Encountering Advent Light

Poet and scholar J. Philip Newell shares a story of a presentation he made in Ottawa years ago, where a Mohawk elder was invited to make comments and reflections after a presentation on spirituality. Newell recalls how the elder responded, “As I have been listening to these themes, I have been wondering where I would be tonight. I have been wondering where my people would be tonight. And I have been wondering where we would be as a Western world tonight if the mission that had come to us from Europe centuries ago had come expecting to find light in us.”*

“Expecting to find light in us,” is this not a powerful truth serum? Does that ring in your ears and pound in your heart? God created us with a piece of Divine light in each of us. Echoing the elder’s wonderings, “Where would we be as humanity if we expected to see light in each other?” This would be a world shift, a what Isaiah prophecies as the peaceable kingdom shift, a beatitude living shift, which would only increase the light that we each hold and the light in the world.

As we enter this Third Week of Advent the light of our wreath is growing brighter. The first letter to the Thessalonians states: “You are all children of the light and children of the day” (5.5). Is this not what we should expect to encounter in each other? The Light of the world illumines our darkness, brings light to our areas of living which are in need of radiance, and is beckoning us to look for light instead of differences in each other. This Advent week of rejoicing or joy; is often obscured by false rejoicing: Christmas parties to raise our spirits, more Christmas movies than the day has time for, sales on boxes of chocolates and so on. These quick fix, boredom-sorrow busters often leave us feeling empty and still seeking joy; still seeking light. The light we carry is only brightened when we encounter the light of another. As Edith Wharton said: “There are two ways of spreading light: to be the candle, or to be the mirror which reflects it.” Countless gospel stories capture the light Jesus exuded: from the blind seeing; to the woman touching his cloak; to the calling of the apostles and so on. Like Jesus and like the Mohawk elder, we have to wonder why we don’t expect to meet an encounter with that light. Is it because we are afraid that it may reveal truths about our living? Is it because we may encounter a transformation? Is it because we may need to live forth rejoicing in a new way? Is it because we might see the light of Christ in someone we don’t want to or least expect it?

This season of Advent is growing short but the encounter with Light is only beginning to grow. It is an invitation to see beyond the countdown and allow the Light to penetrate our living beyond the season of giving. As Saint Clare of Assisi said, “We become what we love and who we love shapes what we become.” We are children of God, we are loved and so we must let the light of God shape us as we encounter the light in each other.

Edith Wharton’s reflection on being light may have been inspired by the works of Saint Clare. Saint Clare wrote to her sisters saying, “For the Lord has not only placed us as an example and mirror for others, but also for our own sisters whom the Lord has called to our way of life, so that they in turn will be mirror and example to those living in the world.” As women and men religious this may be the most challenging part of being light-bearers. To be a mirror so our fellow community members may shine and see the gift of light they are, as they carry light into our small communities and to the larger world. We all know from lived experienced that it may be most difficult to hold up that mirror. Yet when we do so, the light grows brighter, the illusions disappear, the wonder of our charism bursts forth, we are renewed with our mission of living a gospel life and embracing our vows as sources of light. This is our invitation as we journey deeper into Advent and beyond. This is the ongoing work of embracing the vows and life of religious in the world today.

The reflection of the Mohawk elder shared above is also a message for us as December 12 marks the National Day of Prayer in Solidarity with Indigenous Peoples. This day has been recognized for many years in the Catholic Church, but now more than ever it must be about the light we see in our First Nations, Inuit and Métis sisters and brothers. As we continue to work for truth and reconciliation the only way it will become life giving is if we approach it with the wonder in discovering the light carried by our Indigenous sisters and brothers. When we can be a mirror for these communities, we will see the light reflected back on to us and we will be able to rise up together with greater respect, honoring the Divine light we all carry. What actions can we make to be light bearers this week? It is time for the shift to happen and for rejoicing to arise among all peoples.

God of Light,
you created all light
and in light we see light itself (Psalm 36.9).
As we journey forward
clear the blinders from our eyes
so that we may see the Divine Light
in all peoples.

May unexpected encounters
of light this week
cause us to rejoice
in your drawing near to us
and see how you still dwell
here among us in peoples
from all cultures, creeds and places.









*[1] J. Philip Newell, The Rebirthing of God, 2015, Skylight Paths Publishing.

Blog post by Br. Michael Perras, OFM

Photo credits:
Ivaylo Valkov
Johannes Plenio

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