Exploring Faith and Community • Macalester Plymouth United Church
April 2, 2020
By Rev. Jeanyne Slettom
“Candlepower” is a now-obsolete unit of measurement for luminous intensity. Last Sunday, when many of us lit candles during the online worship service, the term became a very present metaphor for measuring the luminous intensity of a worshipping community that, despite the need to remain physically distant, is still gathering in shared rituals of faith, hope, resilience.
The lighting of candles is a ritual steeped in the Judeo-Christian tradition. In Judaism, the Menorah celebrates the rededication of the temple after Greek occupation. In Christianity, the four candles of Advent anticipate the birth of Christ. The light signifies resilience and the overcoming of oppression; it signifies insight and the overcoming of ignorance.
But the greatest evocation of light comes from the creation story in Genesis, where God “moved over the face of the deep” and said, “Let there be light.” In this era of Covid-19, it is useful to remember that the phrase, “the deep” is a poetic translation of “abyss.” That is, creation is not out of “nothing”; creation is out of primordial chaos. Here, light signifies divine creativity itself.
The great Christian ethicist H. Richard Niebuhr evoked this creating God when he advised us to approach “the deep” problems of our times not with prayers of despair or petition, but with prayers for discernment—for help in seeing what God is already doing. God, who in the beginning created heaven and earth, is creatively present still.
We are experiencing a time of chaos. If not the virus, it would be the crisis in democracy. If not government, it would be the economy. And beneath them all: the chaos of a climate in deep crisis. More than ever, in times such as these, we can put our trust in a still-creating God, one who moves over the fissures opening up in our world, and out of the chaos of our times evokes in us the light of resourcefulness and resilience, of patience and perseverance, of compassion and community.
Let there be light.