by Rodney Marsh, all images and video by Rodney Marsh, photo above shows an ancient red tingle tree in the Valley of the Giants, Walpole.
Can you see…. The light is leaning toward you?
I live 35 degrees south of the equator on the south coast of Western Australia. By December, the whales have headed off home to Antarctica and the Spring flush of wildflowers is fading. The sun is rising earlier and setting later. More warmth and light herald hot dry summer months when only “mad dogs and Englishmen go out in the midday sun” (Noel Coward).
The Godspace theme, “Leaning toward the light”, has made me notice this year the intensity of the sunlight in our part of the world. The sun is moving south and the light is leaning toward we who live in the “Great South Land of the Holy Spirit” (the first name given to Australia in 1606 by Portugese explorer, Capt. Pedro Fernandez de Quiros). The early European settlers noted the “harshness” of the Australian light and found it impossible to incorporate the intense light (or the strange trees and animals) into their art. They had eyes but could not see. When we speak about “leaning toward the light”, we speak of the light by which we see all things coming to us. We do not look at the light source to see, we use the light to see. But what do we see?
This morning, as I write, the sunlight is strong, “like shining from shook foil” (Hopkins). Soon the Summer noonday heat will mean that we will seek the shade and avoid the sun. A few weeks ago, I walked 80 km of the Bibbulmum track, a 1000km track from Perth to Albany. That took me four days. Life was all around me, but during daylight hours most of the bush animals are resting. Several times, I disturbed kangaroos having their ‘nana nap’ under a bush near the track. When disturbed, they stand, take a few hops, and then turn and watch and listen to me. I stand and and stare back. Eventually I will always lose the staring game because I have to get to where I am going. I am too busy and distracted just to stand and be still. The roos have no such concerns, I presume, to disturb their day. A roo has become my teacher, “You and I are here, together now. Be here. Do not think where you have to get to or how you are going to get there. Just be.” At other times I came across snakes sunbaking on the path. They, too, are unconcerned about my approach and are usually reluctant to move. I have no intention to anger these very venomous snakes. So now, I must wait and impatiently tap the ground with my walking pole asking them to let me pass. After a while, they oblige. The snake speaks, “Do not fear. Just be.” I was delighted on this trek to hear frogs in a waterhole I passed. I heard at least three varieties. Many other water holes I had passed had fallen silent with an eerie absence of the usual cacophany of a frog chorus. A fungus has been destroying many unique Australian frog species. The frogs tell me, “We are here too. Let us be.” During my walk, the baleful cry of the red tailed black cockatoos were a constant and comforting reminder that I was not alone. I even saw an emu dad with about eight stripy chicks in tow. He says, “Like these chicks. I care for you. You are also the one who cares for others.” Besides the animals, I felt privileged to walk through the beauty of the delicate, sometimes bold, flowers of the sandhills where every shrub bears its unique emblems which say “I am beautiful. To God, you are beautiful, too”. The awesome rugged coastline and the immense red tingle and karri forest proclaim, “Look, the world is charged with the grandeur of God” (Hopkins) and you are part of all this glory.” It is the light of God in Christ leaning toward us that enables us to see the charged, real, enchanted world as it is.
Being still and silent in God’s presence (can I be anywhere else?) has taught me that just being in and with nature, I am in heaven. Heaven, in the Bible, is not some other world I experience after this life, rather life lived in the presence of God is heaven, here and now. The Gospel assures us that we are with the Lord now and will be “with the Lord” forever (1Thess 4:17) but this does not mean that we are headed off to some other ethereal place. The promise is that all will be renewed, the dead will rise and what is real and true will be revealed. As “heaven”, so the word “spiritual”. We invest these words with an ‘otherworldly’ character they do not possess in the Bible. So when we engage in ‘spiritual practises’ we come with expectations of heightened feelings or visions. If these fail to ‘appear’ we feel that either we or God has come up short. We blame our own sins or God’s shortcomings for the absence of experiences. I have learned, however, that it is my expectations which are defective. Not me. Not God. Rather, it is truly spiritual/holy for us to just ‘be’ who we are as the person God made us and then we can let God be, and let nature be. When we do this we feel at peace with what is and who we are. When we are still and pay attention to what is, we see the world, others and ourselves filled with grandeur/glory. This is what is really real, not the artificial world we create with our defective and limited consciousness. The key is not to look out or in, as if we are the centre of all things, but simply to be still where we are and pay attention to what is. Then we come close to who God is; already close to us. The God in whom “all things exist and have their being” (Acts 17:28).
Back to the light. C S Lewis wrote “I believe in Christ(ianity) as I believe that the sun has risen: not only because I see it, but because by it I see everything else.” The growing intensity of the summer light of Advent where I live is a metaphore for the opportunity we all have to see God is all things. Spiritual practices are the means through which we are given this sight. For many years, I have been committed to my principal daily ‘spiritual’ practice of two, thirty minute periods of silence and stillness of mind and body. I never achieve the goal of stillness and silence for extended periods, but I stay on the journey and each day my commitment grows. And I sense that also I am growing. I grow in my ability to pay attention and see the world God made and to pay attention and see the image of Christ in others. I grow in the joy I have in seeing. But I can see nothing without light nor without eyes to see. Someone must have prayed for me that “the eyes of my heart (may be) enlightened” (Eph 1:18) for me to see at all.
We may have eyes and not see, because either our eyes are defective or we are in the dark (same thing = sin). So we need every moment of our lives a double gift of God’s grace: eyes that can see and light to see by. The coming of the Light of Christ is that double miracle. The coming of the light of Christ enlightens the eyes of our hearts to see, by the light of Christ, God’s glory in all things.
This was one way Paul defined the followers of Jesus: “For you are all children of light, children of the day. We are not of the night or of the darkness.” (1 Thess 5:5). He goes on to day that if we “belong to the day” we must live by and in the light. When, by spiritual disciplines and practices, we learn to live in the light, we can see the world of heaven on earth. We are in the light, we become “light in the Lord” (Eph 5:8). We can see because God’s light has shone “in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ”. Lean toward the light. Everywhere and at all times. Open the eyes of your heart. The Lord is present to you, in you and with you where you are now. No exceptions.
The waterhole with frogs. When Noongar people approach such a ‘sacred’ place, they remain in silence until a bird or other animal acknowledges and welcomes their presence. Into water bodies, they will throw sand to let the Waugul (Creator Serpent) know they are there.