Light in the darkness

When you step into an old building that has been empty for many years, the dust and debris of a time long-gone await you. Walking down a darkened corridor, you step warily, not knowing what you may encounter. Then, turning a corner, a shaft of light from a shattered window high up on the brick wall, exposes for a moment a couple of worn steps. Moving on, the darkness returns, the moment of illumination is lost.
No-one who has watched the progress of the Rosetta Mission and the landing of Philae on the Comet 67P can fail to marvel at the immensity of this technical achievement. To plant a box of scientific instruments on a rock some 350,000,000 miles from Earth after a journey of 10 years is awesome. It has been rightly celebrated.
In spite of photographs, detailed explanation and all sorts of numerical data, it is hard for us to conceive what it must be like out there, a lonely place where man has never set foot, and never will, a place of extreme temperatures as this lump of planetary debris journeys towards our star before returning to the depths of space to continue on its way. How amazing.
It is no wonder that the images of light and dark occur so often in Scripture, the light illuminating the darkness, light that darkness cannot resist. The Transfiguration of the Lord is the clearest and strongest image given to us in the Gospels.
In a small, yet significant way, we experience something similar when we light a candle before an icon in a darkened room. The glow as the flame grows on the wick, the melting wax feeding its substance, giving it the energy that we see as light, sometimes flickering in the draught, at other times, erect and still. Its light is of a different order to that of an electric bulb which can be cold and impersonal. You have the sense of a presence that is living with you as you sit silently with the Lord.
Here, low on the ground, is the equivalence of that broken window high in the wall of the derelict building. It too illuminates the small area around it, whilst other parts of the room are lost in shadow and darkness. No wonder those lines of Newman are so memorable “Lead kindly light amid the encircling gloom, lead thou me on”
We cannot begin to wonder what it is like in the small, rock-world of the comet where Philae now sits, communicating with the European Space Agency scientists. But there it is, talking to us and we are listening to its story.
We cannot begin to understand the enormity of the God in whom we believe. We can only appreciate those moments of blinding transformation when he illuminates our lives and shows, for however brief a time, where we presently are and where we might be heading. Such moments are graced indeed on our own journey through the cosmos.
Chris McDonnell. Wednesday, 19th November 2014

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