Interesting article on a Japanese way to view the world. I found this intriguing and so very similar to the Eastern Christian Orthodox way of thinking, especially as it relates to perfectionism.
So often as Christians we struggle with what Jesus said and reaffirmed by the apostles in the New Testament “…be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect.” (Matthew 5:48 KJV)
Here are two quotes to pique your interest and give you food for thought:
“…the term ‘perfect’, which stems from the Latin perfectus, meaning complete, has been placed on an undeserved pedestal in many cultures, especially the West. Prioritising flawlessness and infallibility, the ideal of perfection creates not only unachievable standards, but misguided ones. In Taoism, since no further growth or development can take place, perfection is considered equivalent to death. While we strive to create perfect things and then struggle to preserve them, we deny their very purpose and subsequently lose the joys of change and growth.”
“The dents and scratches we bear are all reminders of experience, and to erase them would be to ignore the complexities of life. By retaining the imperfect, repairing the broken and learning to find beauty in flaws – rather than in spite of them – Japan’s ability to cope with the natural disasters it so often faces is strengthened.”
A good deed done in silence is more valuable – St. Nicolai Velimirovich
We have spent decades trying to deal with this immigration issue. Whether or not you like Trump or his administration this problem has been around since the Clinton administration, and the Bush administration, and the Obama administration and has been exacerbated by numerous elected officials on both sides of the aisle.
It was Obama (who also said all he could do was enforce the law & never signed an executive order to fix this), who militarized the border and opened the way for kids to come from the south. He created secret detention centers that housed around 4,000 kids until they age out at 18. Where was the outrage and protests then?
Here’s an investigative report by the Washington Post from BEFORE Trump took office: https://www.washingtonpost.com/national/obama-administration-placed-children-with-human-traffickers-report-says/2016/01/28/39465050-c542-11e5-9693-933a4d31bcc8_story.html
I am thankful we are finally seeing the injustice and the failure of our immigration system.
We process asylum seekers from Middle Eastern, European or Asian areas of the world much differently than how we treat our neighbors south of the border.
Or do we simply leave it to the Christian Missionary to carry on the often thankless work (but rewarded by God) in these places where they’ve even endangered their own lives and families for the sake of others. But after all, Christian Missionaries are horrible with their ideas of right & wrong and morality. Never mind that they build homes, drinking wells, schools, teach literacy, help with clothes, food, farming & medical care — all through donations and volunteers.
Wouldn’t our millionaires & billionaires, politicians, sports heroes, music stars & acting artists of Hollywood consider putting their money where there mouth is? Shouldn’t these “talking media heads”, go to these countries and try to implement creative solutions to help these people be able to stay in their home country instead of just taking pictures and interviewing these people in their pain? How can someone film this stuff and NOT give, do, act… give up even 1/4 of their salary and contribute to a solution. It’s so easy to gripe, so hard to labor in the fields.
Now that Trump signed an executive order, people are still griping because the situation still exists. Do these people really expect a massive re-unification of families to happen over night? Many are critical that Trump changed his mind… who cares? At least he saw the problem, the protests and the outrage and he changed his mind and DID at least something. It takes guts to change a position to attempt to make things better.
People are just letting their feelings run wild without knowing the facts and the complexities, pointing fingers and pontificating, including religious leaders and politicians spouting Bible verses to justify their various positions.
Unfortunately we have officials trying to follow the law and congress has yet to fix our broken immigration system.
Did you know that thousands of children have been sent to the US borders by themselves, with no parent? What are we to do with these children, just release them into the packs of ravenous sex slave traffickers & work slave traffickers just waiting to snatch them up. It’s going to take time to pair up parents with children. Yes, it shouldn’t have happened but it did, and it will not be an overnight solution.
This recent video from ABC News talks about how big the complexities of this problem have become. https://youtu.be/nmKhrd1GYS8
I hope we will look at ALL the facts before we begin to protest and judge others so harshly and publically shaming them. You may not agree with what you read but it all comes down to enforcing our laws. There is no justification here at all for what’s going on. So our elected officials continue to kick the can down the road or play dodge ball, or catch me if you can, or “oh no, not me, it’s not my fault.”.
