Light in the Darkness

Our family is using the 25 Stockings book each night at the dinner table.  As well as three versions of homemade ’25 Stockings’ hanging across the room, our 19 year old daughter bought an Advent candle this year. It’s one of those candles with incremental marks down it from 1 – 25.  So each night when we are all together we light the candle as we eat our dinner.  This requires very careful watching because although the candle starts off burning slowly, all of a sudden the wax drips down the side and the mark is reached for the day and it’s time to blow out the candle.

Once we’ve finished eating we read the bible passage. Because our children have always had this experience (I started writing the book when I was 19!) they love the three questions so we have to include that, and then we usually read the reflection and the prayer.

A couple of nights ago we also did the Discussion Time talking about darkness and times when we’ve been in the dark and turned on a light and how this makes a difference and of course how this relates to the metaphor of God’s love.  We had a satisfying conversation about light and darkness and times we’ve each felt God’s presence.   It was nice sitting there in front of a candle and talking about the impact of light that a single candle creates in a darkened room.

Last night I wasn’t feeling so good and although I went to bed early, I was up and down all night.  At first the rest of the family were still all up so while my room was in darkness, the rest of the house was a blaze of light.  By about midnight, 17’s door was shut and I figured he had turned in for the night. But sometime after 1, when I was up again and the rest of the house was this time in darkness too, I reasonably thought everyone else had now gone to bed.  But… around 17’s closed door was a silhouette of light.  (Not that, there was anything wrong with him still being up – he is on holiday)

I was pondering the idea that I had only seen the light around his door because the rest of the house was in darkness.  It was kind of the opposite thinking of our earlier discussion talking about darkness and the difference that happens when a candle is lit.  (Okay, I know it sounds like the same thing but bear with me.)  The light had been on all the time, but I only saw that it was on when the rest of the house changed from light to dark.

So maybe sometimes the metaphor is that we can be like a light in the darkness for others just like a candle lighting up the darkness.  And maybe other times we are part of a larger group of lights, indistinguishable as individuals until we are separated and stand as a solitary light in darkness.

I’ve really liked the metaphor as a follower of Jesus, of being a light in the darkness, or being salt adding flavour to the world.  But I also think there is a balance and when we are being ‘light’ we carry on being true to our call to follow Jesus and be light to the world, by both gathering with a larger group of other ‘lights’ and also living, working and spending time on our own with others who are not followers of Jesus, and therefore hopefully bringing light to their darkness.

It’s a balance that is a struggle and maybe always changing.  There is something wonderful and refreshing for followers to spend large amounts of time with other followers of Jesus.  And maybe at different times in our lives we need this fellowship more than other times.   But if we spend all of our time with our friends from our church groups, then how much is our light shining noticeably to others?  And if we spend too much time with others who are not followers of Jesus, are we in danger of our light ‘battery’ running out or our candle burning until the flame is extinguished.

Anyway, that was my middle of the night musing… instead of sleeping!  Just thought I’d share it.

In another language, in another country, in another space

Well it’s been a while since my last post… and a lot has happened sandwiched between the last entry and this one!  I’m not going to tell you the whole story, but over the next few months maybe bits and pieces of it will gradually be told.  But I didn’t want to leave this blog looking empty and neglected any longer.  The shortened version is that a few weeks ago, I found myself in a hospital in the town of Pirna, Germany, having emergency surgery! Not quite the holiday experience we’d dreamed and planned.  Following the surgery I spent two and a half weeks in hospital, then a night in a hotel, a 40 hour journey home and a ‘lost’ week at home before the NZ specialist sent me back into hospital for a further week.  Now I’m recovering at home… but this is a bit of my story from Germany…

There were a small handful of people who spoke some English among the staff, but for most of the nurses, they had no English and unfortunately I had no German.    It was an interesting experience in learning about communication without words.  While I was in intensive care my two wonderful daytime nurses did have some English and we got by with the odd words and dramatic gestures,  but when I moved to a general ward it was different.  Retrospectively, I wonder if it was deliberate that my first two nurses could speak some English. Once in the general ward, some of the younger nurses or student nurses had some English, but the older nurses had grown up in the days of the GDR and had learned Russian at school.  (No, I don’t speak Russian either!)  The staff were all amazing and I could not get over their care and compassion despite the language barrier.

My surgeon had the most amazing smile. I only met her after the surgery and when she first came in the room, in a group of doctors, I knew immediately that she was my surgeon, even before she’d introduced herself.  She had a glow around her head and I felt such a sense of warmth on sight.  She had lovely long fingers and when she changed my dressings and looked at my surgery she had the gentlest yet confident touch. She had absolutely no English, but she would pre-practice some key words to talk to me and then draw me pictures or gesture.  Communicating with her was a little like playing Pictionary.  I will always remember her as an angel.  She was my first angel.

My second angel was also there when I came out of the anaesthetic, also recognisable by a glow around her head, so I knew she was someone significant,  but it took me almost a week to find out that she was my Lead Doctor and actually the head of the hospital.   On my second day in the general ward I was uncomfortable with bags and tubes coming out of me.  I didn’t know who to ask for, and what I wanted to ask them.  So I just kept thinking of her face and praying that she’d come and see me because I somehow thought she’d know how to help.  She appeared by my bed in her street clothes – I think it was her day off.  I was ecstatic to see her “Oh, I’m so glad to see your face,  I’ve been hoping you’d come!”  She ordered the bag that was going through my nose to come out and stood over the nurse until it happened.  Even so, it was still another few days before I realised that she was the boss!  One day I asked her how many English speaking patients they had at the hospital, and found to my surprise that I was the first ever!

