“Our meeting place with God, and our beholding His glory, lies not in our going up to Him, but in His coming down to us in the person of Jesus Christ our Lord. “God who commanded the light to shine out of darkness, hath shined in our hearts, to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God, in the face of Jesus Christ” the divine radiance for our soul.” The Way of the Sevenfold Secret
Afterglow of Christmas. The house is still adorned in holiday finery – greenery draped on mantel and doors, creches and candles on table tops, the tree shimmering with tiny lights and sentimental ornaments. I’m embraced by the stillness and beauty – memories of Christmases past and present – the “work” of preparation now history for this year.
Throughout the house stars shine in various form and function bringing me back to a different time and place – and the dear givers of these many luminaries. A group of high-school girls drafted me to lead a “small group” at our home. Having previously retired myself to make room for a younger leadership, their appeal was persuasive: “We’re struggling to maintain a Christian walk among our peers as we enter high-school. Won’t you meet with us weekly for Bible Study and support?”
Thus began the Sub-Club (named for our weekly meal of subs from a local deli), a time of sharing and studying Scripture. The apostle Paul’s letter to the Philippians was our first text and early into our study we read the verse that became our theme: “Do everything without complaining or arguing, so that you may become blameless and pure, children of God without fault in a crooked and depraved generation, in which you shine like stars in the universe, as you hold out the word of life. . .” In short: SHINE!
Our focus shifted from the darkness they faced daily – drugs, alcohol, sexual permissiveness to name the most obvious – to their unique opportunity to “shine” in the midst of the darkness. To be a light. The darker the surrounds the brighter the light. “SHINE” became our mantra re-enforced verbally at school and beyond and, visibly, through gifts of stars in all shapes and sizes. Candleholders, charms, ornaments.
A century earlier, Lilias likewise experienced unimaginable darkness. The world she inhabited, the Casbah of Algiers, was darkened by sin so grave she would not name them to her prayer partners in England. Her heart broke for children born into families to be married off at the tender age of ten or twelve, only to be discarded for younger versions in a matter of time. Women were helpless subjects to men – husbands or male family members – without recourse if abused or abandoned. She witnessed men, women and children live in an atmosphere of fear and suspicion, drugging and charms a common form of control. She ached for their souls.
And she resonated with images of light. She wrote a booklet for mothers, “Heavenly Light on the Daily Path,” to provide direction for living within their difficult circumstances. She pictured raising children, pure and clean, like lilies drawn by the sun through the mud and mire of their surrounds. How she loved the image of Jesus, self-proclaimed “light of the world,” as a morning star! “It is so utterly like Him in its pure glory!”
Fast forward. Once again I’m in a study group, the text Philippians. Together we women explore what it means to “shine like stars” in a society in which our most cherished beliefs and values are challenged. We wonder, is the present state of the world unique in its challenges? How could it be worse?! Households polarized by politics. . . social interaction limited by pandemic, past and present. . . fear for our children raising their children in a culture that disdains constructs, ethical and moral, we believe to be God-ordained. Newscasters report, 24/7, devastation and disaster globally. War. Famine. Homelessness. Trafficking of drugs and humans.
How do we survive, much less “shine like stars” in a darkened world? What difference can my faint flame make in a jet black sky? At the risk of being simplistic, I offer, in response, several observations and suggestions.
First, the spirit of fear is not from God. Scripture has made it clear that fear is not His intention for us nor should it be the motive for our actions or reactions. “For God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power and of love and of a sound mind.” (2 Timothy 1:7/NIV) To cower or despair is not of God. To act from fear is a denial of the power, love and soundness of mind intended for Christians.
Rather than despair, with the proverbial throwing up of arms protesting “What has this world come to?!” let us see in that very darkness its potential: to be the foil against which we can SHINE. Even a dim light can brighten the darkness.
Perhaps in our frustrated efforts to “change” the world we overlook the simple things we can do to make a difference in our here and now. It begins with our response to our daily challenges – what each day brings – and how we live out lives of integrity, faith and purpose. It continues with hearts attune to needs we encounter at home and beyond. Paul sets the bar high but he makes the point in no uncertain terms: “Do everything without complaining or arguing, so that you may become blameless and pure children of God without fault in a crooked and depraved generation – in which you shine like stars . . . as you hold out the word of life. . .” SHINE!