As in politics and religion everyone has an opinion and everyone feels theirs is the “right” of it. I do agree that the system is broken. I do believe in enforcing our laws. I however also believe in COMPASSION. I personally don’t see anything wrong with children staying with parents until they are deported. Many refugee camps allow families to stay together. Must our detention centers look like prison?
I am not looking at it from a political stand point, I am looking at it as a compassionate, Christian, human being. I want us as a country to do the right thing but still have heart. Is that so hard? Why can’t there still be compassion? Remove politics & religious rhetoric and imagine the trauma of children missing their parents. Imagine the trauma of you not knowing where your child is and barely getting any answers? Yes, it’s risky & terrifying traveling from a war torn, or crime riddled, or leave your home because of persecution for whatever reason. As a parent it is a huge undertaking to uproot one’s family from a home often from roots that go back generations, to SAVE your family from starvation, kidnapping, rape, drug lords, murder, & other atrocities. To entrust your family & pay a smuggler who promises help & freedom. Some come in cargo boxes or trucks. If they make it here alive, they hope they’re not left to die, crammed, suffocating in 100 degree weather, packed like human sardines.
Then to finally arrive to America, land of the free, home of the brave, land of endless opportunities, and then they face what we now know as a horrifying situation… separation of families, parents deported without their children, and the children left in squalor conditions that resemble cages.
I don’t care which party is to blame. Let us truly treat others as we would want to be treated if we were in their shoes. Once again, let’s remove politics out of this situation and let’s have a heart. Thanks for taking the time to read this. Blessings on you.
Maybe you have come to a place in your life that feels like a dead end, you’re going nowhere, life seems hopeless. Maybe you think that you have sinned one too many times, failed too many times, keep doing things you don’t want to do but you do them over and over again. Maybe you feel you’re at the end of the rope, the stress, the worries, about money, health, family, children, the state of the world, or the area you live in. You’ve tried to “get it together”. You’ve tried to have a “stiff upper lip”. You’ve tried will power or “pulling yourself up by your own bootstraps”. All your efforts have been ineffective and you have realized you can’t change anything on your own or in your own strength. It’s beyond your capabilities.
I have some good news! If we could fix, rescue, save ourselves, we would not need a Savior, a Deliverer, an Advocate, a Rescuer, a Redeemer, a Great Physician, a Comforter.
If we could live up to all that is right and have good health, with plenty of money to spend, we would probably be so high-minded and so full of our own self-righteousness, with our homes full of material worthless possessions. We would not hear the cries of the broken, let alone be aware of them or understand them.
It is when we are broken and humbled, brought low and become weak, finally hearing and seeing, and hoping that someone will hear and see us, it is in this state real Love steps in.
God knew we needed Him. Before we asked, He had the answer. Before we looked, He was standing before us. Before we knocked, He was in our midst. Before we died, He died for us so we could live. Before we went to hell, He descended into hell, broke the gates, and set the hostages free, breaking the chains, and overcame the demons.
As a Christian you may know all this in your head, but getting it to sink deep down into our hearts is another matter. Just by being honest with God, knowing we can’t change ourselves, is the first step. This is where God’s mercy and grace comes in to transform our lives. This is what Easter is all about.
Perhaps Easter is not a big celebration because we are still focusing on pain, sin, suffering, death and all of our dreams and hopes have been buried at the bottom of the sea or in a mile high mud slide. We are stuck on “Good Friday & Great Saturday” and we can’t see anything “good or great” about it. Except we can’t just stop there.
Yes, there is a time to deal with our sins and failures, life’s disappointments and tragedies. We need to remember the “Via Delarosa” the road to Christ’s crucifixion; how Jesus carried the load if humanity’s sins, failures and tragedies to calvary and then was nailed with all of this to the Cross.
We need to remember how the Lamb of God loved us, was slain for us and died for us, even while we were still at war with God and still God’s enemy.
We need to be reminded no matter how perfect or good we might think we are, even then we are filthy rags compared to the perfection and holiness of God. We are never going to measure up, will always fall short. We are set in our own selfish ways, no matter how close we get to God, we will still tend to be selfish and self-willed.
This is why we need God. This is why Jesus died. We need a Savior.
But then… God was not content to leave us at the cross. God was not done with being buried. God, Himself triumphed over death. He has conquered hell and the grave. “Oh death where is your sting? Oh grave where is your victory?”
As it was for Christ God, we too must go through death… death to our own ideas of somehow earning our way into God’s presence; death to our own works of righteousness and good works; death to our own ways, our own dreams. We also need to let Jesus take our sin, even when we can’t give it to Him. Only in dying can we obtain new life. Jesus trampled down death by death.
Having died with Christ, it is time we remember we are to live in Christ. Let us no longer linger in death and burial. Let us visit the empty tomb. Let us see the guards as dead men. Let us hear the Angels proclamation, “He is risen, just as He said.”
Easter is about Jesus conquering death, not us conquering death, but God. Only by hiding in the shelter of His wings, coming under His robe, being washed in His blood, losing ourself in Jesus, will we too conquer death.
God has been faithful through centuries of generations of individuals who have put their trust in Him. God is faithful even when we are not. The steadfast love of The Lord never ceases, His mercies never come to an end. They are new every morning. We can take Him at His Word.
Right now, our lives may be full of stress and very topsy turvy. I know that better days are ahead if we put our trust in the Lord. I also know things might get full of trials and tribulations and temptations.
The Spirit of The Lord will come upon our lives to comfort us, walk beside us, live inside us, will be our strength, will pray for us when we don’t know how.
God will give us a peace that passes understanding, a joy overflowing, a hope everlasting, a trust that is faithful and a love all fulfilling. More than what we can ask, think, or comprehend.
He opened the way to Life and not an ordinary one but an abundant life. He gave us something stronger than “happiness”, He gave us JOY! He loves us unconditionally with an everlasting love. He takes as we are and transforms us into what we were destined to be.
I truly am blessed and I do mean blessed when I remember the people, friends, family, even strangers who have come into my life. God had sent all of them, even those who have meant evil, all we’re sent by God. All have helped me in so many ways to bring me closer to God; to find enjoyment in this life; see things through the eyes of a child; to see the wonders of the world around me and so much more to discover. To truly pray “Our Father, Your kingdom come, Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven”.
Now everyday I ask myself, “In the light of Eternity, what does it matter?” It puts into perspective what is eternally important and what is going to pass away. I want to know Christ in the fellowship of His sufferings, that I might know Him in the power of His resurrection.
“Christ is risen from the dead, trampling down death by death. And on those in the tombs bestowing life.”
Christ is risen! In Truth He is risen! He is risen indeed!
Abba, my Father, Your child, I am.
Mold me, make me, within Your hands.
To do Your will as a joint heir.
To be Your servant, this is my prayer.
Jesus, I need You to heal me from sin;
To serve You completely, free from pride within
Seeking Your kingdom, joy, peace, righteousness;
Your will, not mine and nothing less.
Sweet Spirit come in, fill me with love.
Anoint me with power from up above.
Your mind & heart, purify me with fire.
To be like You, becomes my desire.
Waiting & watching make Your way clear;
To be doing, not sleeping, until Your return.
Then all my needs met, all my fears gone,
Satisfied and content, You and I as one.
Years have passed since I first found Christ, or rather since Christ found me.
Yes, Christ found me and I rebelled at first, then finally bowed my knee. I claimed Him as my Savior and Lord, my God and my Master. No other God would I serve.
But since that day, long ago, my feet have trodden many a time in places forbidden and dark. I, so often, have been drawn away to other masters, other gods who gave enticing yet deceptive treats that when grasped would crumble into dust; or when eaten turned bitter and full of bile when swallowed.
So, I have paid the price of tasting forbidden fruit. I have suffered the pain of grabbing thorns. I have known the shackles of fierce demons unrelenting in their torture. In fear and darkness, anxiety and unforgiveness, I walked through the valleys of the shadow of death.
In the depths of despair, I heard footsteps pursuing me. Afraid of the Presence of God, I hid but being so exhausted and tired, I surrendered to His One pursuit. I collapsed in His arms, not caring if He would slay me, for death itself would be better than living in the squalor and mire I was now in.
I cried out, “Lord, save me, deliver me, have mercy.” Then a light began to burn and the Presence of Whom I had surrendered to was the One I had always longed for. The Lord Jesus was the One who had been pursuing me relentlessly and never ending. He enveloped me in His arms. His love washing over me like wave after wave, cleansing, healing, forgiving.
God — I thought He was a fierce Master and a Lord that I could never appease. He was truly fierce and worthy of respect — for He was all powerful, so holy. Now, for the first time, I was given fresh revelation. Just as fierce was His righteousness, His love was equally fierce. I now surrendered to the lover of my soul.
I remember when I was young in Christ, visions and dreams enveloped my nights. By day, I was filled with an insatiable desire, an unquenchable thirst and hunger for God. I had a gnawing ache deep within that I was called to a purpose — a great and mighty plan. I’ve caught glimpses of His plans. I am still not sure what it all means. I am not sure about the why’s, what’s, or the when’s. His ways are always higher than mine. His ways are past finding out. God has given many gifts, skills and talents all I need is a desire to try and do my best for Him and surrender those gifts to Hitoshi use or not to use. I am so very thankful and so very blessed. It seems the Lover of my soul continues to shower me with His incredible treasures.
I am learning submission and obedience within God’s will. I can trust God to work all for good. I am learning more and more the balance between grace and obedience. I am learning evermore the depths and the heights of His great love, mercy, forgiveness and grace.
I am also learning that with the joy there is also the fellowship of His suffering. That love often bears a cross and a crown of thorns. But love never loses focus of the goal and will always prevail and endure.
I believe in trusting God with my future and leaving it in His hands. For I have learned that just when I think I know — that is when I am most ignorant. It is better to be like Mary, the mother of Jesus, and ponder the things in my heart than it is to speak too hastily.
I cannot help but wonder at the past events of my life. How does it all fit together in God’s plan? I do not know. I do know that He has called me away many times and says to me, “Come away my beloved. Come and learn of me. Spend time alone in my presence. Let Me love you. Let Me fill you with Myself.”
When a person is a child and his friends reject him the adult world says, “go and make new friends” or “that’s okay, you’ll find other friends.” Someone hurts her or calls her a name and the adult world says, “sticks and stones may break your bones, but names will never hurt you.”
As a child becomes a teen and “falls in love” they call it “puppy love” but when the first break-up occurs the adult world says, “you’ll get over it” or “there are other fish in the sea.”
When friends hurt and we don’t fit in, others say, “they probably weren’t your real friends anyway” or “you’re better off without them.”
Finally, there comes a time when we are the adults. Mom and Dad are no longer there to run to and we have no answers. They are not there to hold us or wipe the tears from our eyes. We get hurt, cry on our pillow, then try and remember all those sayings we were told as a child. Yet, it doesn’t take the pain away anymore.
But, did it really ever help before?
Maybe, it merely would hide it for awhile… until the next time.
What do they really tell us?
Cover it up…
It’s all over…
You’ll get over it…
What good were all those sayings?
Many times my walls have gone up… walls of bitterness, mistrust, unforgiveness and hurt. I have made silent vows of: not letting anyone get too close; not letting myself become vulnerable; not letting anyone see me as I really am; not willing to love wholeheartedly.
But God’s relentless, pursuing love starts calling, wooing, and melting those walls. His love begins to permeate once again my heart, my life. I begin reaching out, touching others, loving again.
His love — it’s beautiful; it’s wonderful; it’s a sweet aroma, an enriching fragrance. I am lifted, refreshed, strengthened and renewed! My hope is built. My faith is encouraged. My trust is renewed. My heart is softened. I learn to love again.
Then it happens, my heart is tested by those very same areas that hurt, those same words, those same actions, the same pain, the same wound — reopened all over again. The only thing that may be different is the people have different names or faces. I tend to slip into disillusionment, despair, disappointment. Feeling rejected, lost, hurt, hopeless and lonely. The loneliness is the part we all hate. The loneliness we can feel even when we’re in a crowd.
May those lonely times drive me to the Lord Jesus Christ, the only one who can satisfy a lonely heart, fulfill my deepest longings, heal the wounds of pain.
As I stop seeking and pursuing after worldly pleasures and turn my efforts and affections toward the love of God will I find fulfillment.
As I let go of all memories, all the people, all the hurts, all the longings, will I find my heart satisfied.
In losing my life, I find it. In giving, I receive. In dying, only then shall I live. Sticks and stones may kill the body, but they cannot kill the soul.
There is a friend that sticks closer than a brother. There is a friend that will never leave nor depart. There is a friend whose love will never change.
So, I have sought Him often alone — but not often enough. I know He desires me more than I Him, but that will probably always be that way. I feel as though I have been in a desert and yet I have not been forsaken. There is hidden beauty in the desert. I believe I have passed from a romantic feeling of love into a deep and abiding lasting love that goes far beyond feelings and into a deep sense of knowing.
I am at peace and am content with God. I feel comfortable with my relationship and settled. Yet, at the same time, paradoxically, I am restless, hungry, thirsty. I am satisfied but ever yearning for more of Him. I am in pursuit of God, yet at rest.
Yes, I have made up my mind. I will continue on this path, wherever the Lord may lead. I will stick with my God, my Lord, the one I love and am learning to love over and over again in fresh and new ways. I plan on hanging in through all the trials. I will not run from fear. I will face whatever the future may bring and take the risk of bearing a cross.
I may stumble, but I will go on. Ultimately, my deepest longings will be fulfilled and I will accomplish His purpose to which I’ve been called. Only by walking through the desert can I expect to enter that promised land. Like Jacob I will hold on until I receive the blessing. Even if, in holding on, it may appear to my natural eyes that I am crippled some way, in the end, every good thing has a price.
If I fail to hear God’s voice and find myself lost along the way, even in my wanderings I will be okay. I know that my Lord Jesus, is the Good Shepherd and will pursue and seek me. I can trust in God, alone, who can redeem anything that is lost including wayward dreams. He can make mistakes turn for good. He can make the foolish become wise — the strong become weak and the weak become strong. He can redeem the years that the locusts have eaten. He can bring beauty out of ashes and turn mourning into joy. He holds all things in His hands. He is sovereign and will accomplish His purpose and work in my life what He desires. So, I can face the future with assurance and hope. I am bathed and washed in His goodness and love.
Praise His name forevermore. He will keep me as the apple of His eye and hide me in the shelter of His wings. He is my God and I will be His servant forever! Not by my might, nor by my power, but by the grace of His Spirit!
Come to the one who is the lover of your soul. Come to the one who loves with a never ending, ever enduring, everlasting love. There is a Savior who will be with us in the deepest seas of despair, the darkest night of loneliness, the great chasm of pain. Jesus has felt the pain. He has known the agony. He has experienced the sorrow
In Him and through Him we can reach out. By Him and because of Him we can love again. Because nothing will ever be able to separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord except our own selves. We know that His perfect love will cast out all fear. Then the world will know we are His disciples by our love!
”Lord of love, fill us with more of You!”
“Oh Lord, how long must I call for help before You will listen? I shout to You in vain; there is no answer. “Help! Murder!” I cry, but no one comes to save. Must I forever see this sin and sadness all around me? Where I look there is oppression and bribery and men who love to argue and to fight. The law is not enforced and there is no justice given in the courts; for the wicked far outnumber the righteous, and bribes and trickery prevail.” (Habakkuk 1:2-4 TLB)
It is so easy to lose sight of our purpose, get off track, forget the dreams, goals and visions that the Lord has given us. It is so easy to feel defeated when we experience failings, fallings and struggles. We can look around us and grow discouraged when evil abounds and the small battles we win, seem to never get us very far, because for every small ground we take, it feels as though the enemy has still more. These feelings are true in our individual lives, and we are not alone, (though we may feel like we are), it is true in our families, it is true in our ministries, it is true in our workplace, it is true all around us.
The prophet, Habakkuk looked around him and all he saw was evil, destruction, wickedness abounding. He grew discouraged and cried out to the Lord. Habakkuk was called to be a prophet to a nation whose heart was far from God. Idolatry was everywhere, horrible abominations were being committed even to the point of parents sacrificing their children as burnt offerings to false gods. He cried out, “Where is God?”
