Celebrating “shining lights”

At times our own light goes out and is rekindled by a spark from another person.  Each of us has deep cause to think with deep gratitude of those who have lit the flame within us.”  – Albert Schweitzer

  • Who is a shining light in your life? 
  • Who is someone who has helped you find your way?
  • Who is a person who rekindled your spark just when you thought that you might never shine again?

I’m going to guess that all of us have at least one story about a person who has been a shining light in our lives. All of us have a person – and perhaps several people – who have offered us hope, encouragement, wisdom, forgiveness, or inspiration.  The season of Epiphany  – the weeks when we especially celebrate the Light shining in the darkness – is an opportunity to give thanks for a person who lit up your life and rekindled your spirit just when you needed it most.

Sometimes that person is someone we have a longstanding relationship with. Or it might be a teacher, coach, neighbor, or boss.  It may even be a stranger whose life briefly intersected with ours but who left a lasting impression.

These “shining lights” are gifts from God.  These weeks of Epiphany are an opportunity to celebrate the many forms that God’s light takes. We rely on the promise that God’s light shines in the darkness and the darkness can never overcome it. Epiphany begins with the star over Bethlehem, inviting any who look up to follow the light to Christ.  The season continues for seven weeks as we celebrate God’s gift to us in Jesus, the “light of the world.”

We are asked to look for that light in others. Who is someone who taught you how to let your light shine?  Who has demonstrated God’s love and light to you – and what did you learn from them? Who is that person who helped you find your path or directed your course?

How has that person’s light encouraged you to let your own light shine? We are asked to share God’s light that dwells within each one of us.

We live in a world that often seems worn and weary, a world that is aching for glimpses of the divine. Let us bask in the glow of gratitude for those who has shared their light with us. And let us dare to share our own light and our own gifts with those around us.  

Let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify God in heaven. (Matthew 5:16)

What is mercy?

My star gift this year is “mercy.”  What comes to mind when you hear that word?  My initial thought was that “mercy” is given to a prisoner by a captor. That goes along with the dictionary definition: Mercy is “compassion or forgiveness shown toward someone whom it is within one’s power to punish or harm.” After reading that I felt slightly guilty since it made me wonder what I had done that deserved punishment or harm. How bad was I that I required mercy?

On further reflection, I realized that every month I drive to the Mercy Center in Madison CT, a beautiful retreat center on the Long Island Sound that is run by the Sisters of Mercy. They are renowned for offering hospitality and welcome. The Mercy Center is a place of rest and renewal. That definition of “mercy” appeals to me. Who doesn’t need a safe, comforting spot where one will be loved and accepted? It sounds like healing and new life.

In order to learn about mercy, I’ve started a collection of quotes. Maybe you’ll be able to add to them – I have, after all, a whole year to immerse myself in the study of mercy. Here are some quotes that speak to my heart about mercy:

  • “Mercy and forgiveness must be free and unmerited to the wrongdoer.”
  • “It is mercy not justice or courage or even heroism that alone can defeat evil.”
  • “But go and learn what this means: ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice’ for I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners,” (Matthew 9:13).

I’ve also been listening to songs with the word “mercy” in them.  This one is my favorite so far – it’s called “God of mercy (Prayer song)” by Lou Fellingham. Do you know any songs about mercy?  I would be glad if you could add to my collection. 

There is something both powerful and humbling about realizing that God gives to us what we need, not what we deserve. God offers forgiveness, love, new beginnings, and – mercy. We don’t have to earn those gifts. They are provided because without them we would be bereft. What if we could be so generous with others? What if we were that generous with ourselves?

If you have a star gift, I hope you are enjoying it. (And if you would like me to mail you one, you can message me your address).  I would be interested to hear what you have learned so far, what questions you still have, and where you are being led to explore. I will continue to immerse myself in learning about mercy and I will share what I learn with you.

In the meantime, be merciful with yourself and others.

Into the Light!

Sandwiched between the busy seasons of Advent and Christmas and the more somber, thought-provoking weeks of Lent comes the quiet elation of Epiphany. This joy-filled season shines long after Christmas decorations have been tucked away and New Year’s resolutions have fallen to the wayside. The star lingers overhead, inviting us to venture into the unknown. Only when we move beyond the familiar will we encounter the new gifts God is offering.

  Epiphany is an often-overlooked but delightful season that offers hope in the midst of despair and light glimmering in the darkness. It reminds us of the journey of the magi, who followed mysterious messages to seek God’s promise. The star’s brilliance cajoles us to leave the safety of our routines behind.  The quiet assurance of a God who yearns to be found and who places directional signals in the sky lures us forward. God invites us to marvel at signs and wonders that point to God’s love and presence.

              Unlike Christmas and New Year, the season of Epiphany is not widely recognized in secular society. January is often regarded with the enthusiasm of a deflated balloon while the aftermath of Christmas is considered a dreary time to be endured. But in the church, Epiphany is a season of discovery, learning, and love.

In these weeks following Christmas, we are invited to bask in the light of the Christmas star. The star reminds us of the wise words that Jesus would grow up to proclaim, “People [do not] light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house” (Matthew 5:15). The light is provided by God who wants to be found by us. The heavenly beacon is not an exclusive signal meant for only a few people. It shines forth beckoning to all of God’s children. Anyone who looks up will see the sign. Anyone who dares to follow will discover the riches that wait underneath.

During Epiphany, dare to ask that star some questions.

  • Where am I being led in this New Year?  Is the star offering some course correction? Should I be like the magi and experiment with a “different road” that will lead me to new experiences?
  • What might I need to leave behind in order to start on this journey? What burdens or expectations can I set aside to lighten the load?
  • As the light shines into my life, what might I discover about myself? What do I value? What new parts of myself do I want to explore?
  • What does the light reveal in our world? What needs or injustices are calling out for compassion and kindness?

The season of Epiphany lasts for eight weeks. Let us celebrate this journey of exploration, knowing we are being led by the Light of Christ.