As overwhelming as it may seem to stand up or stand out amidst the daily challenges, we must remember that, in truth, we can’t do it on our own. It was never expected of us. If we are to be that light that shines in darkness, we must receive that light from the true Light. It is as we live in Christ’s light, through Scripture, through communion with Him by prayer and fellowship with other believers, we reflect His light. Churches all over the globe recently have played out this dynamic in their Christmas Eve Candlelight Services. The flame from the Christ candle becomes the primary source from which all the other candles receive their light – one candle, one person at a time – eventually flooding the entire sanctuary with its collective light. SHINE!
Yes, it is a challenge to live as a minority in what was once considered, if naively, a “Christian nation.” New York Times columnist, David Brooks, speaks to that challenge in a piece about “living in the age of the creative minority.” Noting that many people today “feel like strangers in their own land,” he explores several ways to cope with that reality then recommends the following: “Integration without assimilation is the only way forward. It is, as the prophet Jeremiah suggested, to transmit the richness of your own cultures while seeking the peace and prosperity of the city to which you have been carried.” (1) Perhaps this is the light and salt of which Jesus speaks. Being in the world but not of it. Bringing peace not argument and division. Shining like stars.
I wonder, with George Herbert, what difference I make, so faint a flame – and affirm his conclusion:
“Lord, how can a man preach Thy eternal word?
He is a little crazy glass. . .
Yet in thy temple Thou dost him afford
This glorious and transcendent place
To be a window, through thy grace.
. . . Making thy life to shine within. . . “
“Once you were darkness, but now in the Lord you are light. Live as children of light.”(2) SHINE!
1 “We’re Living in the Age of the Creative Minority,” December 2, 2021
2. Ephesians 5:8
Thank you Miriam! So grateful for your reflections and encouragement.
Much love to you and Dave
Mary and Peter Pierson
Thank you so much for your encouragement. It is wonderful to see your names pop up and know that you are “out there.” What happy memories we have of shared time together in Lake Wales. Let’s keep in touch. Love, Miriam
Thank you so much for posting this. I have missed your insights. This was so encouraging and a good way to begin this NewYear to come. To embrace the light of Jesus and allow Him to shine through me.
Thank you, Stephanie, for your comments. You encourage me to continue to write – this being the first post in over a year.
My plan is to commit to a monthly post and I appreciate your words of affirmation. Happy New Year as you “shine” with the light of Jesus! Miriam
Well put, Miriam, and a good way to focus on the New Year ahead. May we become better bearers of the Light, and radiant with His love. Shine, indeed! Happy New Year— Darcy
Sent from my iPhone
An “official” thank you for your encouragement for this post. Keep on “shining like stars!” Love, Miriam
Thank you Miriam for this beautiful reminder of the many ways to reflect the Son and shine like stars everyday in my little corner of the world with hope and courage. I never read this passage without thanking God for how His light continues to shine so brightly through that precious group of girls. Now Mom’s of teens and College Students of their own..🥰❤
Oh Lori – we were all in this together, weren’t we?! Wasn’t it you and Kim with one of our groups? It is wonderful to think of you and Tony back in LW – and at FPC! Love! Miriam
Thank you Miriam, such encouragement for the new year!
Thank you, Shelly, for your encouraging response. Wishing you a wonderful new year! Love, Miriam
Aha…’let us see in that very darkness its potential’! There’s purpose there, and you provide the key to fulfilling that purpose: “with hearts attune to needs we encounter”. Thank you, Miriam. I love this post but honestly scoffed at the sentence where you write: “with…I…so faint a fllame”; your LIGHT is indeed brilliantly shining. Thank you for leading us all to calibrate our own beacon that we might also shine.
Thank you, Debbie, for your encouraging comments. It is, indeed a challenge to be that “shining light” but it changes everything, doesn’t it, when we realize that we merely reflect The LIGHT?! Miriam
So well written and encouraging yet also a challenge…to be lights in the darkness rather than hiding out in despair. Thank you Miriam, for this timely piece. I can’t thank you enough for all you have done to bring the life, writings, and art of Lilias Trotter to be known today. Your writings beautifully bring her writings to life! You both point me to deeper contemplation of the Lord.
Thank you for your thoughtful and encouraging words! It is so rewarding to be among those introducing Lilias to this generation. She continues to inspire me through her life and art and writings. Best blessings for this new year. Miriam
Thank you so much for these words of encouragement. I can’t tell you how much Images of Faith has meant to me and several of my friends during these pandemic years. We speak of Lilias and her beholdings often. We are beyond grateful for all of your research and writing of this dear person.
Thank you, Susan, for your encouraging words about Lilias’ role in your life – and that of your friends – particulary through these challenging pandemic years. Your affirmation encourages us in our mission “to continue to let Lilias speak.” Thank you – and best blessings, Miriam Rockness