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Illumination

When I was a kid I used to be afraid of our basement at night. In the house where I grew up in northwest Iowa (God's Country, as some call it) the living room, bedrooms, bathrooms, kitchen were all on the same floor. Next to the kitchen was a set of stairs that led down into the basement. My father ran a photography studio from down there during the day. And between the hours of sunrise and sunset, I had no problem being in the basement. It was totally safe and non-threatening, as it should have been. It was a place of business after all. I don't remember how or when I first became afflicted with this notion, but at some point I determined that at night the landscape down there wholly changed. It became a dark and scary place. A place where there were most-assuredly monsters who fed exclusively on skinny Korean children. Who doesn't remember that famous song about the one-eyed, one-horned flying purple skinny Koraean child eater? I can practically hear it now... 

Now and then, there would be some mission of utmost importance that would require me to venture into the basement after dark. Maybe it was mom needing something from the deep freezer (Hey guys, remember deep freezers?). Maybe it was that I wanted a soda. There were other, non-food and drink related reasons, but they concern matters of National Security and I dare not disclose them here, lest I have to kill you. The point is that sometimes I had to go where the wild things were. I don't have great recollection for these times - I've more than likely blocked them out due to the severe mental and emotional trauma they caused me - butI can remember that I would run down the stairs as fast as I could; retrieve whatever item was so paramount that it necessitated risking my life; and then race back upstairs again like Indiana Jones running from that giant rolling ball in Temple of Doom.

As an "adult", I've long since overcome my fear of the basement. But hopefully I'm not the only one who can profess to a childhood fear of the dark. You may be interested to know, however, that this is apparently an on-going concern. According to some studies that I googled, approx. 5% of adults admit to still being afraid of the dark. Moreover, this fear may be biological. Some scientists suggest that our fear of the dark is a natural inheritance from the time when we feared nocturnal predators. (That would be a sweet name for a band, by the way. I call legally binding Dibs!) Freud posited that our fear of the dark is a result of separation anxiety from (big shocker here) our mothers. I suspect he mostly said this because Freud seemed to think everything was about our mothers. He sure talked about mothers a lot. Maybe he should seen someone about that... And yet another theory states that fear of the dark comes is because it is believed that more crime occurs at night. Surprisingly, however, the data does not support this widely held belief.

I have my own theory, as you might have suspected. I think our fear of the dark is actually our fear of the unknown. In the light we can see the things around us and confirm what is both there and not there. We can orient ourselves in the world and determine a path or course of action. This is likely why light has become synonymous with things like revelation, knowledge, and goodness. 

But Richard Rohr would invite us to think about light a little bit differently. In his book The Divine Dance he writes: 

 "LIght is not really what you see; it is that by which you see everything else... Like light, you do not see God; but God allows you to see everything else through really good eyes."

Imagine for a moment that you are in a dark and scary place, totally devoid of light. Somewhere like, oh, I don't know, a basement. Now let's further pretend that we have three choices: we can use a lantern, a flashlight, or turn the lights on. Each would be helpful in this instance and I think we all know which would be preferable, but let's walk into for the sake of making a point. A lantern would only illuminate the area immediately surrounding the source. You could see yourself much better and some of the things around you. But ultimately, you would still bump into things or, at the very least, you would not see them until they were close to you since the lantern lacks range. The flashlight, in emitting more a beam, projects out and away from the source. This would be best for lighting a path and, in particular, seeing what is ahead of you on that path. However, that which is not immediately in the beam of the flashlight would remain hidden. 

This is, I believe, what Rohr is talking about. In the two examples I just laid out, it is all about what you are able to see. But our range of vision is still severely limited. Jesus said in John that He is the, "light of the world"and that whoever followed Him would, "not walk in darkness, but have the light of life." I think we have a tendency to make Jesus into more a lantern or a flashlight than the all-illuminting source He is meant to be. We want to make the Jesus light about seeing ourselves and what is immediately around us - as with the lantern - or, like the flashlight, we want it to reveal our path and forego the world around said path. 

But the true essence of the Resurrection is about, "...that by which (we) see everything else." Think about the total illumination of the Gospel. This light is so powerful that it pushes out and envelopes all darkness. It is turning the lights on in the basement to show us that no monsters - even that of death! - wait for us there. I've come to believe that the Resurrection is not so much about a path from point A to point B as it is a revelation of Truth that has been present the whole time. It doesn't show us a different thing, but rather reveals how things actually are. It illuminates the shadows of pain and broknness and the dark corners of death and despair. This is where a message of true hope can be found. 

I am reminded of a speech the writer David Foster Wallace once gave, in which he began with an anecdote about goldfish. He said, and I'm paraphrasing here, that a goldfish said to his friend, "How's the water today?" To which his friend, replied, "What the hell is water? It might be clear, but the fish is not aware of the water because the water is all around him. The goldfish cannot answer a question like "How is the water today?" He has no concept of water and therefore does not give a thought to its quality. The great irony being that without it, he would surely die.

Life is, I think, all about awareness. And how can you be aware of that which you cannot see? I said earlier that I believe our fear of the dark is derived from our fear of the unknown. Without the illumation and revelation of the Gospel, anything and everything could be out there in the dark, waiting to reach out and grab us. But once illuminated, these fears lose their power. They are seen and transformed. We cannot underestimate the importance of naming a thing; calling it what it is.

It is far better to see Evil and call it by name than wander about in the darkness wondering if it exists. It is far better to know that once illuminated, broknness becomes wholeness and death does not retain its power. This is Resurrection - as Richard Rohr says it - as a moment revealing the meaning of every moment.

Jesus is the illumination of the world. And that is trully good news for an abundance of reasons; not the least of which is that we can know with affluent certainty that there are no monsters in the basement.