Saturday, February 11, 2012

Heaven, let your light shine down!

      Okay, so I wear reading glasses.  And, when I'm not wearing my contact lenses, I wear bifocals.  It' not a big deal for me, more of an inconvenience.  Of late, however, I've started noticing something.  It has probably been true all the time, but sometimes I'm a bit slow on the uptake.  The insight?  There are times when it's not the amount of magnification, or even clarity of focus, that is key.  Rather, it's the amount of available light.  Turning a brighter light on the object of my examination often reveals the answer to whatever mystery/problem I'm trying to solve.  And musing on that minor revelation took me down some other semi-dark paths.
        Illumination is one of those things that we often crave.  We seek answers.  Those answers may be clarity of purpose, a showing of the way.  A song entitled "Shine" by the 1990's band Collective Soul begins:

Give me a word, show me a sign
Show me where to look -- Tell me what will I find
Lay me on the ground and fly me in the sky
Show me where to look -- Tell me what will I find

Oh -- Heaven, let your light shine down!
Oh -- Heaven, let your light shine down!*

The band denies that the song is "Christian", but the song certainly suggests some religious, or at least universal, longings for answers, for reasons, for clarity.  And religions often use the image of "light" to suggest that their teachings will provide that light.  Through the prophet Isaiah, God tells Israel that they are to be a "light to the nations" (42.6, 49, 6), that nations will com to that light (60.3).  The Buddha is described as manifesting light.**  Jesus claims that he is the Light of the world", that "whoever follows him will never walk in darkness" (John 8.12).  Surah 24 of the Q'uran states that "Allah is  the Light of the heaves and the dearth."  The light shines out, drawing others to itself.
      But the "enlightenment" experience I recounted above is a bit different.  The light was NOT shining ON me, nor was it directing me or drawing me towards itself.  In other words, the light was not drawing attention to itself; the light was shining on the object of my observation.  And I begin to see that the light of all those traditions, aside from illumining us, helps bring into sharp relief the situations around us.  And, for those of us who adhere to these traditions, who claim to reflect, or refract, the light of the divine, if that light shines through, us, it, too, helps bring into relief our surroundings.  
      The light is mediated by our experiences, as well as our current context.  To use the image of a prism, different angles or distances (as well as the shape of the prism) will bring the color combinations to bear in slightly different ways, even if the light entering the prism is the same.  Our challenge, recognizing those differences, is faithfully to reflect/refract that light for the benefit of all.


*"Shine", Collective Soul, from the album Hints, Allegations and Things Left Unsaid, 1993.
** "The Land of Bliss," in The Buddha-Karita of Asvaghosha, trans. by E.B. Cowell (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1894), 28-29.


  1. Thanks so much Gary for this post! You remind me of one of my favorite verses from the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew 5: "Ye are the light of the word...Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father which is heaven." I love that idea of being as a ray of light, inseparable from my Creator, as a ray of light is inseparable from the sun. What a warm feeling!

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