Bright Spot

— Wednesday, 10/18/23 —

“In Christ was life, and that life was the light of humanity.” – John 1:4

Preparing a worship service for pastors was the final test.  The last step in my ordination process was to design and lead a worship service before a collection of pastors and lay leaders from various churches.  I wanted to follow common practices in order to demonstrate that knew and honored the traditions of our faith.  And, I wanted to do something new but not so different that it would be difficult for folks to follow.  One of the ways I tried to walk that line was through a hymn not commonly sung in the UCC, “Christ be Our Light”

In the early 1990’s Berndatte Farrell composed “Christ be Our Light.”  She had been composing music since the 1970’s and already had several well-known hymns.  Often Ms. Farrell’s music is shaped by her work as a Community Organizer for the non-profit, UK Citizens, which advocates for fair housing, a living wage, proper community policing and health care access.

In speaking about her song, “Christ be Our Light,” Ms. Farrell recounted a story she heard from a friend who is a prison chaplain.  The prison Chaplain taught the men in the prison this song. He said that one day he heard the men of the prison singing together.  He said it was the first time he had heard the men in the prison sing together without be asked to from an outside influence.  In that place of despair and brokenness, they sang together “Christ be Our Light.”

I sing this song particularly loud when we come to verses 3 and 4.

Longing for food, many are hungry.

Longing for water, many still thirst.

Make us your bread, broken for others,

shared until all are fed.



Christ be our light! Shine in our hearts. Shine through the darkness.

Christ, be our light! Shine in your church gathered today.


Longing for shelter, many are homeless.

Longing for warmth, many are cold.

Make us your building, sheltering others,

walls made of living stone.

Rather than read the whole song, I invite you to take and listen to this contemporary classic.


— Tuesday, 10/17/23 —

“You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies. You anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows.” – Psalm 23

There are times when I can’t help by fall into a parenting cliché. “Turn off the light when you leave a room” has recently become a common refrain. I am sure my kids are weary of hearing it and I know I’d like to use my breath to say other things. There are times when I choose not to say it. I don’t turn off the light for them. I simply leave it on. I let the light burn because I know why they left it on. It’s dark out and they are coming right back and they want the light on in their room as comfort and a guide. It’s nice to have the light left on for us, welcoming us in; welcoming us home.

It’s this truth that led Tom Bodette to strike gold. In 1986 the Richards Group Ad Agency brought in Tom to help them record an ad for their latest client, Motel 6. In the recording studio Tom recalled there there was “this thing that my mom always says when I come home…and they go, ‘Oh yeah, try that.’” On his first take Tom said, “We’ll leave the light on for you.”

The thought of someone waiting for us, holding up a light for us, the promise of a warm welcome, it resonates deeply with us.

The 23rd Psalm is often thought of the “Good Shepherd” psalm but on closer reflection we see that the “Good Shepherd” imagery transitions part way through to the “Welcoming Host” imagery that closes out the psalm. Love divine prepares a table for us, blesses us, and sets the context for our deep community. Images of gatekeeper God give way to the one who leaves a light on for us and welcomes us in. This gracious act becomes our gracious inspiration to welcome and include. As a community of faith we “leave the light on” for those in need of a beacon and a warm welcome. As individuals we are mindful of those who need to know they are included. We rejoice whenever someone sees our light and believes that this is a place, and we are a people where they can feel at home.


— Monday, 10/16/23 —

“Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit.” – John 12:24

October 16 is the birthday of the Irish novelist and playwright Oscar Wilde. Wilde had a complicated and often painful relationship with the church. While he was an adamant agnostic throughout his life, he did develop an admiration of Jesus. About Jesus, Wilde wrote, “He is just like a work of art…by being brought into his presence one becomes something.”
This sounds like light to me. When we step out into the warmth of the day it changes us. Sunlight can affect serotonin levels and change our mood. Light’s draw and impact speaks to another (likely) quote from Wilde.
“Never regret thy fall, O Icarus of the fearless flight, For the greatest tragedy of them all, Is never to feel the burning light.”
While this line has not been found yet in primary sources, it bear a resemblance to a known quote of Wilde’s “To live is the rarest thing in the world. Most people exist, that is all.”
One could understand Wilde’s sentiments as saying that we need to live life to the fullest. Or, that we would do well to be bold in this life. Or, to pursue our dreams even with the risk.

While there are not many Bible verses that speak of such supreme value of self-actualization, there are many characters (like Esther, Shiprah, and Jesus) who give of themselves and risk their safety for the good of others. I am reminded of the verse from John where Jesus says,

“…truly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit”

In the value system of the scriptures, risk for the purpose of blessing others is highly valued. Through the Bible, God encourages us to be bold in the ways we serve, to be fearless in our pursuit of self-awareness; and to be wiling to a bear a sitness through racial inequality.

May we find the courage and compassion to step into the unknown, and be attentive to the Spirit’s calling


— Friday, 10/13/23 —

Maria Grever wrote her first song when she was 18 years old.  Over the course of her life she wrote well over 1000 songs, most were boleros (lyrical romantic Spanish language songs).  After moving from Mexico City to the United States, Maria wrote songs for movie studios like Paramount and MGM.  She composed operas and a musical.  Yet the piece she is most well-known for was entitled, “Cuando Vuelva a Tu Lado” (“When I Return to Your Side”).   This song was translated from Spanish to English and was re-recorded 8 years after Maria’s death.  The self-proclaimed Queen of the Blues, Dinah Washington sang the newly titled song, “What a Difference a Day Makes” and it won Dinah her first grammy.

The song calls to mind the enduring truth that on any given day our life can turn on a dime.  Routines and habits give us a sense of order and permanence.  However, we know that there are days that divide our life into “before” and “after”.  Within the course of one turn of the earth our lives can turn 180 degrees.  How are we to move through life with such uncertainty and change?

In the story of the Exodus the Israelites were moving through a time of uncertainty.  One day they had been in Egypt under the thumb of the pharaoh and the next they were wander in the wilderness.  As they moved through the night, God gave them a pillar of fire to guide them through the night.  No further details or explanation is given as to the pillar of light.  Yet perhaps the point is less about what they pillar of fire was to them and more about what, or rather who, is a pillar of light for you.

When chaos threatens, the road ahead is unsure, and the day is giving you hints that something is up, in those moments it is good to stay focused on the light.  Who or what is a guiding light for you?  What helps you see clearly that which truly matters in life?  Who illuminates your decisions by giving you the space to work through your heart?

In response to those questions, I offer a poem/prayer by Minnie Louise Haskins:


— Thursday – 10/12/23 —
“If I say, “Surely the darkness shall cover me, and night wraps itself around me,” even the darkness is not dark to you; the night is as bright as the day, for darkness is as light to you.” – Psalm 139:11-12

On the night of a full moon, my group of friends would head out of our small town.  We’d gather at a friend’s house who lived past the bait shop and far from the orange haze of street lights.  Our evening would begin in the never-wet river bed that ran alongside his property.  The games and evening adventures always began in the glowing sand where there was nowhere to hide from the moonlight.

There are ample images within the scripture that play into an easy binary of light=good and dark=bad. They make for a simplistic correlation with some parts of our life.  But while this easy equation may sometimes feel reassuring, it does not speak of our full human experience.

The darkness may not be a bad place, it may be a beginning.
Within the darkness of the earth the seed sprouts. Within the darkness of the womb, the child grows. Within the darkness of the universe, a planet bursts with life.
Sometimes darkness envelops us, wraps itself around us, not to frighten us but to prepare us.

In the 1500’s, Saint John of the Cross wrote about the “dark night of the soul.” The dark night of the soul has come to refer to soul’s journey towards the unknowable God. For many mystics, historical and contemporary, the dark night of the soul refers to feeling distressed, disoriented, and disconnected with the creator and the bigger meaning of life. The dark night can feel like suffering for those who long to feel God’s (ie Love’s) presence and guidance. While saints and scriptures will affirm God’s presence in every season, the dark night of the soul can feel like standing in the middle of a dense fog. You may know others are around you but you have no sense for how close they are or what their intentions may be. These times of darkness can be illuminating for they reveal aspects of our soul that are nestled in deep.  In the dark our needs, insecurities, and longings come to the surface. When all is stripped away we learn what is most important. For this reason, the dark nights of the soul often lead to great spiritual insights that take us deeper into relationship.

It is a deeper relationship that Saint John of the Cross dreamed of when he first wrote his poem, “The Dark Night of the Soul.”

Dark Night of the Soul

In a dark night,
With anxious love inflamed,
O, happy lot!
Forth unobserved I went,
My house being now at rest.

In darkness and in safety,
By the secret ladder, disguised,
O, happy lot!
In darkness and concealment,
My house being now at rest.

In that happy night,
In secret, seen of none,
Seeing nought myself,
Without other light or guide
Save that which in my heart was burning.

That light guided me
More surely than the noonday sun
To the place where He was waiting for me,
Whom I knew well,
And where none appeared.

O, guiding night;
O, night more lovely than the dawn;
O, night that hast united
The lover with His beloved,
And changed her into her love.

On my flowery bosom,
Kept whole for Him alone,
There He reposed and slept;
And I cherished Him, and the waving
Of the cedars fanned Him.

As His hair floated in the breeze
That from the turret blew,
He struck me on the neck
With His gentle hand,
And all sensation left me.

I continued in oblivion lost,
My head was resting on my love;
Lost to all things and myself,
And, amid the lilies forgotten,
Threw all my cares away.

— Wednesday – 10/11/23 —
‘The light shines in the darkness and the darkness did not overcome it.’ – John 1:5

Today I invite you to read (then breathe and re-read) a poem by Jan Richardson. The Rev. Jan Richardson is a United Methodist minister, an author, and artist-in-residence at the San Pedro Spiritual Development Center in Orlando. The poem below comes from her book of seasons entitled, “Circle of Grace”.

