Grace Cathedral

Grace Cathedral

Article | November 28, 2017

A Light in the Darkness


Dean Malcolm Clemens Young gave the opening reflection at the Nob Hill Association‘s Huntington Park tree lighting ceremony on November 28. Enjoy his reflection on the season below . 

Twenty-four years ago my parents came out to visit my wife and I for Thanksgiving in Boston. On our way out to my aunt and uncle’s house we stopped at Estabrook Forest for a walk. We threw rocks at the recently ice-covered pond it made a sound that I have only hear that one time. The smell of the fallen leaves, the fading light and all of us being together made it one of the most beautiful moments of my life.

On our way back to the parking lot we made a classic mistake that experts call “bending the map.” The terrain did not look quite familiar but we came up with reasons for this and kept going. Then as the light faded we realized with a sickening feeling that we were utterly lost.

Often when this happens the emotional centers in the brain send such strong panic signals that they overwhelm our perceptions. They can activate the fight or flight response and send a person rushing off in the wrong direction. Search and Rescue teams call this “Woods Shock.” For a pilot the related “break off” phenomenon can be even more acute, even leading to a sense of detachment from one’s body, the aircraft and the earth. The Marshall Islanders have a word wiwijet which means both to be lost and to panic.[1]

As I look around this year I wonder if we are experiencing a kind of “Wood’s Shock” in our society today. On Wednesday I attended a demonstration on behalf of Floricel a woman with three children whose husband was deported in 2012. She has been in detention unable to care for her children since March. Gay and Lesbian people worry that their marriages may declared invalid. We seem no closer to resolving our persistent problems with homelessness, gun violence and addiction. The effects of unfolding climate change continue to unnerve us.

That night in Estabrook Forest we trudged on in absolute darkness. But then, almost impossible to see in the distance, there was the faintest of lights. We walked toward it until we reached the house of two teachers who drove us back to our car.

During this time of year we celebrate Hanukah, Advent, Kwanza, and Yule. What these festivals share in common is a belief that a light shines in the darkness. This light reminds us that we have not been abandoned here.

I want to close with a poem by Rainer Maria Rilke. “God speaks to each of us as he makes us, / then walks with us silently out of the night. // These are the words we dimly hear; // You, sent out beyond your recall, / Go to the limits of your longing. / Embody me… // Let everything happen to you: beauty and terror. / Just keep going. No feeling is final. / Don’t let yourself lose me. //

“Nearby is the country they call life. / You will know it by its seriousness. // Give me your hand.”[2]

Let this season of light remind us that we can find the way. Let the light inspire us to help the people who are lost and finally when we are through to find our way home again.

[1] John Edward Huth, The Lost Art of Finding Our Way (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2013) 31-32

[2] Rainer Maria Rilke, Rilke’s Book of Hours: Love Poems to God tr. Joanna Macy and Anita Barrows (NY: Riverhead Books, 1996) 59.

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