“The people who sat in darkness have seen a great light, and for those who sat in the region and shadow of death light has dawned.” (Matthew 4:16)
When I was a little girl, I would practice walking around in the dark.
For you see, my Grandpa Anderson had lost his sight shortly after I was born, so on visits to his home
I would watch, fascinated, as he made his way. I would quietly stand in the corner and see how he could fry his own eggs for breakfast. I can still see him touching the corner of the egg to ‘see’ if it was done! By feeling the rotary dial on the telephone in his kitchen,(remember, this was the 1960’s!) he could call any of his sons or daughters. With his red and white cane he could safely navigate the length of the lane over the railroad tracks to the main road to get his mail. My mother tells me that he drove long after he should have. That my grandmother would sit beside him in the front seat and literally be his eyes. I’m also told there was talk in the family of getting him a seeing eye dog. Only at that point, he seemed just beyond getting the hang of it. And so he spent his last decades walking around in the dark, ‘seeing’ with his hands and his ears and his sense of smell. And it was so that he could sense your presence in the room long before you announced it. Not that my sisters and I were that good at making quiet entrance! Even so, I expect he knew a lot more of what was going on around him than many of us who actually ‘see’ often did.
So sometimes, I would practice walking around in the dark — emulating my grandpa. After a while I found I knew my childhood home by heart and could make my way through it quite well by feeling the wall and ‘seeing’ in my mind’s eye objects I might otherwise trip over.
Most of us don’t choose to practice walking around in the dark — especially not the sort of darkness our lessons describe this week. And yet, having done so much of it, I think we get pretty good at it after a while. In fact, I rather wonder if many of us don’t simply grow accustomed to walking around in the dark. It may be the dark of grief or loneliness. It could be the darkness of uncertainty about what tomorrow will bring at work or at home or in the world. Or the darkness of unrelenting worry about children or grandchildren or aging parents.. Or the nagging sensation that something is not quite right physically but you can’t quite lay a finger on it. It could be the darkness of the fear of job loss or the despair of long term unemployment. Or the darkness that accompanies depression or chronic illness. We have all gotten so good at walking around in the dark that maybe we hardly notice it after a while. Indeed, sometimes it’s only when the light shines on us again that we can even tell the difference!
You’ve heard me speak, some of you, of the darkness that descended on my family in the months after my dad died. It was in the spring of that year. It had been just long enough for me to begin to wonder when the healing would come — when the light would return. I was home at my mom’s for the day because my aunt and cousin were there to visit. Aunt Carol is as close to my mother as a sister can be, it seems to me. They were gathered in the kitchen and I had paused in the next room and picked up a copy of Time Magazine. And suddenly I heard them erupt into laughter.
I remember feeling my heart catch in my throat for I hadn’t heard laughter in that house for some time. I remember how the wonder of that sound was a little like someone turning the light on again. I sat down for a moment, smiling at the gift of their laughter, and kept paging through the magazine. Something caught my eye, something my dad would have been interested in and without thinking, I looked up and called his name. Forgetting. For the often taken for granted sound of laughter had taken me back to a happier time when such gladness was the norm and in that instant, I forgot that he wasn’t in the next room to call out to any more. Almost immediately, the darkness descended on me again.
I don’t know if that moment was a gift of going back in time for just a moment or if it was the promise of what it yet to come. But it felt a little like a mean-spirited trick — as though something amazing had been extended to me and then just as quickly had been snatched away. For there was no going back—I knew this in my next breath. And healing was still a long ways off. But the promise was there in that moment. Indeed, the promise still held that the wounds would heal and we would laugh again. That light would replace the darkness after all.
Only God’s promised light shining on us offers us so much more than even that kind of healing. This is the coming Light of Lights which will forever take us out of this present darkness. And the wonder of it is that this begins right here and now. Even in the midst of this dark place. We know this must be so for we hear it in our Gospel words from Matthew now.
Because you see, I imagine that those disciples who Jesus called today had also grown accustomed to walking around in the dark. Now it could be that their lives were pretty good ones. Perhaps the business of fishing had provided well for them and their families. Maybe it was gratifying to them to be carrying on the work their fathers and grandfathers had done before them. Probably they had families to go home to and a community where they were held in high regard. Even so, we also know that they lived in a country that was occupied by the army of another. That they paid taxes to a ruler who was not their own. And it may be so that maybe one among them wanted to be a carpenter, or had it in him to be a farmer, but was needed on dad’s fishing boat. More than that, we can also be certain, because they are human, that they had felt the inevitable pain of living with what may have been unspeakable losses. Indeed, there must have lived in them some longing for light, else they would not have abandoned all that had been so quickly to follow this one who promised them something more. Maybe they thought they had grown accustomed to the darkness. Perhaps they had finally given up hope for any kind of meaningful change. And maybe in Jesus’ voice they saw to promise of light in their darkness. And so when Jesus walks by and calls their names and the light shines on them, they go. They just drop their nets and go. And we all know what happens next.
My grandpa’s cane was a great gift to him when he was with us. It helped him make his way in the dark. Indeed, we hang on to it because it was a part of him. Even so, it is a symbol of another time. A time of just getting by, of just making do, of ‘seeing’ in the only way we can for now. It’s a sign of a time of having gotten used to ‘walking around in the dark.’ But the promise is that the day will come — perhaps signs of that wondrous day have already arrived as we hear the voice of Jesus calling us to step into the light of the new day that God has in store for all of us.
- How have you grown accustomed to ‘walking around in the dark?’
- What experiences do you have of light shining in your darkness?
- How do we experience light as we heed the call to follow Jesus?