes creative, sometimes confusing. Sometimes comforting, sometimes unsettling. In C.S. Lewis’ “The Chronicles of Narnia” series, the divine lion Aslan sings creation into being. Modern cosmologists share an idea that the universe was born in an explosion often referred to as the “Big Bang.” While whatever or however everything began will remain a mystery, these images of melody and movement fit my experience of God—not static but ever changing.

One night last week, I went outside several times between midnight and 2 a.m. to view the Geminids meteor shower. I found a place where the apartment next door blocked a glaring security light, and I turned my back to the bright streetlights. I could see Orion, brilliant Jupiter, and a splattering of stars. After ten minutes I forgot about seeing meteors, became lost in the vast beauty of the universe, and moved into prayer.

I apologized for the destruction humankind is visiting upon creation. I gave voice to the wonder and gratitude that stirred within me. Breathing cold air. Scanning the night sky. It was all sacrament, an encounter with the God-Light my soul hungers for. In that moment I knew I was part of the evolving reality that is our universe. All is moving together, drawn by the underlying current that is Presence, that is Love.

“This is the gift of Advent waiting,” I thought. It provides time to sit in darkness and acclimate, like my eyes did when I walked out of the house into the night. I realized that “dark” is not the complete absence of light but it requires looking with fresh eyes to see it. Like recognizing the wonder of Jesus’ birth into humble circumstances, a rather unspectacular entrance for one who has invited us to share in the work of transforming the world a bit at a time.

These weeks of preparation helped me see the faint, as well as the bright evidence of God with us, in us, and in creation. Sometimes, “faint” is enough to get me through. As I turned to walk back to the house, a single meteorite caught my eye. The universe’s “Amen” writ clearly in the night sky.

December 12, 2023 by Mary van Balen 10 Comments
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Carole Crumley
Carole Crumley
2 months ago

Thank you for this beautiful reflection!

Mary van Balen
Mary van Balen
2 months ago
Reply to  Carole Crumley

You’re welcome, Carole. I hope you enjoy a blessed Christmas season!

Tom Adams
Tom Adams
2 months ago

What a beautiful report on waiting. It gives me hope!

Mary van Balen
Mary van Balen
2 months ago
Reply to  Tom Adams

I’m so glad, Tom. Hope is something many of us are struggling to hang on to these days. May your Christmas season be filled with it!

Ann F Stanford
Ann F Stanford
2 months ago

“Sometimes ‘faint’ is enough to get me through.” Amen. Thank you for your beautiful reflection.

Mary van Balen
Mary van Balen
2 months ago
Reply to  Ann F Stanford

You’re welcome, Ann. Yes, “faint” is sometimes all I’ve got! A blessed Christmas season to you!

Anita Davidson
Anita Davidson
2 months ago

O Mary, another lovely reflection from you that speaks to my heart…deep bow of gratitude to you, my friend.

Mary van Balen
Mary van Balen
2 months ago
Reply to  Anita Davidson

Thank you, Anita. Namaste to you. And a blessed Christmas!

Raymond Maher
Raymond Maher
2 months ago

I am moved by your remark about God’s “willingness to be with us in [the mess].” It has immediate relevance to the world in which we live today and to the personal circumstances of many of us believers. The same reassurance is conveyed in the symbolism of ashes imposed at the start of Lent. Thank you for an Advent corollary! Merry Christmas, Mary!

Mary van Balen
Mary van Balen
2 months ago
Reply to  Raymond Maher

You’re welcome Ray. Thanks for sharing your insights. A Merry Christmas to you, too!

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