Necessity meant I had to communicate, and with the help of a tablet and German translator app, I had a resource which was frequently in use.  But there were many times when words became redundant, and I was intrigued how quickly I adapted and how well my nurses nursed me without words.  There was one particularly wonderful nurse on my general ward who was my third angel.  She never tried a word of English but she clucked and fussed over me, making me comfortable, guessing my needs and filling me with relief and confidence.  One night I when I was particularly in pain, so much so that I hadn’t thought to push the button for the nurse, she appeared in my doorway, a golden glow around her head.    “How did you know I needed you?”  I asked her.  She soothingly clucked away and came in and tucked my legs so I was comfortable and adjusted my pillows.  Of course she hadn’t understood my question, but by her actions, I was sure that she answered me, saying something like, “I just knew you were uncomfortable, so I came into help you.”   Whatever she replied… I was comforted and back asleep in no time.

Several people have said how much I will want to forget my time in hospital.  I hope I don’t forget it.  It was a time of great privilege for me.  I’ve always hoped that in a time of darkness, my faith would stay strong and this time it did.  From the moment in the A&E department, when the surgeon told me the news that I had to have emergency surgery and didn’t have time to get back to New Zealand, I had an amazing sense of peace wash over me. I had an image of being held in God’s arms.  Both the feeling of peace and the image of God holding me stayed with me throughout my time in hospital.

And words… the currency I deal with for most of my daily life, in both written and spoken form… all became sideshows to the languages of touch, gestures and images and that special something extra that can only come from God.

(Photo credit: the Krankenhaus (hospital) taken on the day I managed the first big walk outside!

Religiously – imbued with salt and light

The other day I was taking part in a conversation at a meeting which seemed far removed from a religious context.  In my work-a-day construction environment the discussion involved developing a strategy around working with a difficult individual.   Someone present used the term ‘religiously’ to describe a negative characteristic of this individual.  There was a general murmur of agreement to this description.

Afterward I was reflecting on the use of the word ‘religiously.’  What the speaker had meant to convey was the negative idea of an over-zealous, intense individual who was committed to the strict pre-determined routine rather than coming at a problem with an open mind and a creative and flexible approach that would deliver a workable solution.   Hmm…   It made me think about the other times when I’ve heard ‘religious’ used in a negative context… and how a word that should be a positive is often used negatively.

I looked up the definition of ‘religiously’ on and it didn’t really help explain why the word can be used negatively.  I love this defintion of ‘imbued with religion’…  that works for me and my faith journey…  living a life imbued with the Christian faith in every aspect of the journey is something that is always my desire.

It reminded me of another conversation over a cup of coffee when I had just taken a leadership role in a community group a few years back.  I met with a woman who was not a friend at the time and had some influence in the group.  She was a no nonsense business woman and she started our conversation after initial pleasantries, with getting straight to the point.  “I don’t like religious types and I have serious concerns with you taking on this role. ”  Oh great…  now to dig myself out of that hole… “I am religious, but… ”   Fast forward a few months and perhaps surprisingly, I had a new friend.  I’d somehow navigated the path of maintaining my ‘religiousness’ with enough real life authenticity to change her viewpoint on my type of religious type.

That’s just two examples, but when I stop to think, there are plenty of times that I’ve heard about ‘religious nutters’ and the like.  And I wonder, how do I live out my faith in a way that is both true to the Christian religious teachings that are the framework of my faith and conveys a positive impression on those who sit outside of any Christian religious circles.

Perhaps there is a challenge for us in understanding, interpreting and living the word, ‘religious’.  I think for me the images I like to use to define my religious behavior and lifestyle are those of salt and light.   Matthew 5:13-15 says, “You are like salt for everyone on earth.  But if salt no longer tastes like salt, how can it make salty? All it is good for is to be thrown out and walked on.  You are like light for the whole world.  A city built on top of a hill cannot be hidden, and no one would light a lamp and put it under a clay pot.  A lamp is placed on a lampstand, where it can give light to everyone in the house.”

Most of our household likes watching the reality TV cooking shows, ‘My Kitchen Rules’ and ‘Masterchef’.  We get hooked on the competitions, rivalries, personalities and the cooking skills and it makes good winter time television watching.  Invariably and frequently the judges always go on about seasoning…  it seems that even when you’re good enough at home cooking to get all the way through to the finalists, doing something as simple as salting your food can be the difference of a winning dish or not.  I think being a salty Christian is one of my religious goals.  I like the idea of being a flavor enhancer and a preserver of the faith.

Thinking about the image of light, events of this last weekend, come to mind, when we had three nephews and a niece come and stay.  The two older boys at ages 8 & 6 were very thrilled with their sleeping arrangement on a double bed air mattress in front of the TV in the lounge.  The younger 3 year old was not quite as impressed with his mattress in the study next to his sister’s cot.  This might have been why when he woke long before the birds and the sun, he went and jumped on his brothers bed, yelling at the top of his lungs, “Hey guys is it still dark?”  When questioned as to why he’d woken everyone in the entire household up with a question that he could have answered himself by observation, he explained, “Well I didn’t know if it was still dark because I couldn’t see.”  ….  !!  (Okay,  so only the logics of a very verbal three year old could come up with that as an answer!)  That’s the thing with light – even a small glow can light up a large dark space.  A little bit of light cancels out darkness.  Maybe asking whether it is still dark is a question to test our religiousness…  is it still dark… or is the light of our faith, lighting up the way for others as well as ourselves?  It’s a nice picture, the impact of even a little light.

So to conclude this religious ramble…  I think that for the word ‘religiously’ to be viewed as a positive characteristic… it means ensuring our Christian faith journeys must be genuine and authentic experiences of salt and light religion…  and that is always far harder and more challenging than it sounds!

(Photo credit: salt and light on my dining room table)