Anyone who has ever spent any amount of time outdoors in the desert knows that light is a thing to be feared by those who are unprepared for the power of the sun. Modern people seldom realize that until very recently there was no possibility of any light that was no also fire. Every candle, lamp and hearth held not only light but also warmth and the terrifying power of fire. The desert sun must surely be the ultimate expression of this principle. The light of the sun gives life but it can also take it away. Those who live and those who die often are distinguished by how prepared they are to face this light.
The gospel of St. John begins with the words, ”
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2 He was in the beginning with God. 3 All things were made through Him, and without Him nothing was made that was made. 4 In Him was life, and the life was the light of men. 5 And the light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not comprehend it. 6 There was a man sent from God, whose name was John. 7 This man came for a witness, to bear witness of the Light, that all through him might believe. 8 He was not that Light, but was sent to bear witness of that Light. 9 That was the true Light which gives light to every man coming into the world.”
Later Jesus would say of the Son of Man, “He who believes in Him is not condemned; but he who does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God. 19 And this is the condemnation, that the light has come into the world, and men loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil. 20 For everyone practicing evil hates the light and does not come to the light, lest his deeds should be exposed. 21 But he who does the truth comes to the light, that his deeds may be clearly seen, that they have been done in God.”
Such light reveals all. When we encounter the True Light, it may show us things we would rather not see. If we have lived our whole life in darkness, it is tempting to think that we can make this journey in the desert by night and avoid the scorching day. Still we were not created for darkness as the slithering, creeping horrors of the night that wait in every shadow of darkness. If we are foolish enough to journey with companions such as these we do so at our own peril.
St. Paul writes to the Thessalonians, “You, brethren, are not in darkness, …You are all sons of light and sons of the day. We are not of the night nor of darkness.” So we must walk in the light and must steel ourselves to face the light. At first, we will find it more bearable to journey at the dawn and at sunset rather than face the full might of the sun until we become accustomed to its power. If we stand before the sun in our nakedness we will surely perish and burn. Yet in wisdom let us consider that grace has become a mantle covering our mortal flesh and its weakness thus enabling us to “walk uprightly as in the day.” Quickly it becomes clear that this journey in the desert will not be made on our own terms but will require wisdom and patience. We will go only as far as our strength allows and only with great difficulty and suffering. Still the devils are at our back and one path lies before us. To follow the sun wheresoever it leads, to endure its heat and to cling to what grace God may allow. This is the journey and nothing more.