Saturday, March 10, 2012


Ten days ago we added a twenty-ninth day to February because the earth still takes precisely 365 days, 5 hours, 48 minutes, and 46 seconds to go around the sun, forcing us to add an occasional leap day. And tomorrow morning we’ll “spring” our clocks ahead one hour to give us a more convenient way of using the daylight that is following its annual progression.

I love watching the church’s stained glass windows start to glow during Morning Prayer as the sun comes up. It’s easy to measure the change as the sun rises a little earlier each day. At Christmas we would end Lauds in the dark, but now the windows are bright with spring dawn by that time.
The window opposite me in the monastic choir is a real help to my praying the psalms in the early morning. Often when there is a reference to light or darkness I’m reminded to look across at the window to check on the progress of the dawn: Nope, still dark. Next time: Hmm, maybe a little gray glow? Next: Ah! Definitely getting brighter. Until finally: Yes! Sun’s up, praise the Lord for another day!
Watching this slow daily progression is a real joy because it coincides with so many of the psalms at Lauds.

This weekend there’s good news and bad news. The bad news is of course that by setting the clock ahead an hour we have to begin our day in the gloomy dark again, making it feel as if we’re back in the long darkness of winter. But the good news, for me at least, is that the change to Daylight Saving Time means that I get to experience all over again that beautiful progression of the sun coming up a little earlier each day during Morning Prayer. It reminds me of the Little Prince on his tiny planet who kept moving his stool so that he could watch the sun go down as many times a day as he wanted.

The spiritual overtones of light and darkness were obvious to our earliest ancestors, long before Stonehenge or the pyramids. We need only look into our own hearts for examples of spiritual light and dark. But this morning as we chanted Lauds I thought about the clockwork of the heavens and was struck by this idea: Of all the things that seem to be changing in our natural environment such as the strange weather patterns or the rising sea level, the earth’s daily rotation and our annual trip around the sun have remained constant. They are as predictable, as certain, as reliable as God’s love for us. That Jesus will be with me throughout the day is as certain as the sunset; that He will be there for me tomorrow is as sure as tomorrow’s sunrise. I reveled in that comforting thought as we were chanting the song of John the Baptist’s father, Zecharaiah, the Benedictus, especially when we got to the final lines:
By the tender mercy of our God,
the dawn from on high will break upon us,
to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death,
to guide our feet into the way of peace.’


Of all the natural symbols we use in our religious rituals, the contrast between light and darkness is probably the most powerful, and surely one of the most primitive, and therefore the most precious and worth preserving. Mother Church evidently agrees: She tries to defend this beautiful natural symbolism against the onslaught of pragmatic pastors who want to celebrate the Easter Vigil at a time that’s convenient for everyone without regard to the natural symbolism of darkness and light. The official instructions read: “The entire Easter Vigil must take place at night; it must begin after nightfall and end before dawn.”
Duh! Well, I guess there are some priests who wouldn’t notice or don’t really care about the symbolism behind the deacon’s carrying the lighted paschal candle into a completely dark church and proclaiming “Light of Christ!” Whatever advantages there might be to celebrating the vigil at 5:00 p.m. in broad daylight, the central symbolism of the light of Christ overcoming the darkness of death would be reduced to zero.


As we prepare during Lent to celebrate the Paschal Mystery of Christ’s suffering, death and resurrection, that is, His descent into the darkness of death and his rising into the light of eternal light, we might do well to look into our hearts, shining the Spirit’s light of truth into some of those dark, cozy corners that we never look at. Prayer, fasting and almsgiving can serve the purpose admirably if we allow them to. Perhaps you could ask God to help you this Lent to look honesly into your own life to see what needs changing and then to make an effort during this grace-filled season of returning daylight to change, to “repent and believe the Good News.” .
"Light and Darkness" Lanre Adefioye, Acrylic on canvas


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