The Longing for Light

The Longing for Light

Homily for Last Sunday after the Epiphany

February 27, 2022

The Longing for Light

Homily for Sunday, February 27, 2022

Last Sunday After the Epiphany
Luke 9:28–36


Over the past few days, the news has been filled with images of light: fires, explosions and the discharge of weapons. For the people of Ukraine, and for us watching the news, light now may mean destruction and death. But light did not always mean destruction and death. Carl Jung, in his memoir, Memories, Dreams, Reflections, completed shortly before his death in 1961, connects light to human longing, in particular to our longing for birth and re-birth. Jung writes,

Every soul is seized by an inexpressible longing for light… It is a maternal mystery, this primordial darkness. That is why the sun’s birth in the morning [can strike us] as so overwhelmingly meaningful… The longing for light is the longing for consciousness.

Lest you think Jung is speaking so much 20th-century psychology-speak, consider the following about light, birth and rebirth from St. Symeon the New Theologian (949–1022). Writing nearly 1000 years before Jung, St. Symeon says [in The Sin of Adam, 45:4 & 5],

The whole creation is to be renewed and delivered from the bondage of corruption, and these elements together with us will become partakers of the brightness proceeding from the Divine fire… The heaven will become incomparably more brilliant and bright than it appears now; it will become completely new. The earth will receive a new unutterable beauty, being clothed in many-formed, unfading flowers, bright and spiritual. The sun will shine more powerfully than now, and the whole world will become more perfect than any word can describe.

This morning’s Gospel lesson, the story of the Transfiguration, is a “maternal mystery” about light and birth and re-birth. Notice how the story shifts between the “womb” and emergence, between “unconscious” and being “conscious”: Now the disciples are overshadowed, unseen, in a cloud; and now they emerge. Now the disciples would remain, immobile, and make three “dwellings”; and now they step free from any constriction and come down the mountain. Now the disciples’ eyes are closed as they are “weighed down with sleep”; and now their eyes open, for (Luke writes) they “had stayed awake.” And the story is shot through with light, with Jesus’ “glory” and his clothes becoming “dazzling white.” The story of the Transfiguration is—as Jung puts it—a “maternal mystery” about birth and our souls being “seized by an inexpressible longing for light”; the Transfiguration is—as St. Symeon puts it—about the whole creation being renewed, and about us becoming “partakers of… brightness” and “unutterable beauty.”

As our souls are weighed down with the darkness of war and the plight of the people of Ukraine, and as we approach the season of Lent, the Transfiguration reminds us that there is a greater light than that of explosions, fire and the discharge of weapons. There is in Christ a light, a “glory,” well beyond any earthly light. The light of Christ is a dazzling brightness of being born and of renewal and of this earth becoming completely new, transfigured, into a brightness and beauty “more perfect than any word can describe.”

If we and our world would arrive at this light, there is a path. Gregory Palamas, who lived some 300 years after St. Symeon, said that, “Repentance is the beginning, middle and end of the Christian way of life.” If we wish to move toward the light the disciples experienced at the Transfiguration; if we wish to satisfy our human “longing for light”; if we wish to become “partakers of… brightness” who see “unutterable beauty” and who do our part to help our world “become incomparably more brilliant and bright,” we must first repent. Repent not merely for “what we have done” or “what we have left undone”; repent not merely for our hubris and hypocrisy and for our capacity for violence. But even before repenting for these, the first step to true repentance is to learn to accept ourselves as we are. Where repentance is most powerful and profound, it begins by first accepting ourselves as we are. Not as who we think we should be or ought to be, but as we are. For there can be no new light, no new birth—there can be no change in our lives—unless we first accept ourselves as we are.

I know that my Lent, the season of repentance that begins Wednesday, will be colored by what now is taking place in Ukraine. How could we—how could I—have been so naïve as to think a war in Europe couldn’t happen, not now, not in 2022? What is our nation’s role and ultimately our role—my role—in the breakdown of human relationships that created an environment that allowed this (and I will call it) evil into our world? And what are the stories our nation tells itself, stories that I likely promulgate, that—like the false Russian myths—are simply not true and that may well nurture the seeds of future violence? As in any relationship, in the current war we all play a role. We may play only a small role—a fraction, a smidgen, of 1%—but as in any relationship, we all play a role and can leverage our fraction to effect change.

I pray that our Lent may indeed be a season of repentance, which (Gregory Palamas says) is “the beginning, middle and end of the Christian way of life.” And I pray that even before we repent for “things done and left undone,” we may be open-eyed and honest about who we are, and accept ourselves for who we are. For true repentance is not possible—change is not possible—until we first can accept ourselves as we are. Like the Russian myths about Ukraine, there is much untruth told in our world. But it is truth that Christ is the light of the world, that in him there is no darkness at all, that he loves us as we are, that he lovingly invites us to repent and to believe in the Good News. And that the Good News he brings has the power to renew not merely ourselves but the whole creation and to deliver it from the bondage of corruption, such that…

The heavens will become incomparably more brilliant and bright than they appear now… The earth will receive a new unutterable beauty… The sun will shine more powerfully than now, and[—as we let repentance begin with us—]the whole world, [this very world, today torn by war, someday, with the light of Christ’s transfiguring power,] will become more perfect than any word can describe.


Image Credit: Mike Labrum on Unsplash

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