Hidden Light

Last Thursday, February 2, was the Feast of Candlemas and the Presentation of Our Lord. This feast falls 40 days after Christmas. (In some traditions, I learned recently, Christmas is actually 40 days long, and ends on Candlemas. So this year, we left our nativity on the mantle and the lighted garland in the front window all through January, only taking them down last week, on Candlemas.) In Jewish tradition, the firstborn son was to be taken to the Temple and presented to the Lord with an offering 40 days after his birth. Accordingly, that’s what Mary and Joseph did. You can read the story in Luke 2.

It’s one of my favorite stories, actually, because of Simeon and Anna, the two old, faithful, visionaries who recognize Jesus for who He is. Anna, if you recall, was an elderly prophetess, who spent day and night in the Temple, praying, fasting, and worshipping the Lord. When she sees Jesus, she knows exactly Who He is and gladly proclaims to everyone in earshot that the Messiah has finally come.

Simeon, though not called a prophet, was just as clear-sighted as Anna. God promised him that he would see the Messiah before he died, and when he sees Jesus, he knows this is the One. This little baby boy with the peasant parents who are too poor to afford a lamb for the offering…will save Israel. I love to imagine that scene: the aged Simeon coming to the Temple “in the Spirit” and scanning all the faces till he sees the child Jesus, and with a shock of recognition and resounding joy, he takes the baby in his arms and blesses God for His faithfulness to himself and to Israel and even to the Gentiles:

“Lord, now you let your servant depart in peace; your word has been fulfilled.
My own eyes have seen the salvation that you have prepared in the sight of all the peoples, a light of revelation for the Gentiles and of glory for your people Israel!”

Simeon’s prayer of joyful recognition of the Messiah is now the Canticle of Simeon (also called the Nunc dimittis), prayed every night at Compline in monasteries, churches, and homes the world over. Our eyes have been opened, and we have seen the Light, for you, O Lord, are faithful and true.

It is here that we see the connection between Candlemas and the Presentation of Jesus. Simeon proclaimed the child Jesus a light to all the peoples. Candlemas is a celebration of light; on this day, all the candles that will be used in the church in the coming year are blessed.

A month ago, on Epiphany, my family and I stood shivering on our doorstep as we blessed a piece of chalk, used it to mark the top of our front door with numbers and letters, and prayed a blessing over our house. It was an act of faith and hope, those numbers and letters, those prayers—a proclamation to ourselves both now and throughout the coming year that we will follow Jesus wherever He leads us. In a similar way, the blessing of the candles is an act of faith and hope, a joyful proclamation of the light hidden in each one. Perhaps over the course of the next year that hidden light will be released at just the right moment to kindle the flame of flagging hope or drive the dark of doubt away.

This year, for the first time, I had it together enough to procure our year’s supply of candles in January (we light one every night when we gather for dinner), so we held our own candle-blessing celebration. Lighting those candles can just be something we do every single night. Or they can be a reminder of the light of Christ in our midst, a reminder that Christ is the center of our home and the center of each of our lives, a reminder that ultimately He is the food upon which we feed. And so I prayed over all those candles, that God would use them to be what I intend them to be, pointers to His light and goodness, His presence and provision.

This playful interaction with the stories of Scripture is one of the (many) things I find so delightful about the church year. Liturgical time is not afraid to take liberties: Hey, during Jesus’ presentation Simeon mentions light, candles are a source of light, let’s use the celebration of the presentation as a chance to bless all the candles!

And why not? God is present in Scripture, in real life here and now, and also in imagination. The church year happily embraces the intersection of all three with faith that the eyes of our imaginations are at least as clear-sighted as the eyes of our heads and can in fact help us to see Scripture more clearly. Certainly, the church year has many times startled me out of my familiar ways of seeing so that I can be like Simeon, recognizing God wherever He appears, and rejoicing in His light.

*****

Lent is coming soon—it begins on March 1. Traditionally Lent is a season of fasting to prepare for the darkness of the Triduum (the three days of Jesus’ trial, crucifixion, and burial). I’ll talk more about fasting next month, but for now, be thinking and praying about what God might be asking you to fast from/set aside for this season so that you can make room in your life to hear His still, small voice more clearly.

In Circle of Seasonsafter I discuss each season  is a section entitled “Living the Season.” As we walk these seasons together, which idea will you try—or have done before and will continue—this year?  Leave a comment of how you are playing with the seasons and be entered to receive one of three copies of our spring book, Invitations From God by Adele Ahlberg Calhoun. 

Next week we start Shiloh by Helena Sorensen(free!) and let me tell you, WOW. DO NOT MISS THIS BOOK.

What have you tried for this season in the church year? What do you want to try? 

13 Comments

  1. Bayta February 7, 2017

    Last Thursday, right after I’d read that section of the book, I happened to be visiting “Berliner Dom” (the Lutheran cathedral). It was very special to see the nativity still up, and they also had put a note explaining why.

    1. Ruth February 7, 2017

      That is really cool!

  2. Ruth February 7, 2017

    When I read this chapter, the practice that stuck out to me was the examen. I’ve practiced it on and off for the last few years, but haven’t been very consistent with it lately. I was thinking of focusing on it more during Lent, so it sort of surprised me to have it show up during the ordinary time chapter, although it is a great way to see God’s work in the ordinary, every day life. My examen practice is a sort of adaptation on the original. Several years ago I got a list of different questions that get at the consolations/desolations idea from a spiritual director. The ones that work for me are “what was most life-giving to you today?” and “what was least life-giving to you today?” I record these in my journal, because sometimes I make more sense when I’m writing, and they are a great way to look back. It also helps me to focus my journaling–I get overwhelmed if I feel like I have to write about everything that happened, and then I don’t write anything at all.

    1. Kimberlee Conway Ireton February 7, 2017

      Dear Ruth, you’re right–the examen is a great practice for Lent. Have you read “Sleeping with Bread” by the Linns? It’s a wonderful, gentle introduction to the examen (it actually was my introduction 17 years ago), with lovely illustrations. The subtitle is “Holding What Gives You Life”–which is exactly what your spiritual director’s questions are getting at. Like you, I make more sense when I’m writing, and having a record of the things that give or steal joy is very helpful–we humans are notoriously forgetful creatures!

      1. Ruth February 7, 2017

        I hadn’t heard of that book before, and it looks great! Thank you!

  3. Raven February 8, 2017

    I like the further explanation on Ordinary Time — “days between….Counted Time, time that counts, that matters.” I feel like this further compliments the “Sunday Christian” idea. It’s not just about one day to celebrate or go to church. It’s about a life style where each day counts and each day matters..and God is present in all of it.

    I am with the majority where I get caught up in the day to day and week to week business of life. When I do get a break I struggle with what to do with myself as it is a stark change of pace.But in these times, I am able to reflect and process. The more I read this chapter the more I realize I wait until the end of the week, moment, project, month, etc. to look back and reflect. I get so focused on completing what needs to be done and achieving the desired goal. The result is that it is always in the back of my mind, sitting there unsettled, until the end. However, the process is just as important as the end result. The chapter comes at such a good time.

    I like Ruth’s journaling idea. “What was most life-giving to you today?” and “What was least life-giving to you today?” I, too, get overwhelmed when I feel like I need to write about everything that happened. I’m going to give this idea a try.

    1. Kimberlee Conway Ireton February 8, 2017

      Dear Raven, oh yes, the day-to-day business (and busyness!) of life can blind us to the reality of God-with-us, always, not just on Sundays or in Advent and Christmas. I love high holy days, but most of life isn’t lived there, and we have to learn to find Christ in the midst of the day-to-day. I’m so glad the chapter was helpful for you. The book I recommended for Ruth (Sleeping with Bread) might also be helpful, and if you haven’t read Brother Lawrence (Practicing the Presence of God), you might consider spending some time with him. His whole orientation to life is that God is as present in those day-to-day tasks and activities as He is in church, and our life work is to learn to see Him and be present with Him, no matter where we are. No small task! The examen is one way to begin (or rather, continue, or extend) this work of seeing–because it helps us see that God was present, even if we weren’t aware of it at the time. Grace to you as you live more fully into the Reality of “that All who always is all everywhere”!

  4. Ruth February 13, 2017

    I didn’t know before what Candlemas was – that’s cool! I’ll have to remember and mark it for next year.

    1. Kimberlee Conway Ireton February 14, 2017

      Hi Ruth! I’m glad you think it’s cool. I thought so, too, the first time I heard of it. I love ritual that blesses and hallows the things we do or use every day. It’s a chance to slow down and pay attention, instead of pushing ahead on autopilot. Even so, it’s taken me a decade to finally practice the candle blessing on Candlemas!

  5. Phyllis February 14, 2017

    I’m a little late to the party here, but I guess that doesn’t matter, because “my” calendar (Eastern) is a whole two weeks behind.

    We’ve never celebrated Candlemas in any way, but there’s usually a church service for the presentation of Jesus. That will be tomorrow, so I was glad to have the reminder of it here. I love the idea of green candles. I may have to go with that. Green is my favourite colour anyway. 🙂

    I have also been more faithful with examen or other ways of praying during fast times. So, I loved this bit in the book:
    “During Ordinary Time, I find it especially needful to embrace the spiritual disciplines of lectio divina and a daily examen, to help me stop and look at my life, to notice it and also to notice the ways God is present in it.”
    Someone here had mentioned Sacred Ordinary Days, and I’ve been hearing about lectio divina and the lectionary from them. I’ve never tried it myself, because I have a Bible reading plan that works for me. However, I might try working on my prayer life now, in Ordinary Time.

    Another great quote:
    “I was the person I want to be always, filled with joy and wonder at the goodness and beauty of God and this world he made. I pray for more such moments, every day.”

    Does anyone have a favorite lectionary site to recommend? I looked some, but the first few I looked at seemed pretty complicated to me.

    The most recent holiday we had, Epiphany/Theophany/Baptism:
    http://fylliska.blogspot.com/2017/02/baptism-of-lord.html

    1. Kimberlee Conway Ireton February 15, 2017

      Dear Phyllis, I have found the Vanderbilt site very helpful. They focus on the Sunday lectionary readings, but they also have daily readings available. The daily readings for Epiphany are here: http://lectionary.library.vanderbilt.edu/daily.php?year=A#id12. And the home page is here: http://lectionary.library.vanderbilt.edu/ The lectionary (almost) always includes a psalm, an Old Testament reading, a Gospel reading, and an epistle. This can change a bit with the seasons, but that’s generally how it works.

      Thanks for including that second quote–it’s as true now as it was when I wrote it, and while that vision of who I want to be still seems a long way off, I can see scads of growth between who I was then and who I am now: God has been abundantly faithful to answer that prayer!

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