As I look around today, I see the same things going on described by Habakkuk. Lawlessness, the murder of children, violence, bribes, oppression, idolatry, abounds in a “nation under God”. In the battle for life, Christians have grown weary. Many have lost the fire, have grown discouraged, given up or become complacent. Many ministries are now struggling. Many businesses & organizations are struggling. Meanwhile the demons continue to steal, kill and destroy. Jesus warns the body of Christ, in the book of Revelation, to rekindle our first love, to not be lukewarm, to be diligent and persevering in the faith. “He who endures to the end shall be saved”.
For many, the battle has grown long and we are weary. “Where is God?” Habakkuk has an answer:
“I will stand my watch and set myself watch to see what He (God) will say to me” (Habakkuk 2:1 NKJV)
We need to continue to stand watch, we need to continue to set ourselves on the rampart, we need to watch and see what God will say. We need to wait upon the Lord, and not be found too busy and not be found asleep. A.W. Tozer once said:
“Many are too preoccupied to hear or heed. They never allow God’s call to become a reason for decision. Their relationship with God never becomes a personal encounter. As a result, they live out their entire lives insisting that they never heard any call from God. The answer to that is plain. God has been trying to get through to them, but their line is always busy! They are engrossed in a host of worldly pursuits. We have no time to answer God when He calls. When the important matters of the soul are at stake, the most useful thing we can do is to do nothing, even if only for a short time. There are times when we can go the fastest by not going at all. We can go farthest by standing still for a while. Then, too, we can talk the loudest by not saying a word. We will not be taking the Lord by surprise; He will speak His message.”
“Then the LORD answered me and said: ‘Write the vision and make it plain on tablets, that he may run who reads it. For the vision is yet for an appointed time; but at the end it will speak, and it will not lie. Though it tarries, wait for it; because it will surely come, it will not tarry.'” (Habakkuk 2: 2-3 NKJV)
Then, when the Lord speaks, write it down, read it, run with it, wait patiently for it. In other words, when God speaks, we need to put our faith into action. Those that love the Lord, keep his commandments, true love for God is evidence by obedience to His call. Oswald Chambers says:
“Have I received a ministry from the Lord? If so, I have to be loyal to it, to count my life precious only for the fulfilling of that ministry. There is no choice of service, only absolute loyalty to Our Lord’s commission. The call is loyalty to the ministry you received when you were in real touch with Him.”
Be faithful to the call that God has given you, though it tarries wait for it. In Hebrews 11, we read of the heroes of faith that did great and mighty things for God and yet in verse 39 we read, “and all these, having obtained a good testimony through faith, did not receive the promise.” God had something better planned for them and for us! They still hung on to a future hope. We are then encouraged in Hebrews 12:1-2 “…let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which so easily ensnares us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking unto Jesus, the author and the finisher of our faith…”
For those of you who have thought you hadn’t heard the call of God on your life, find a quiet place. Open the ears of your heart to His still small voice. Let God share His heart with you, He has been waiting.
For those of you who have labored long, you too need to find a quiet place, go sit up on the wall, watch and see what God will say to your questions of “Why?” “How Long?” “Where are You, God?” “Refrain your voice from weeping, and your eyes from tears; For your work shall be rewarded, says the LORD.” (Jeremiah 31:16 NKJV)
My brothers and sisters, seek the Lord once again, He will be found if you seek with your whole heart; ask and He will give an answer; knock and you will see doors open. He who is called you is faithful to complete the work He has begun in you.
“Let us more and more insist on raising funds of love, of kindness, of understanding, of peace. Money will come if we seek first the Kingdom of God – the rest will be given.” – Mother Theresa
Too often I find myself caught up in the worries, concerns, and stresses of every day life. I found myself even more so throughout this past holiday season. Struggling with health concerns and as a result not able to work as often as I would have liked or needed to which then resulted in not enough finances to meet bills and basic necessities.
Sometimes God gives us strength and health to take care of things. Other times He allows us to be weak in order for us to rely on His strength and the strength of others. I too often find myself leaning on my own strength, trying to pull myself up by my own “bootstraps” so to speak. Yet when I lean on Jesus, trusting Him in ALL things, the strength of the Lord is often revealed in the strength of His body, the Church.
So I am humbled by not being the giver, but being the one given to. I am blessed by not being the one to lean on, but the one who needs others to lean on.