Take a minute and listen for a line that you can carry (or that can carry you) today.

Where the Light Begins

Perhaps it does not begin.
Perhaps it is always.

Perhaps it takes
a lifetime
to open our eyes,
to learn to see
what has forever
shimmered in front of us –

the luminous line
of the map
in the dark,

the vigil flame
in the house
of the heart,

the love
so searing
we cannot keep
from singing,

from crying out
in testimony
and praise.

Perhaps this day
will be the mountain
over which
the dawn breaks.

Perhaps we
will turn our face
toward it,
toward what has been

our eyes
will finally open
in ancient recognition,
willingly dazzled,
illuminated at last.

Perhaps this day
the light begins
in us.

— Tuesday – 10/10/23 —
“You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” – Matthew 22:39

The first time I heard it, I thought it was a compliment. “You’re burning the candle at both ends.” My chest swelled. I was accomplishing twice as much as other wicks. Surely such production would ensure I was provided for. If I was generating more then surely I will be more highly valued. If I prove my worth in this way then I will be rewarded with security and affirmation and all of the perks of those I envied. Looking around I was convinced that I did not have the background or the connections or talent or wit as others but if I burn the candle at both ends, then I can catch up.
I don’t believe these things anymore, (at least not most of the time and not consciously). I don’t feel a need to catch up or prove myself (well, not as much as I used to). And I recognize the wisdom of Lao Tzu (or Tyrell depending on your generation) that “the light that burns twice as bright burns half as long.” And yet, decades of burning both ends have made it habit. Which is why I love verses like Matthew 22:39 that remind us to love ourselves. It is why the line from John O’Donohue’s blessing has stuck with me, “May there be kindness in your gaze when you look within.”
I wonder if the wisdom in “This Little Light of Mine” is hidden in the “little.” I thought that part was meant to be cute. We often associate the diminutive with the adorable. But maybe the power is hiding in the “little.” Our light isn’t little because we couldn’t make it big. Our light is little because we realize we don’t have to burn it at both ends. Our light is little because that’s all it needs to be. Could we dare say that our light is little because that’s exactly what the Holy Spirit wants it to be?
God knows it’s not on us to save ourselves much less save the world. As Stephen wisely reminded us in the installation video he shared, we’re just a gal/guy/person.
Could we be so bold as to dial it back and focus on being a little light unafraid to shine?

— Monday – 10/9/23 —
“And God made the two great lights — the greater light to rule the day and the lesser light to rule the night — and the stars.… And God saw that it was good” – Genesis 1:16-18

In the Torah’s creation epic, the sun and the moon were created on the fourth day. They are not given names, yet instead are simply referred to as the “greater” and “lesser” lights. It’s possible the author wanted to diminish any comparison to other celestial deities of the day such as the sun god Ra in Egypt or Shamash, the Mesopotamian god of the sun. By clearly identifying these lights as creations the author is seeking to elevate a creator. Yet the elevation I find fascinating in this passage is the comparison of the lights created. After the ruling lights are identified the remaining stars are tacked on, almost as an afterthought. To their, and our, naked eye the stars in the night sky pale in comparative size to the moon and the sun. However, the assisted eye tells a much different story.
The sun is so large that over 1,000,000 Earths could fit within it. Its lava flares leap millions of miles into space. Its intense light forces scientists to use special devices that view ultraviolet wavelengths in order to capture a good image. And yet for all its pomp and grandeur, our sun is an average to small star.
Sirius (from the Greek meaning “glowing” or “scorching”) is the brightest star in the night sky. Sirius is double the size of our sun and 25 times more luminous. And it should come as no surprise that Sirius is just the beginning of stars that make our sun look diminutive. The star named Pollux is eight times the radius of the sun. Pollux, in turn, looks up to Arcturus, which is over 25 times the size of our sun.
As an idea, I am astounded by the ever-increasing size of stars. My mind melts in its attempt to grasp the enormity of these celestial bodies. However, at the same time, Sirius, Pollux, Arcturus and all the others mean nothing to me. The life I know is built upon this little light of ours. It feeds the Earth. It powers our days. It marks the progression of our lives. From our perspective, this little light is of infinite more value than the millions of other stars that are larger and brighter by comparison.
I am convinced that our lives offer a tremendous light. Our acts of compassion bring warmth. Our care for and delight in the natural world illuminate our relationship with, what St. Francis called, “brother sun” and “sister moon.” Our work for justice banishes the shadows that are necessary for oppression to thrive. It is far too easy to downplay our light. It is far too common for people to play it small, or devalue their impact when compared to what other luminaries might do. Diminishing the importance of the love you have to share serves no one. Your light is a source of sustenance and inspiration for those in your orbit and beyond. This is true because you were called, “good” from the moment you were created. This is true because the light that lives within you finds its source in the light of love divine which enlivens all of creation.

Kensington Community Church United Church of Christ Kensington Community Church United Church of Christ