“You are the light of the world.” Matthew 5:14
I woke late, well after dawn. Still, I walked up the hill to the park above our house and sat for a while in prayer and meditation. It was a turning point on the calendar, the first day of a new year. What would I do with it? Having asked the question, I laughed at myself. Did I mean what would I do with the new day or with the new year?
I had plans for the new year. I would write a book. But I cannot write a book in a year or even in a decade. I can only write a book—or a few words—today. So, sitting there in the park, I began.
The book will be a love song. An ode, an homage, a paean, a hymn to the beauties God has placed in my life. So on New Year’s Day, I began. I wrote the first words. The sun had just found its way through the clouds and swept its dazzling brush across the waves of Elliot Bay creating a carpet of dancing light. I had to use my imagination to see the graceful bulk of Mt. Rainier hiding in the clouds to the south and the jagged outline of the Cascades to the north. Still, even in imagination, they were lovely.
Then I turned my attention to the city, the downtown skyscrapers and Space Needle, and then to the humanity they represented.
I thought of a Google engineer. I recalled his shy smile. His indispensable, behind-the-scenes faithfulness at home and church. I lingered in admiration for this human being, this son of God, this father, this brilliant engineer. I marveled at his role in making the world we live in. I prayed for him a happy new year, for success at work and happiness at home. I gave thanks for his friendship and for him.
The cello teacher. And violin and piano teachers. They also came to my mind. Week after week. Year after year. Patiently coaching their students, creating generations of music makers who charm our lives with their art and fire. I recalled my own years of effort toward making music before becoming fully at home in the realization that music was a gift I could receive but not something I could make. I cannot imagine living without music, and I cannot create it. So, I am utterly and happily dependent on the guild of music teachers and their students. I rejoice in the grand hymns in church and the haunting ballads and sweet love songs I listen to in the night. I began this new year by praying for the music teachers and music students and composers and guitar builders and the people who make clarinets. And in my praying, I took delight in contemplating their work and their art. Thank you, God.
That morning in the park, as I do every morning, I gave affectionate, astonished attention to mothers, especially the mothers of special needs kids. I was astonished again, as I am every morning, at their tenacity and fierceness, battling professionals and institutions and nature itself, to make a better life for their child. I tasted just a bit of their weariness, their aching hope. I wondered at their incomprehensible affection. I sat in awe and tears. These are my people. Our people. One of the greatest wonders.
My mind turned to teenagers I know, young people full of promise. The athletes and charmers. The brilliant students. The shy ones. I delighted in their life and vitality, recalling with laughing pleasure their boisterousness, their poise and grace, their hunger to solve problems and build empires. I knew the delight of their parents in their achievements. I tasted the dread and fear of their parents as they wandered sometimes close to the edge of disaster. These kids—they, too, are us.
I spent long minutes in contemplation of several friends in despair. How do we label their difficulties? Bad luck? The curse of God? Is God merely absent or asleep? I am speechless in these moments of contemplation. I can find no words adequate for the enormity of their disappointments. I feel their frustration with God and wonder how I would cope if I faced the same loss, the same impossibilities, the same devastation. I will return to my contemplation of beauty. But I do not hurry there. Not yet. I linger here with my people who hurt, my people who cannot see the light, who cannot hear the music, my people whose faith is nearly smothered by the weight of debt, disease, grief, or anxiety. I am called to love them where they are. To come close to them. And I do. For a long while.
Then, I give my attention again to the glory on display in front of me. I watch the sparkles on the water of Elliot Bay. I savor the shafts of light radiating through the clouds. I pray to be so full of glory, so full of light, that as I come close to my hurting world, I will bring some hint of glory, some glimmer of light.
That would be enough for the new year.
John McLarty was senior pastor at Green Lake Church in Seattle when he wrote this. He is now retired, and is, among other things, a leader in Talking Rocks Tours.