Better to light one small candle than to curse the darkness.
Where there is light, there is hope. And the Lord knows, we all need hope, especially in such a world as ours, where the fault lines of hatred and privation have become daily realities for many people around the world, and even in our own back yards. The inveterate prejudices that lie just beneath the surface of so many of our long established tribal commitments, seen most obviously in our allegiances to political parties or sports teams or social castes or ideologies or zip codes, now regularly brim to the surface of our dark cups, which runneth over with perdition and ugliness. In the middle of our lives we find ourselves in a dark wood, for we have lost our way, collectively and individually.
And yet, "the light shines in the darkness, and the darkness shall not put it out" (John 1:5). And where there is light, hope abounds, and "hope is the thing with feathers" (Emily Dickinson). It can migrate us from darkness to light. Indeed, "we are prisoners of hope" the prophet Zechariah tells us (Zechariah 9:12), and this is significant, because it means that even we do not have the freedom to banish all hope in ourselves, which is why every suicide is a tragedy. Because though we may have lost the will to see the light, it is a willful loss we suffer. The candle is there for all to see, even in our darkest moments, and no amount of darkness can put it out. Else, where is one's faith in the eternally regenerative power of the Holy Spirit, who is our confidante and friend and who "searches all things, even the depths of God" (1 Cor. 2:10). Who of us is deeper than God?
So we turn to the light / turn on the light / shine the light in the faces of those who are lost, or in the mirror if we ourselves are lost. We pray to the Spirit who knows all things and who is willing to forgive all things if only we are willing to receive such forgiveness. Can we not open our hands to this God, who is calling us back to himself, to ourselves, to each other? "For where two or more are gathered in my name," Jesus tells us, "there I am also." Do we have the courage to call upon Jesus in times such as these? Do you? Do you have enough hope to do so? Can you see the candle? Do you dare?
"Love believes all things and is never deceived," Kierkegaard once wrote. What did he mean? I think he meant that true love sees all, sees through all, sees through the many veils we have placed over ourselves and our lives with all the entanglements and commitments that life so often seems to demand. We even try, I think, to hide the light from ourselves, or hide from it. And why? Because, as Robert Pogue Harrison puts it so beautifully recently in a review of recent translations of Dante's Divine Comedy:
Dante shared the medieval Christian notion that vice entrenches itself in habits, and like most behavioralists he knew that nothing is more difficult to alter than habits or states of mind that have become deeply ingrained over time. In Dante’s Purgatory the penitents labor to reform impulses and behaviors that, over a lifetime, have hardened into quasi-innate dispositions.
Have we formed, or are we in danger of forming, our hatreds into innate dispositions? Have we codified the sins of envy and malice and greed so much so that our souls can no longer see a way clear of prejudices and cultural resentments to ennobling truth and love? Perhaps this prayer of St. Francis of Assisi, which we have all heard at one point in our lives, can suffice to bring us back to the path where falls across perhaps only a sliver of light, but a sliver nonetheless, and of light no less:
Lord, make us instruments of Thy peace. Where there is hatred, let us sow love; where there is injury, pardon; where there is discord, union; where there is doubt, faith; where there is despair, hope; where there is darkness, light; where there is sadness, joy.
I hope so.