December 20, 2011
Christ, Our Light
Every summer I work at a wilderness island, Isle Royale National Park, in Lake Superior close to the Canadian border. One thing I love about living so far north is the seemingly never-ending amount of daytime. I rise with the sun at 6 AM, and then watch the last glow of sunset around 11 PM. It's a season of light.
There's no cell phone coverage, no roads, no cars. My groceries arrive every two weeks on a small boat. Here, I am forced to slow down, make do, and get by with what I have.
On my hike to work at the ranger station each morning, I might snack on wild raspberries, or stop to enjoy the fog wisps over the harbor. A moose and her twin calves may block the trail, and I marvel at their gawky grace. Wolf tracks imprint the shoreline. The quiet is broken only by birdsong and wind in the birches.
As I relax into the rhythms of creation each summer, week after week, I find myself remembering something deep in my bones. In wilderness, I feel connected to the one who created it all. And, I love the days... filled with light.
At home, just outside of Chicago, it's the Christmas season. I find myself sucked into the tyranny of the must-dos. There's holiday baking, Christmas cards, and shopping for my self-imposed ideas of the perfect gifts for friends and family. I dash to the grocery store each time I run out of shortening or eggs, and I find myself in the car more than I'd like, driving on endless errands. Horns blare, "Santa Baby" plays on store intercoms, and jets roar overhead.
I wake up in darkness, and by afternoon I'm snapping on lights around the house to fend off the twilight. The sense of connectedness to something deep that I felt in the summer is almost obliterated by now, victim to white noise and busyness. I miss the light.
It's now, right before Christmas, that I remind myself to slow down and spend time remembering. Remembering how to be quiet. How to pay attention. And, remembering to soak up some light.
One way to go deeper and slow down is to spend time with the prayers and writings of the church fathers and mothers, and the scriptures that frame the Advent season. It is in these ancient words that we remember our connections to something deeper than the passing whims and demands of the moment. It's a way to be quiet, and pay attention. And it's a reminder of the light that has illuminated our faith.
As I compiled the Ancient Christian Devotional series during the past five years for IVP, I fell in love with some of the writings of Ambrose of Milan. He lived around 333-397 and was known as a pastor of souls as well as a scholar. When I meditate on his words, I can understand why. His writings from so many centuries ago remind me of whose child I am, and of the deep roots of my faith. His words bring me back to the light.
One of my favorite Ambrose passages is excerpted in the Christmas week readings in the Ancient Christian Devotional (Lectionary Cycle C). Ambrose writes of Jesus:
Such ancient words! But they still illuminate the darkness.
As I paged through old prayer books and stacks of Ancient Christian Commentaries, looking for writings and ancient prayers to include in the devotional series, I came across this prayer from a Celtic abbot, Columbanus. He wrote, "We ask nothing other than that you give us yourself. For you are our all: our light, our salvation, our food and our drink, our God. Inspire our hearts, I ask you, Jesus, with that breath of your spirit."
"You are...our light." This Advent season, amid the tumult of to-do lists and self-imposed expectations, I'm trying to slow down and connect again with those ancient words. I am reminded of the light, even when the season dictates that these are the darkest days of the year. I rejoice with the familiar lines from the ninth chapter of Isaiah that open the readings for Christmas week: