My Best Approximation of Radiance

I should say here that for many years I’ve been honored to be part of a rotation of lay speakers who give the homily at our church’s Wednesday night worship service, which we call Refresh.  Over the years, this work has offered  a delightful discipline by which I’ve gotten to know my True Self and what she thinks!  And if my reflections, offered with love, have helped the blessed community, so much the better. Below, what I wrote and presented for the start of a new year.  I was told by a spiritual teacher that he appreciated the poetry of it.  Which is why I’ve included it under “poems.”

Phoebe

 

Refresh Worship Service

Trinity United Methodist Church / Beaumont, Texas

Wednesday, January 10, 2018

“Rise and Shine”

Phoebe Hambright Dishman, Lay Speaker

 

Isaiah 60:1-3 [Tanakh translation]

 

Arise, shine, for your light has dawned.

The presence of the Lord has shone upon you!

Behold! Darkness shall cover the earth,

And thick clouds the peoples;

But upon you the Lord will shine,

And His presence be seen over you.

And nations shall walk by your light,

Kings, by your shining radiance.

 

Arise. Shine. Our covenant with God,

stretching all the way back to Abraham,

is to bless all the nations all the world all of creation

with our shining radiance.

Brighten the corner where we are,

trusting the brightness to spread from there.

Simple, yes? Maybe not.

I don’t know about you, but my shining radiance comes and goes.

Often it’s blown away by an ill wind of unreasonable and irritated,

a darkness of brow as I strain through my all-important list,

narrowly intentioned, feeling thwarted and overwhelmed.

Oh evil star that’s got me down

Oh swarm of troubles buzzing round…

 

Oh well. Eventually I lurch back to my best approximation of radiance.

Oh, to hold that vision a little more consistently!

To see how deeply essential it is. How I must work and work for it.

It’s a new year, a new day, and always we begin again.

Arise. Shine. There is a radiance. There is shalom, wellbeing for all.

By our every thought and action, we can help shalom, or hinder it.

Let us choose to help. Help more than we hinder!

 

Arise. Shine.

We are now in the season of the Christian church year called

“after the Epiphany.”

I would wager this season is not as well known to us as some.

In 2018, the season of “after the Epiphany”

will take us from Epiphany Sunday, which we just observed,

all the way to Ash Wednesday, which this year falls on February 14.

 

Just over a month. We should commit to use it wisely.

 

From now to Ash Wednesday

let us resolve every morning

to consider anew

this question:

 

After the Christ child has come into the world,

after those Gentiles from afar, those receivers of epiphany,

those wise persons, those dreamers who study the stars—

have traveled weary dangerous miles to Judea

to find a complete stranger,

a Jewish baby born to peasant parents,

after they have upset the establishment with their questions

after they have offered their strange gifts to the baby

after they have gone home changed by what they saw in his eyes,

what then? For their day, and for ours?

 

Isaiah’s prophetic persistent answer, to people living many centuries before Jesus, to people living many centuries after Jesus:

Arise, shine, your light has come.

 

Okay. But still, in our day as in Isaiah’s, darkness covers the earth,

and the people sit under thick clouds.

Under thick clouds, in the dark, how do we shine? What is the ask? What is our task?

 

For help, let us devote ourselves anew to the example of a master.

 

In a little town called Nazareth, Jesus grows up,

from child to carpenter to rabbi.

Leaving home, he starts his public ministry of cloud removal,

of teaching and healing and giving sight to the blind,

which as we know stirs up darkness and gets him killed.

And yet he keeps insisting:

Watch me. Follow me. Cultivate my way of being in the world.

For one thing, don’t you be puttin’ that radiance under a bushel basket!

It may feel safer that way. It’s not.

 

The wise ones knew Jesus for who he was,

and by their strange gifts they pointed to his mission:

 

Gold for a king.

Incense for a priest.

Myrrh to anoint the dead.

 

The season of “after the Epiphany” gives us several weeks

to think about that.

To think about what it takes for Jesus

and us

should we choose to follow him

to grow up into his gracious mindset

to take on his gift of committed citizenship

in the Kingdom of God.

The Kingdom of God:

Gold for royal sons and daughters.

Incense for priesthood.

Myrrh for stewards each

of one precious life

to pour out in gratitude and service.

Myrrh, yes. We’re going to die.

On the other hand, as the psalmist says:

I end—but I am still with You.

 

Strange gifts. Daunting even.

Yet ours to embrace if we will.

