We don’t see things as they are, according to the Talmud; we see things as we are. What we see is often a projection of our inner self. What we see in others that we find most distasteful or abhorrent is often the thing in ourselves that we have not yet accepted and come to terms with. The opposite is also true, that what treasure we fail to see outside, we will never see, until we first find it within ourselves. You won’t find love “out there” until you find it “in here.”
So preparing for this Feast of the Epiphany, I’ve been pondering the light that shines not in scripture nor in the church’s history and tradition, but the light that shines in us, the light the world can see when it sees us in our better moments. What guiding star in us will the world follow to the place where a new manifestation of God appears? Here’s what I’ve seen and heard from some of you when I asked about the light that guides your life and might guide others.
The first great light that shines in you is the light of presence, presence that is free of assumptions. Barbara Whitney has learned that assumptions others make about her have sometimes prevented them from seeing her as she really is. Assumptions made by some nurses once nearly killed her child. A guiding light in Barbara’s life is simply, “Make no assumptions.” Assumptions – seeing things as we are – can keep us from seeing the light of God that has risen upon us.
Presence to the here-and-now, without assumptions or illusions, helps us live better and feel better about how we live. Robert Miller learned this from Wayne Dyer, a leader in the field of self-development, who said, “The more I give myself permission to live in the moment and enjoy it, the better I feel about the quality of my work.” For Robert, this “speaks to the need to be able to recognize the beauty and importance of what is happening in this moment. Trying to remove the lenses of expectation,” he said, “opens me up to a deeper appreciation of what each moment can provide.”
Being fully present helps us be open to the infinite possibilities each day brings. “Every day is a gift, not a given” is a principle that guides Bill Abdale. It’s a principle Bill picked up from the Rev. John Andrew, the late chaplain to Great Britain’s Queen Mother. Don’t assume tomorrow will be yours. Treat each day and everything in it as a pure and complete gift, and see if God doesn’t seem somehow more present.
That wisdom is affirmed by something Roger Forden heard from Henry Hitt Crane, senior pastor of Detroit’s Central United Methodist Church from 1938 to 1958, who said, “Wherever you are, be all there.” Roger explained, “Pay attention to what you are doing, wherever and whenever. The more you keep your focus and eliminate distractions, the more successful will be the outcome of that endeavor for you and for those whom your actions may affect.”
Paying attention begins with your own body. “Listen to your body” is a guiding star for Suzanne Mansfield. As stress in her life built up, Suzanne ignored the messages her body sent her, and she found it was the perfect way to break down her body and weaken her immune system. “Now that I do listen to my body,” she wrote, “and get the proper amount of sleep, eat healthier, and not over extend myself, I feel like I have a better chance of avoiding disease in the future.” Listening to our bodies is a way to become a better cradle for God’s Incarnation.
The second great light you identified is the light of love. Barbara Saltarella called it her greatest gift from God. “As I go about my day,” she said, “I find that there is a lightness to my steps as I interact with family and friends. I feel the same way as I look into the congregation, as I visit those who need a little extra attention, and in the looks on those faces I worship with in nursing homes when I take their hands, looks that say I am loved and not forgotten.” The scripture that best expresses this wisdom for Barbara is, “And now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; and the greatest of these is love” (1 Cor. 13:13).
Love is not only something we feel; it is something we do. In a tug-of-war game when she was in elementary school, Denise Reichard’s teacher would yell “Pull! Pull! Pull!” to encourage her team as each team member helped every other. “By carrying one another’s burdens,” Denise wrote, “we present a united front against the struggles of the world, and our burdens are lifted.” A quotation from George Eliot captures that wisdom for her, “What do we live for if it is not to make life less difficult for each other?”
Sometimes the best love we can show another person is not something tangible we do for them but something intangible we help them feel. People won’t always remember what you did for them, John Beck has learned, but “people will always remember how you made them feel.” It’s a principle that helps John practice the Golden Rule.
Such love binds us together and makes us more effective in ministry. That’s a wisdom that guides Greg Valentine’s life: “A branch cannot bear fruit all by itself, unless it remains as part of the vine” (John 15:4). Greg says, “We have to stay connected, and if we are bearing God’s fruit we have to stay connected to God. We often talk about staying connected to our ‘roots’ – the vine is that connection between us and those roots, sharing nourishment and energy both ways.”
Finally, there’s the light of faith that calms the soul as we trust God even in the dark. That faith is summed up for Karen Dickerman in one of our hymns. It was a life-long favorite of her father that became especially meaningful for them both as they shared it during his final illness and death. Its opening words can be found on a paving brick dedicated to him at Hospice Buffalo: “Be still, my soul: the Lord is on your side.” It continues, “leave to your God to order and provide; in every change God faithful will remain. Be still, my soul; your best, your heavenly friend through thorny ways leads to a joyful end.”
That hymn is like Kathy Meyer’s guiding scripture, “Be still, and know that I am God” (Ps. 46:10)! “That verse,” Kathy writes, “says God’s in control and handling things just nicely. It also helps me slow my thoughts down when I first walk into the sanctuary and prepare for my time with Abba.”
It’s the light of faith that infuses a prayer Nancy Howlett uses through good times and bad. “Most recently,” Nancy wrote, “when I realized I just could not take care of Kenny any more, and the probability of getting him into a group home, let alone one with the agency I felt would be most appropriate, was poor, I turned the problem over to God. A vacancy [for him] was found, and with a Christian agency.” This is the prayer that centers her: “I Believe! I place this day and all that is in it in the Lord’s hands. There is no harm in the Lord’s hands, only good. Whatever happens, whatever results, if I am in the Lord’s hands, it is the Lord’s will, and it is good.”
Bob and Helen Jones find such faith expressed in a favorite poem. Bob writes, “Throughout our lives, especially in times of change and crisis, Helen and I have found special help and strength” in a poem by Minnie Louise Haskins, popularly known as “The Gate of the Year.” It begins: “And I said to the man who stood at the gate of the year: ‘Give me a light that I may tread safely into the unknown.’ / And he replied: / ‘Go out into the darkness and put your hand into the Hand of God. That shall be to you better than light and safer than a known way.’”
In such expressions, and in others some of you have shared that are not included here, we find the light of guidance for our lives, the light that leads us to Christ, and following that guidance we shed that same light on others. When we join our small lamps together in a common ministry, we become a beacon of hope, “a city built on a hill that cannot be hid” (Matt. 5:14).