When are we the light of the world? I used to think it was when we had a lot of very good things to say – helpful things, wise things – or when we served the poor or oppressed. It was in living out our God-given callings, being active in the world in beneficial ways.
But a change has slowly come over me since Rosean’s stroke. It is as though someone has taken the moments of the day and stretched them out so that there is more room in each one of them. This has been accomplished while at the same time speeding the hours along so that they’re gone before I know it. There are so many things I ought to have done months ago for which I have not yet been able to find the time. And yet each of my moments is wide and somehow deep. And, in each one of them I feel the potential for quiet joy.
In each of these moments there are wondrous things or people present. It is in seeing and hearing the beauty of these that I feel joy blossom. I see that my presence with whomever or whatever is in these moments with me is a kind of gift. And I’ve come to realize that I am a light to the world when I listen well and appreciate.
I am reminded of my friends Mary and Mary Jane, women twenty or so years older than me who were Dominican nuns until the late sixties, when they left their order because it wasn’t moving quickly enough to embrace the changes of Vatican II. After successful and fulfilling careers in Washington D.C., they came to live in Colorado for the final years of their lives.
We would go to their house for “orrie dorries”, their spoof of the term “hor d’oeuvres.” Over cheese and crackers, they’d tell us tales of their lives, and they would listen to our stories. They were remarkable listeners. They had all the time in the world to hear a story, and their delight in the teller of the tale was obvious. I remember them listening to our grandchildren once, and how the little ones swelled up with the pleasure of being heard and appreciated.
I also remember walking with Mary Jane in Yellowstone National Park, on a short stone walkway that led to an overlook to the spectacular falls on the Yellowstone River. We were traveling very slowly because Mary Jane had terrible rheumatism. At one point a giant raven hopped onto the walkway with us. We stopped for a bit to admire his stunning blue-black feathers. “This one,” said Mary Jane, “is very beautiful. If we don’t get as far as the falls, no matter. Look at all the gorgeous things we are seeing as we go along.”
Back then I had a million thoughts as we walked, a million plans and strategies for moments in the future. I was trying really hard to stay in the moment with my friend, but my mind frequently leapt elsewhere. These days I imagine we would be good partners in that walk to the falls. I would be more able to look at the same things she was seeing, and I would be enjoying them, too.
Being this kind of light to the world is as much a treasure as being the “doing” kind. One way doesn’t have to exclude the other, either. But think about the times in your life when your best gift to someone was simply to notice and appreciate them. Take heart in the blessing you gave them.