 

And I hope we will,

whatever the cost in growing pains and boundary crossings.

For in truth, the cost of inertia, the cost of indifference and despair,

is greater.

Do we grow weary,

do we grow old in serving our particular corner of creation?

Of course.

Here’s something that might help you. It has to do with color.

 

In the spirit of teaching the Good News through the eye as well as the word:

 

The color assigned to “after the Epiphany” is green, the color of life. The color of growing things.

The color, we might say,

of Jesus growing from a babe to the fullness of a young man.

And so for us.

 

Green. The color of life.

As I move into the role of grandmother and tribal elder,

here’s a verse that gives me comfort:

 

Psalm 92:14 They will still yield fruit in old age;

they shall be full of sap and very green.

 

Full of sap, and very green. Amen?

 

As we all know, for green to happen, there must be light.

 

And so, for us, in the bleak midwinter, let there be light.

 

And there is light.

 

And what we learn in the season after Epiphany is

that the light keeps coming into the world.

Always and each new day.

And we followers of Christ must put on the mindset of Christ

and make like the leaves on the trees.

Which is to say, soak up the light.

 

Why? For our own sustaining and warming and hope, yes.

Also that we may be a light.

A calm, collected, disciplined, focused, persistent light to the world.

A breathing, a transpiration, an energy, a feeding, a nurturing, a repairing…

‘A song, a chime, a chant sublime, of peace on earth, goodwill to men…’

Beginning with ourselves, then outward to our circles of care.

 

Arise, shine, for your light has dawned.

The presence of the Lord has shone upon you!

Behold! Darkness shall cover the earth,

And thick clouds the peoples;

But upon you the Lord will shine,

 

Notice the darkness is not banished.

It still covers the earth.

 

Name your darkness. Tell me yours, I’ll tell you mine:

 

The darkness of disappointment.

 

The darkness of things I did, or did not do.

 

The darkness of unexpected calamity.

 

The darkness of diminishment and frailty and disease.

 

The darkness of pain, division, anger, and fear.

 

The darkness of generation after generation of the powerful

exercising coercion,

all in the name of certainty and quick resolution,

which sometimes seem to us so much easier

than the hard work of community and reconciliation.

 

The darkness of ignorance:

They say that for all the information available today,

in truth we have forgotten how to think. We have embraced technology but forgotten who we are and what we owe the common good.

We have grown ‘smupid,’ that is, smart but stupid.

 

So. So it is for us.

So it was in post-exile Israel, when Isaiah lived.

Name your darkness now, they shared it then.

Don’t forget that post-exile Israel had returned from captivity

to a shadow of their former glory,

that they were beset on every side,

that they were poorly resourced to make Judea great again,

that they couldn’t even agree what great again means.

This felt really bad.

They were tempted to indifference, anger, despair…

 

And what did Isaiah say to his poor suffering people?

 

Arise, shine, for your light has dawned.

 

Arise, shine.

Renew your shalom-covenant with God.

Go with the light you have.

Go with the light you have.

Go with the light you have.

Or, as someone has put it, Hallelujah anyway.

 

To me, this implies a pretty big ask.

And a pretty big confidence in our capacity.

 

Here’s something I recently came across:

 

“We are directed to look out into the darkness of the ever-longer nights and say, ‘I am not deterred.

I will answer this darkness with light.

I will remove a portion of the darkness

and inspire my neighbor to be empowered to remove some more…

We are not allowed to give up.

We don’t have to dispel all the darkness.

We simply have to do our part.”

 

Why? Why should I have to do my part,

when others are so clearly unable and/or unwilling?

 

Because I am not my own.

I am part of ‘an inescapable network of mutuality.’

 

Because something there is in me that feels a duty to hope,

in covenant partnership with the One who wills,

“Let there be light.”

 

Light for helping.

Light for repairing.

Light for mastering each and every day my own tumultuous self.

Light for everyday miracles.

Light for criticizing the bad by the practice of the better.

Light to move past the tyranny of trivia

into the glory of partnering my deep gladness

with the world’s deep hunger,

all according to the will of the One who gifted creation

from the beginning

with light.

 

Arise, shine, for your light has dawned.

The presence of the Lord has shone upon you!

Behold! Darkness shall cover the earth,

And thick clouds the peoples;

But upon you the Lord will shine,

And His presence be seen over you.

And nations shall walk by your light,

Kings, by your shining radiance.

 

Amen.

 

 

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