When I was 14 I spent a summer on the islands that line the coast of Georgia. It was a science and ecology camp and we spent most days studying sea creatures or discussing the ecology of the sulfur scented marshes.
One evening stands out particularly in my mind. It was the night of the new moon, and the counselors took us down to the shore by flashlight. The area was a wildlife preserve and had none of the boardwalk lights I typically associated with a beach. I remember thinking the stars were especially bright in the absence of artificial light.
When we reached the water’s edge we turned off all the flashlights and adjusted to the dark, giggling nervously. The counselors encouraged us to bend down to the just damp sand and rub our hands lightly along the surface layer. Immediately my little patch of ground lit up with glittering, glowing flashes of light, mirroring the sky above me. I’d had no idea this plentiful phosphorescence had been there the entire time. I never would’ve known if not for the dark.
Advent is a time where we hear a lot about darkness and light. For the next few weeks at Lydia’s House we’ll be dining by candlelight, with each lit candle signifying an idea demonstrated by Christ’s emergence in this world. Tonight begins the week that we’ll be dwelling in hope and trying to sort out what it means to be people who hope, who are confident in the presence of light even when the darkness looms large.
Those of us who live at Lydia’s House have often come here through darkness. That darkness has taken many, many forms: Abuse. Addiction. Loss of children. Mental illness. Hopes dashed. People who were supposed to love us who hurt us instead. Rejection. Violence. Self-inflicted harm and suicide attempts. Broken relationships. Poverty that keeps you up at night. The dark has been very, very dark indeed.
And yet. And yet, there’s not been one person who has stepped through this door who has not thrown off her own glimmers of light. It is breathtaking at times, the speed at which those who have known the darkness spark with kindness, with regard for others, with care for children of Lydia’s House and with a desire to care for those in need outside the community. The women who move here are typically still reeling from the scope of the darkness they have witnessed, but the darkness has not overcome them.
I could tell so many stories about the ways light flashes forth here at Lydia’s House. Much of it is subtle, from dishes washed for one another to notes of encouragement left in boxes. There have been times when I’ve gone to comfort a weeping guest only to find that another guest has beaten me to it. I’ve seen chores done without resentment for a housemate who was sick, and then I’ve seen the healed housemate do that same chore for the volunteer who was away from the house later than she anticipated. I’ve seen hours spent creating crafts of beauty for the joy of each person at a meal. I’ve seen former guests work to care for current guests, sharing resources and knowledge. And the meals…oh the meals! Though any one of us could open a couple of cans and call it dinner none of us do. Even the less experienced among us work to put good home cooked food on the table, often after many hours of planning and labor. The care we take of one another shines bright, even in the dark.
The gospel reading from Mark for today includes the following words from Christ:
you do not know when the Lord of the house is coming,
whether in the evening, or at midnight,
or at cockcrow, or in the morning.
May he not come suddenly and find you sleeping.
What I say to you, I say to all: ‘Watch!’”
I believe one of our tasks as followers of Christ is to watch. We’re to watch for the light shining in the darkness, to believe it is there even when it takes time to see. We’re to exclaim over it, to tell others about it, and to journey into the dark places knowing that light is present to us there also, and it’s especially striking there. May we join together this Advent season in training our eyes to look for the light, to point it out to those who can see nothing but the darkness, and to uphold it as ultimately stronger than the forces that would try to overcome it. May our eyes behold the glimmers and flashes that daily erupt in our midst this Advent season. Thanks be to God.
“Hope Reflection” by Meridith, Lydia’s House Co-Director