I was sitting there staring at my computer screen, completely blank (both the screen and me), trying desperately to think of something to write about for this week’s column.
Where you might expect me to say, “Then suddenly a light went on,” actually, suddenly the lights went off. We’re no strangers to unpredictable power outages in our neighborhood, so life goes on. Some people left for an early lunch break. Others kept right on working, switching seamlessly to their laptop, smartphone or tablet. Emergency generators took over the basic functions in the building. I took it as a sign that maybe I just needed to slip off somewhere and rest.
There was no rest, however, because indeed a light did go on and I had an idea for my column. As Christians prepare to commemorate the birth of Jesus, I thought of the words from the gospel of St. John, “The light came into the world.” There is a power that comes from the electric grid and fuels so much of what we do in our everyday life, and there is a greater power that comes from faith in a divine source of light and energy that fuels our interior life.
We’ve been hearing a lot lately about the power being turned off to homes in regions that are at risk from wildfires and all the ways, large and small, in which people’s lives are affected by it. We can make a comparison to what happens to us when we feel the divine energy around us and when we don’t feel it.
First, there is the matter of light. When the power goes off in the daytime, it makes things dimmer and reduces our ability to see details. But when it goes off at night, we are left in an indistinct and unfamiliar world where we have to grope and move carefully just to move at all.
Sometimes we can also find ourselves in spiritual darkness, reaching and floundering and waiting every minute for the light to come back on. As in physical darkness, the return of the light makes everything feel suddenly more secure and hopeful.
When the power went off on this very cold day, it also caused the heating system to stop working. So too does our faith warm us and help us to have the strength and comfort to carry on. For the very poor and the homeless, the lack of a heat supply can mean the difference between life and death. Loss of power is also a life or death matter for people who depend on medical equipment such as breathing devices.
The power of faith can be a crucial lifeline for those who are on the brink of despair. A glimmer of hope in a higher power that is felt by a person gripped by addiction, a kind word or deed that a person of faith offers to the lonely or depressed, or the look of love in the eyes of one who cares when we feel darkest can keep the power flowing.
There are so many other comparisons that we might make between these two kinds of power, such as the energy that is needed to do our work or find enjoyment in entertainment, or the energy that powers systems that allow us to connect to others through travel or communication. When the physical power goes off, we notice right away, but we shouldn’t be so oblivious to the spiritual power that we need to keep going.
Perhaps today, as you switch on the light or the TV and just take for granted that power will be there, pray in gratitude that, “The Light came into the world.”