Lenten darkness also allows us to be more aware of the problem of “light pollution”. Think, for example, about the extreme contrast between the number and brightness of stars you can see in the sky in the remote country “up North” compared to what can be seen at night in the city. Indeed, think of the example that if one stands at the base of an unlit mine shaft and looks upward, stars are visible in the sky even during a sunlit day. We cannot see these stars while walking in daylight, because the daylight overwhelms our ability to see them. We cannot see most nighttime stars by reason of the nearer and brighter light cast by house, street and automobile lighting.
But the stars are there. They are there independent of how we can see them. God is always present, but we are often not sensitive to His presence because our senses have been overwhelmed by some thing that seems nearer, and that dazzles with the brightness we invest in that which we desire.
If we want to see the stars better we go to a place in which light pollution is minimized. We are intentional about avoiding that which prevents clarity of vision. The same is true when we seek God’s presence, when we pray with the psalmist “Your face, Lord, will I seek” (Ps. 27.11). The heart which desires God will seek Him, and often this heart will yearn because of the darkness in which the heart dwells, darkness that afflicts but also provides clarity. Whether or not we begin in a dark place, in order to seek God we must be intentional about avoiding the “light pollution” which gets in the way. And most of this “pollution” at least appears as light! We are rarely distracted by that which we know to be evil. What distracts us most is that which appears good, and may often be good. Our failings rarely involve the intentional choice of evil; they involve, rather, the substitution of a lesser good for the greatest good.
What does this substitution look like? Examples can include focusing on idols, such as money, or wealth, or power, but most examples involve a well-intentioned focus on such goods as family or security or pleasure. Jesus warns us, explicitly, that we cannot follow Him if we love family more (Mtt. 10.37), or gain eternal life if we love this life more (Jn. 12.25). Jesus teaches that we must not be distracted by the need for security (Mtt. 6.25-33), and we know that His injunction that we must take up our own cross to follow Him requires that the pursuit of pleasure be secondary to the pursuit of God’s will.
Once we recognize the danger of substitution, of “light pollution,” what must we do to better follow Jesus? We need not seek darkness or descend into a deep pit! We must, rather, first trust that God is present at all times and in all places (including when we are in a pit), and then seek His face by being intentional in our practice of the faith. This can involve practical decisions, like saying “No” to pleasurable activities that interfere with times of worship. It can involve being intentional about setting aside time for God, in prayer or in quiet time, or just asking the mental question “Where do I find God, here?” in all places and situations, particularly those which frustrate or distract us. As with light pollution, to better focus we need to get out of the way that which stands between us and the Light we seek. The practice of prayer—in all of its forms—is the most reliable way to do this, and a good place to start in Eastertide is to remind ourselves daily, “Alleluia! The Lord is risen indeed!”
Yours in Christ Jesus,
The Rev. Dr. Karl C. Schaffenburg