Surrounded With Light From the Past

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Our superb Anglican Life Editor, Emily, makes sure that we bishops have a schedule for our columns. Faithfully, nearer the time the piece is due, I always get an email with the subject: “Gentle Reminder.”

This time, I was prompted that my deadline for submission was July 28th. That’s an interesting time for me, because on July 28th I will be two days into the Lambeth Conference at Canterbury. 

I am smiling as I try to write this, because it feels kind of like time travel as I do. Take a breath then read this paragraph: 

You will be reading this after the Lambeth Conference, I will be writing it before, and really want to share with you what is about to happen, and what happened at Lambeth even though as I write, it hasn’t happened yet, and when you read it, it will be in the past. 

This morning I was looking at a picture sent to us of planet Earth as seen through the James Webb Space Telescope. To give you a reference, James Webb led NASA through the 1960s, and provided the scientific emphasis and inspiration to land humans on the moon.

Simply put: the images we see through this telescope are ghosts. That’s right: they are the presences of light and energy from billions of years ago. Light and images from the past are constantly moving toward and away from us. It is in our time, that through science we are able to actually see the light from long dead stars, and be reminded of who we are in the universe. It is an opportunity for us as individuals, and as a species, to embrace a reorienting vision of our tiny, brief, but beautiful place in the universe. 

It is an opportunity to pause, breathe deeply, and allow light from the past and present to guide us into the future. To do so, we must stop, commit to creating a space in time devoted to breathing deeply, and wait for refreshment to catch up. Let’s let the light catch up to us. When we do, we can experience a refreshment that cannot come from anywhere else. 

Stop. Wait. Then after we do, we can look again, and see the world and ourselves for what we are. That is what prayer can do!
I often find those quiet, illuminating times when I write, or paint, or play a few chords on a guitar. I find them every morning and night when I intentionally withdraw from everything and pray. I find them in the sacraments—especially in bread and wine—touched and illuminated through human prayer by the very hands of the creator of the universe. 

Where do you go when you need this time of refreshment? If you don’t quite know, let me assure you that there is a place for you. 

We are indeed in a time of change, though this is not a reference to our recent global pandemic. We are in a time when we can study, learn, and make decisions of what will become of us. 

The truth is that the planet we live on is unable to continue providing the resources demanded of it by its human inhabitants. We are the only species that has ever been able to determine the processes of our own evolution. Genetic engineering brings many benefits, but also asks the question: “What will we become?” We live in a time of huge shifts in culture, religion, community, and relationships. We live in a time of turmoil, hatred, violence, and need. Then again, we always did. Something else though that we always could do: we could and can choose kindness, compassion, generosity, and love in every single situation. We were always capable of that. 

Let’s go back to the stars now. When I think of light from the past, as a science buff, I am filled with awe (and I actually have a piece of the heat reflective foil from the Apollo 11 command module; but I digress). As a spiritual creature, I often think of light from the past as a way of our creator’s way showing us, life never ends. You see, light from the creation of the world has caught us, washes around us, and then keeps moving. It will not die.
We are part of that light. We can merge with it. We can catch our breath, and think about that. By the time you read this, I will have sent many updates home from Lambeth.
I’m not there yet, but by the time you read this, I will have been there and back.
I will have been in prayer for you all, and trusting this, I will and already have been surrounded by the light of your prayers.
Let me leave you with an ancient teaching about Jesus.
“He is before all things, and in Him all things hold together.”
Colossians 1:17
Love always,

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