God is faithful even when I am weak, doubting, struggling, falling and getting up again & again. Because of the Lord’s mercies all my needs are met.
My family and friends are blessed not by what I give them in the way of material gifts, but they are blessed by my prayers, by my love, by just being me. So I will continue to raise my funds of love, understanding, care and by God’s grace His peace.
Thank you for allowing me to be honest, to be real, to be me.
People often find the darkness inside an Orthodox church a bit disturbing. I have heard other Orthodox Christians mention various reasons as to why this is so: to help us focus, to distance ourselves from the distractions of the world and other reasons. To others it just seems to be a place of darkness and with the darkness it seems on the surface to be contrary to what we think it should. After all shouldn’t being in Church be a place of light?
As the Nativity fast is soon upon us, my thoughts were turning toward preparing my heart for the coming of the Nativity of our Lord God and Savior in the flesh. That wonderful time of year that is for Christians a time of reflecting and remembering the birth of Jesus – Christmas. The Nativity season doesn’t end “officially” in the church until Theophany also know as Epiphany. This season is known as the festival of lights.
As a child raised in a Lutheran Church, we, as a family looked forward to the Advent services and especially the Christmas Eve services. During each Advent service we would light one special candle on Sunday to again prepare our hearts. Then came the midnight Christmas Eve services which usually started around 11:00 in the evening and it would end on or a bit after midnight. During this service all the lights in the church were extinguished and then each of the Advent candles were lit with a special Scripture reading. Finally it came time to light the Christ candle. Upon the Christ candle being lit, the Pastor would take his own individual candle and light his candle from the Christ candle. The Pastor would then light one of the candles of one of the other members of the church, who in turn would pass the lighting on to another, until each one of us had our own individually lit candle. By the time everyone had their own candle lit, the room was no longer dark. We were no longer sitting or standing in darkness. “The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who dwelt in the land of the shadow of death, upon them a light has shined.” Isaiah 9:2, The Holy Bible, New King James Version “Arise, shine; for your light has come! And the glory of the Lord is risen upon you. For behold, the darkness shall cover the earth, and deep darkness the people but the Lord will arise over you and His glory will be seen upon you. The Gentiles shall come to your light, and kings to the brightness of your rising.” Isaiah 60:1-3, The Holy Bible, New King James Version
Jesus said of Himself that He was the Light of the World. The scriptures have numerous references to God and especially the God-man Jesus of being light and in Him is no darkness. As Christians we are exhorted to let the life of Christ, the light of Christ, shine out of our own hearts and lives.
We have many artistic renditions of the Nativity with some very common themes that illustrate the Nativity story in paintings, sculptures and in the Orthodox Church icons. It is the Nativity icon I find many expressions of darkness contrasting light. The cave in which Christ is born is pictured dark and out of the darkness the light of Christ is shining. It was dark in the sky until Angels appeared and lit up the sky. And let’s not forget the magnificent Star, the Magi from the east followed to where the baby Jesus lay.
In the services of the Orthodox Church there are many reminders to help teach us eternal truths. One of the reminders is a darkened church. There is light in the surroundings, but the lights are strategically placed in front of icons in the form of candles: in the memorial boxes and small oil lamps (lampadas). There is usually a big light such as a chandelier hanging from the ceiling. In the evening Vespers service the candles and lampadas are lit, but the overhead lighting is off, until a certain moment when we sing a song that begins with “O Gentle Light of the glorious…”
I am not an Orthodox “expert” by any means, so hear are my humble thoughts on these expressions of contrasting light and darkness. Jesus came into a dark world as the Light of the world. Each time a candle is lit in front of an icon we remember the particular saint or angel as one who has the light of Christ dwelling in them. The “halo” around various saints and angels reflects the glory of God shining from their faces and their lives.
So much more symbolism in the candles, the flames, oil burning in the lampadas, everything to remind us that although we are in a dark world, we have the light of Christ with us always. And just as the light from the Christ candle is One glorious light – it is still passed on person to person. So the next time you find yourself surrounded by darkness look for the light, perhaps bring a light to someone else in darkness. Where do we get this light? We receive the light from the Lord Jesus Christ himself who even the darkness, the darkness is light to Him.