Journeys of Light and Shadow – A reflection by Sister Elizabeth Davis
Theological Reflection – Sunday, 27 January 2013
Elizabeth M. Davis is a Sister of Mercy of Newfoundland. She has enjoyed ministry in education and health care and is presently congregational leader. She is working on a doctoral thesis related to women as interpreters of Scripture.
“Reviving the soul, making wise the simple, rejoicing the heart, enlightening the eyes” – Psalm 19:7-9, using Hebrew poetry’s beautiful parallelism, describes the effects of the word of God, effects echoed in the letter to the Hebrews (4:12), “The word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword.”
In Scripture, new moments are marked by intentional reflection on God’s word. Deuteronomy contains Moses’ words which remind the Israelites about to enter the Promised Land that the word of God spoken at Sinai was not only intended for the generation who left Egypt but was intended for all generations. When the Babylonian exiles returned to Judah, “the priest Ezra brought the law before the assembly, both men and women and all who could hear with understanding” (Neh 8:2). As Jesus began his ministry in Nazareth, he went to the synagogue, “stood up to read, and the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was given to him” (Lk 4:17). He described his ministry as bringing good news to the poor, proclaiming release to the captives, letting the oppressed go free, and proclaiming the year of the Lord’s favour. After Jesus rose from the dead, Mary and Cleopas recognized him in the breaking of the bread and exclaimed, “Were not our hearts burning within us while he was talking to us on the road, while he was opening the scriptures to us? (Luke 24:32).” At Pentecost, Peter quoted from the prophet Joel, “In the last days it will be, God declares, that I will pour out my Spirit upon all flesh, and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, and your young men shall see visions, and your old men shall dream dreams. Even upon my slaves, both men and women, in those days I will pour out my Spirit; and they shall prophesy” (Acts 2:17-18).
These moments of reflection on the word of God have much in common: they happen as a new way is beginning, they highlight the need to reinterpret Scripture in every new age, the words are inclusive –meant for many persons never for one (“the people,” “men and women and all who could hear with understanding,” “the poor, the captives, the blind, the oppressed,” a married couple, “sons and daughters, young and old, slave and free”), God pours out the Spirit upon the listeners, the listeners are filled with joy, and the hearing is followed by ministry which flows from the interpretation of the word. The listeners hear, reflect and act.
As the new year 2013 unfolds, we walk in the intermingling of shadow and light seen in such happenings as the tragic deaths in Sandy Hook Elementary School, the Al-Qaeda-influenced conflict in Mali, the Idle No More movement, extreme weather causing wildfires in Australia and deep cold in Europe, the censure of two women theologians, a continuing fragile world economy, a second term for President Obama in the United States, the canonization of Kateri Tekakwitha, the naming of Hildegard of Bingen as Doctor of the Church, a new word entering our vocabulary (“degrowth” as a new way to measure human progress), and the likely discovery of the Higgs Boson, the “God particle!”
This Sunday the reading of God’s word invites each of us to reflect. With whom am I walking in this journey of light and shadow? What word of God causes my heart to burn? Which prophets am I open to hearing? With whom, to whom and about what am I prophesying? To whom am I bringing good news? How am I helping the oppressed go free? How are the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart (Ps 19:14) bringing new meaning, here and now, to the word of God? As a member of the body of Christ, have I been appointed by God as apostle, prophet, teacher, healer, helper, leader, miracle worker or interpreter (see 1 Cor 12)?
Mary Oliver, in her poem “What I Have Learned So Far”, reminds us what the active and living word of God means:
Meditation is old and honorable, so why should I
not sit, every morning of my life, on the hillside,
looking into the shining world? Because, properly
attended to, delight, as well as havoc, is suggestion.
Can one be passionate about the just, the
ideal, the sublime, and the holy, and yet commit
to no labor in its cause? I don’t think so.
All summations have a beginning, all effect has a
story, all kindness begins with the sown seed.
Thought buds toward radiance. The gospel of
light is the crossroads of – indolence, or action.
Be ignited, or be gone.
As we listen this Sunday to the word of God, let us rejoice in the gospel of light! Let our hearts burn within us! Let us be ignited!
 Mary Oliver, “What I Have Learned So Far,” in New and Selected Poems (Boston, MA: Beacon Press, 2005), II:57.