Return to the light


This week, at the invitation of my friend Doug, I attended a celebration of light, held in the sanctuary at a local hospital. It was a simple and beautiful ceremony, where people from several different spiritual traditions were invited to light their candles from the same source candle and then share a short piece about what light means in their tradition.

The Hindu person spoke about Diwali, the festival of lights, the Jewish person spoke about the lighting of the menorah, the Indigenous elder spoke about how they honour Grandfather Sun and Grandmother Moon, and so on. After all of the candles were lit, they passed the light around the room to all of us, each of us lighting another person’s small taper candle. We stood together with our candles lit, singing John Lennon’s Imagine.

Imagine there’s no countries
It isn’t hard to do
Nothing to kill or die for
And no religion too
Imagine all the people
Living life in peace…

The richness of the simple ceremony left me with my own imagining.

Imagine the light

Imagine a circle of peace, each of us with different beliefs bearing light for each other.
Imagine Muslims standing with Christians, Jews standing with Hindus – all of us standing together to bear light for those who would rather spread darkness.
Imagine all light coming from the same Source, with none of us owning it but all of us taking responsibility for passing it on.
Imagine all of us working every day to dispel the darkness for others.
Imagine never protecting our own light, but passing it freely to others, believing that their light does not diminish our own.

In the Northern Hemisphere, we will soon celebrate Winter Solstice, when the earth begins to tilt the other direction again and the light returns. Whether or not you are in this hemisphere, I invite you to consider how you wish to welcome light back into your life during this season.

How do you open yourself to Source to receive the light? How do you choose to live as a light-bearer? How do you pass your light on to others? How do you receive the light that others pass to you?

Your light doesn’t have to light the whole world – it simply has to light the space three feet around you. Pass it on to the next person and see how quickly the room fills with light.

“Darkness cannot drive out darkness: only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate: only love can do that.”  ― Martin Luther King Jr

War – What is it Good For? (A guest post in honour of International Day of Peace)

I’m proud to say that I come from a long line of pacifists. My Mennonite ancestors decided that they would rather seek peace than participate in war and that became a tenement of our faith.

Uncle Menno with his granddaughter

Not only do I have pacifist blood running through my veins, but I have lots of models in my family tree of how to live justly, humbly and with mercy. One of those models is my Uncle Menno, a man who has spent most of his adult life serving people in various African countries. (He currently lives in Nairobi, Kenya with his wife Lydia.)

When I first considered entering the field of international development, I visited my Uncle Menno for wise words of advice. I deeply respect the wisdom he has gained in his lifelong commitment to living out his faith by serving to make the world a more just and peaceful place.

Today, in honour of the International Day of Peace, I’m posting a piece that Uncle Menno wrote.

War – What is it Good For?

by Menno Plett

I’m sitting here enjoying a cup of tea from a mug we received in Zimbabwe many years ago. On the mug is a dove, with the inscription Let There Be Peace. As I work at my computer, I’m listening to the hauntingly beautiful voice of Joan Baez, singing Bob Dylan’s song, With God on our Side.

As I sit here alone, listening to the words of the song, reflecting on the state of the world, our place in it, and more specifically, what we have dedicated our life to, I begin to cry.

Here are the words, written by Dylan in 1963, at the height of the Vietnam War.

Oh my name it is nothin’
My age it means less
The country I come from
Is called the Midwest
I’s taught and brought up there
The laws to abide
And the land that I live in 
Has God on its side.
Oh the history books tell it
They tell it so well
The cavalries charged
The Indians fell
The cavalries charged
The Indians died
Oh the country was young
With God on its side.
The Spanish-American
War had its day
And the Civil War too
Was soon laid away
And the names of the heroes
Are us to memorize
With guns in their hands
And God on their side.
Well the First World War, boys
It came and it went 
And The reason for fighting
I never did get
But I learned to accept it
And Accept it with pride
For you don’t count the dead
When God’s on your side.
And Second World War
It Came to an end
We forgave the Germans
And called them our friends
Though they murdered six million
In the ovens they fried
Now The Germans now too
Have God on their side.
For I’ve learned to hate Russians
All through my whole life
If another war comes
It’s them we must fight
To hate them and fear them
To run and to hide
And accept it all bravely
With God on my side.
But now we got weapons
Of the chemical dust 
(And) it fire them we’re forced to
Then fire them we must
One push of the button
And a shot the world wide
And you never ask questions
When God’s on your side.
For many dark hours
I thought about this
That Jesus Christ
Was betrayed by a kiss
But I can’t think for you
You’ll have to decide
Whether Judas Iscariot
Had God on his side.
And now as I’m leavin’
I’m weary as Hell
The confusion I’m feelin’
Ain’t no tongue can tell
The words fill my head
They fall to the floor
As God is on our side
He’ll stop the next war.

This song holds a lot of meaning for me. The title refers to Paul’s Epistle to the Romans in the first century, “If God is for us, who can be against us?”, written in a context of intense persecution, referencing Jesus’ victory through death. This statement has then been reinterpreted through the centuries in the context of war.

So why cry? My emotions well up within me when I think of the futility of war, and the devastation suffered by millions over the years. The song I’m listening to points out the absurdity of rationalizing that God picks sides. We have somehow convinced ourselves that our colour, our ethnicity, our nationality, our religion, our position in life, is in some way more special in God’s eyes than the colour, ethnicity, nationality and religion of others. The same God who created all men in his image cannot recognize these man made distinctions.

We have spent the better part of our life working with people who have suffered from war; working with people who have experienced death, loss and injury; working with people who are picking up the pieces after war.

I think of working alongside people in Liberia, Sierra Leone, Wau in South Sudan, Darfur in North Sudan, Rwanda and the DRC. I remember, too, working with First Nations people confined to reservations in Northern Canada, and those locked in cycles of poverty in affluent Canadian cities – a reminder of what we have done to a people who were once hunting and trapping freely in our vast and rich land.

Currently our attention is riveted on the Horn of Africa, which is suffering a terrible drought, made worse in Somalia by ongoing clan fighting, leaving millions with no place to go for safety.

So what is the point of war, really? What good is it? Who gains? For a properly researched response, we would need to look at each war in turn to come up with the answers to those questions. We know that a few gain immensely from war, but the masses lose.

Wars are too often about religion. Christians fighting Muslims. Muslim sects fighting each other. Dare I say Christians attacking and killing ‘fellow’ Christians? My own people were martyred by the thousands in far off Europe, for departing from the strictures and theology of state-sanctioned churches. Our people interpreted scripture in a way that was not accepted by the political and church powers of the day, and this resulted in efforts to exterminate them.

So where does all this leave me as I sit here alone, in Nairobi, crying for a broken world?

Tonight I am anticipating the arrival of our children and their dear one year old daughter (our only and most special granddaughter), and I am determined as ever to continue living a life that promotes peace and not war. In spite of what I have seen, in spite of peoples’ failure to live in peace, I want to live a life that exudes hope. I want my life to reflect my desire to promote life and not death.

I want to continue working with people who are promoting peace, not war. I want to continue working with people who are helping relieve suffering from war. I want to continue assisting people who suffer from others’ aggression.

I want to continue working for a better world, as naïve as that may sound. But why? Well, it is a response to God’s call on my life. It is for the sake of our children and our granddaughter. That is what I have been called to do. That is what we have all been called to do, wherever we are and whatever we are involved with. For the sake of all that is good, for the sake of God who gives us meaning and purpose, for your own sake and the sake of those whose lives you touch, I urge you to work and live for life, not death.

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