June 1, 2011

Candles in the Day

Four minutes into my first day at the Tru Value warehouse I heard every four letter word I know, and several I don’t (rather not ask, thanks). The conversation topics were as coarse as the jokes, though I’d better not say what the jokes reminded me of. I found myself sighing. This is clearly not going to be a pro-Christian environment to work in. I wiped at the film of sweat that had already settled on my forehead in the stifling air. Curses and shouts flew back and forth like snowballs. Dirty snowballs. This’ll be a long summer, God, I thought. It feels like such a dark environment, since not many here seem to know you.

That was a judgment on my part which just would not do with Yahweh. As the rolling miles of asphalt marked my journey home, the matter continued to heckle me. Why, I wondered, does so much of the world seem to be a dark environment? God isn’t present in my workplace, but neither is he present in my neighborhood, or anywhere else outside the Church. This was for me both distressing on the deepest level and a minor vexation.

Then, for a moment, the road disappeared.

Instead of the dingy tailgate of the Ford pickup ahead, I saw what appeared to be a scene from a fairytale. Its primary focus was a frantic little man running about with a lantern. He rushed from house to house in the village, violently bursting in upon the inhabitants. Each home was filled with deep shadows, and the people there sat in darkness. I understood that they had been in this darkness for a long time. In it they lived and moved and had their being. But when the minimal man broke in with his lantern the shadows disappeared. Suddenly the house would overflow with life and light and color. Dull blacks and grays became the vibrant hues of the rainbow. The reactions of the families differed from house to house. Some were overjoyed, others bewildered, and still others appalled and disgusted. Yet the man’s reaction never varied. After flinging back the door, he would step in with just a foot and raise his lantern high. Nervous, his eyes devoured the contents of the room.

“There is no light here! There is no light! It is only darkness!” he would cry, then flee, slamming the door behind him, leaving the people in gloom once again.

How funny, I thought, that this jester (for now I saw him to be) could be so mistaken! What a fool, to carry a burning lantern wherever he went, yet continually suppose himself to be in darkness! What exactly was he looking for? Did he not know that he brought the light with him?

Suddenly the vision fell away. I was back in my car on the turnpike, going home. The Spirit’s conviction fell on my own spirit like a hammer. Could I really be guilty of the same carelessness? The same folly? Yet how often have I condemned the hearts and homes of those around me for their darkness, never recognizing that I bear the presence of God wherever I go.

Yes, it is true that for one traveling alone the night can seem oppressive, even with a torch. Yet I have never known a darkness so thick that it could smother flame. Shadow itself is immaterial. Rather, it is light which has warmth and substance. Though to the bearer a candle appears but feeble resistance against the eternal night, to those in darkness it is a piercing beacon visible from an ocean away. The thing about candles is, they are only visible at all where shadows are present. They bring light to no one when held against the noonday sun.

I find that as a Christian, I have often sought comfort from the proximity of other light-bearers. It is encouraging not to feel alone. I think many others feel the same way. Yet what purpose does our light serve if it only shines in the company of those who share it? Rather than bringing light to the world, we have decided to be a light unto ourselves. We have become nothing but candles in the day, serving no purpose and saving no souls. What is it that we fear?

The trip home continued and I saw the fool again. This time he had made his way past the darkened windows of the shops, taverns, and houses, up to a little building with a pointed roof. He breathed a sigh of relief when the doors swung open to reveal a massive gathering of people, all holding lanterns to their chests. They welcomed him with smiles and embraces as he took his place among them. Then the doors of the building were shut, closing the light inside. The people sang of joy and hope, and the town remained in darkness.


Shanda said...

This was incredibly well written! Wow. I have been convicted so many times over the years that I am not in the world enough to shine the light. We are called to be in the world but not of the world. Yet, true, Christians often keep to themselves and the light is not shining. That said, I cannot say it like you do. Well done.

Shanda said...

Mark, would you mind if I used you as a Guest Writer and reposted this?

Mark Zellner said...

Thank you for reading and commenting Shanda! More importantly, thanks for understanding and identifying with my message. We Christians really do have a lot to answer for, and I'm sure a lot needs to change, but recognizing our errors is the start! And that comes from receptivity to the Spirit. I'm glad you get it too. :)

I'd be totally honored if you'd repost this on your own blog Shanda, thanks for asking!

Anonymous said...

"You are the light of the world." Matthew 5:14; "When Jesus spoke again to the people, he said, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.” John 8:12...
Keep shining! The world will begin to see...they always do. Beautifully written, as usual.

H. Marlene said...

Only one word to sum it up... "ouch!"

Sally said...

Mark, I read your repost over at Shanda's. My personal walk with Christ began in earnest when I was in my 20's so I have more in common with those you work with than I'd like to admit. If that would make me more patient but I'm afraid it makes me seek out the comfort of fellow Christians even more.

Anonymous said...

Well written and thought provoking, Mark. I, too would like to share this, if you don't mind.

Mark Zellner said...

Marlene - it hurt me too a little!

Sally - Patience is just what I was praying for today! Patience to put up with the icky bits in order to demonstrate Christ's love to others. Glad to hear you're on the path too. :) It's good to meet you, thanks for stopping by.

Karla - I'm happy you like it! Please feel free to share this with people, if you can direct them back to Forest in a Bottle, so much the better! :D

Holly@A Life-Size Catholic Blog said...

I love this! You are an amazing writer! I'm a follower now, and I'll be looking forward to reading more!

Wesgrey said...

To enter the kingdom of heaven one must become as a child...simple, clear and direct. This means letting the light in from God as well as letting go of self so that the light shines. <"This little light of mine, let it shine!"> No need to enjoin with what is not joy, just "be" light.

Imagine the church members visiting places of darkness in small groups how much more light is given. Two witnesses are far stronger than one. <"Whenever 2 or more ask in the Name of Jesus it will be done.">

p.s. A maried couple has a LOT of prayer power together in Christ.

Love ya Bro!

Heidi said...

Good example! I have thought the same at my work a few times. Thanks for sharing

Mark Zellner said...

Thanks Holly! Glad to have you along!

I'm workin on the married couple bit, Wes! Thanks for sharing!

I appreciate the comment, Heidi!

Holly@A Life-Size Catholic Blog said...

Hey Mark~ I thought I should tell you I featured you and you article in "Pay It Forward" on my blog. You can check it out at the following link: http://alife-sizecatholicblog.blogspot.com/2011/06/pay-it-forward.html

We'd love it if you want to play along! If you can't this week join us another week. Zip over and leave us a message~we'd love to hear from you!

Many blessings,

Stacy Trasancos said...

Beautiful Mark, and thank you Holly for the introduction. God bless you.

alisonwonderland said...

Yet what purpose does our light serve if it only shines in the company of those who share it?

Perfectly said. I'm glad that Holly directed me here tonight!

Mrs B said...

Hi Mark! I'm a new follower because of my good friend Holly and her new Pay It Forward meme, so I wanted to say hello and thank you for such a beautiful post.

Ive had my "issues" with organized religion over the years, but I have a deeply cherished relationship with God and I do my best to live my life in a decent, loving and compassionate way. (not always an easy task)

This is an insightful and powerful story and I'm looking forward to reading and learning more about you in the future.

~Mrs B

Mark Zellner said...

Thanks for the promo Holly! I really appreciate it!

Thanks Stacy! Happy to hear you enjoyed it!

Alisonwonderland, that's an awesome name! Thanks for stopping in.

Mrs. B, I'm glad to have you along! I hope in your search to know God that he proves himself to be everything you need.

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