Leaning into Light


Day unto day takes up the story and night unto night makes known the message. ~Psalms 19:2

It had been weeks since the last time it was warm enough to walk—a relative statement since it was only twenty degrees outside. I discovered my boots leaked while I walked along Leeward Drive. I stepped around slush puddles as best I could.

My cheeks and nose tingled from the cold. Today the sun had finally come out, and with all the snow it was blinding. The amount of snowfall since mid December set a record. Not only had there been a lot of snow, but nearly every day for the past month had been overcast. I wanted to feel the sun’s rays on my face, not filtered through glass.

Sunlight is important for us and the same is true for plants. Like houseplants, I too can become dull and stressed from an unusually dark winter.

There are specific terms for how plants respond to light. The one we are most familiar with is photosynthesis. This is how the plant absorbs sunlight, and through a series of metabolic processes, grows. Even when sufficient water and nutrients are present, without light plants die.

One houseplant that makes it obvious when light is low is the Maranta. It exhibits a photonastic response to light by folding its leaves together—and this is how it got its common name, Prayer Plant. This response to the lessening of light is also true of Oxalis (shamrocks), and the flowers of tulips and South African gazania. When light dims, they fold.

When a lot of houseplants are crowded around a window we see a directional movement—stems and leaves bend toward the sun. Growing towards the light is called phototropism.

There is another way plants move in response to light. Heliotropism is a plant’s ability to follow the sun across the sky. We see this occurring in the rotating heads of the sunflower. The sunflower’s botanical name is Helianthus, from Greek comes helios, for sun.

Of all the plant responses resulting from light, the one I was most fascinated with as a grower was photoperiodicity. It signals the plant what season it is and when to flower…and ultimately set fruit. Photoperiodism is the specific duration of light—long day/short night or long night/short day—needed for a plant to set bud. A familiar plant that needs long nights to color up is the poinsettia. The longer days of summer allows the carnation and bellflower to flower, as well as oats and clover. In both situations—long day or long night—light duration is essential.

The parables I find with light are as familiar to me as the Bible’s parables of seeds and soil. And evoke as many questions as to who am I as a Christian.

How do we grow in the Light of Christ? Do we fold up when God does not feel near? When we turn toward the Light, are we so focused on it that we become lopsided and turn our backs on our world? Can we, like the sunflower, be attentive to the Light and follow it throughout our day? Do we in our long nights wait for the Light? In our long days do we trust there will be rest?

We are illumined by the light of the Gospels. I pray that the Light of Christ is always felt and followed. That we continue to grow and bear spiritual fruits. And in our days we carry the Light, in our nights console those in darkness.

Image by Marge Steinhage Fenelon,  copyright 2018, all rights reserved. Permission granted, 2019.

Bending Holy Light


The upstairs windows are washed, and the glass and crystal tchotchkes on the top of the sash and sill have been wiped off. Looking out, I notice the seventy-foot maple in the neighbor’s yard is tipped in dark red. Within a week, it will flash its fall color, a glowing dark-orange that will illuminate my room.

In front of the east window, hanging from the curtain rod just below the valance is a nylon string with clear multi-faceted prisms and hand-made beads. Dozens of vibrant rainbows are drifting across the butter-yellow walls in the gabled room. The prisms are bending the crisp autumn sunlight into these splashes of color, and my office feels bright, cheery and warmed.

I have been working on a manuscript for a new book and find myself reflecting on the Fruits of the Spirit, and there are twelve: charity, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, generosity, gentleness, faithfulness, modesty, self-control, and chastity (CCC1832). I see the Fruits of the Spirit in much the same way as the colors resulting from the prism in my window.

When sunlight enters into the prism and bends as it exits, a rainbow is seen. In this rainbow, I see an analogy: we are the prism in which God bends himself, his Holy Spirit, through us.

We have read in the Bible, in both Romans 12:6-8 and 1 Corinthians 12:4-12, how each of us has unique gifts but are all of one body. Depending on how we are gifted by his design, and shaped by our rearing, we will change or bend the light of God’s Holy Spirit, dispersing his Light into spiritual colors through faith, hope, and charity, the virtues that are infused into our souls.

We are mentally and spiritually altered when we realize the Light of God is within us. With this awareness, we interact in a new way to the people around us. Those who see this light, or spiritual fruitfulness in us, may also be changed. They may open their hearts to the Light, and, once open, they too become a prism revealing the warmth and brightness of faith.

I think God wants us to be spiritually radiant, to bring his Light into a world grown dim. In order to be, as Gandhi said, the change we wish to see in the world, we first need to accept how we are changed to reveal the spectrum of this Holy Light.

I delight when I see colors and how they play about in my world, and I find joy in the colors of God’s Light. You, dear reader, are part of that glow.

Image Pixabay.com, CCO Creative Commons



Darkness and Light, Catholic Photo Challenge

Image by Margaret Rose Realy, Obl. OSB. All rights reserved.

The Catholic Photo Challenge this week is about darkness and light.

Most living things experience a passage from darkness to light. Whether it is in the womb of the body or the womb of the earth, germination takes place in the absence of light. A seed is planted in the dark soil, and with minimal effort on our part, it grows.

It is awe-inspiring when we realize that God chose the things of the earth to express Himself to us. From the simplest thing of a garden, the seed, comes the greatest revelation. It is from the grain of wheat and the seed of grapes that we receive bread and wine, bread to nourish and wine to gladden (Ps. 104:14-15).  Both are essential: the bread of life and fruit of the vine, the Body and Blood of Christ—Eucharist. From that tiny light in a seed to the startling Light of God at Communion, we hear at every Mass “light from light.”

The Divine Seed, Jesus, like most seeds, germinated in the dark. He germinated in the darkness of Mary’s womb, and grew a religion from a blackened tomb in the earth.

We understand darkness. We were born from a place without light, and our earth was formed out of darkness. Much like the seed to which the absence of light is essential to set root and grow, we too have an inner need for darkness. Without the experience of darkness we would not recognize light. Our roots of belief grow in the fact that Jesus rose from the darkness of his Passion. He rose from an earthen tomb. We sprout and develop faith, our light drawn to His light. We bear fruit by being nourished and fed by that which came from the earth—wheat and grapes, bread and wine. And with seeds from the Fruits of the Spirit we plant kernels of goodness and pray that these seeds too will germinate and take root.


(Excerpt from Cultivating God’s Garden through Lent, Holy Thursday)

Lasers and Light

The furnace barely kept up. It ran almost constantly on Sunday as winter winds blew and made the awnings shudder and groan.

The kettle of chicken-vegetable soup simmered. Rice, carrots, and celery gently rolled to the top as I stood beside the stove and contemplatively watched the gentle bubbling. The steam incensed the kitchen—and all the house—with its aroma. 

I delight in making soups. All that was unfavorable and leftover can be brought together into a vital whole. For a single woman, a kettle of soup will nourish for weeks once frozen. More often than not, it is shared.

The happiness of cooking was short lived when exhaustion weighed in after I had prepped vegetables and pulled chicken from the bone. I sat hard on the sofa and leaned heavily into the pillows. The arthritic ache if my spine drained me physically and mentally. I’m not good at holding up well in adversity and whispered “Lord, have mercy.” 

A laser treatment on my spine a few days ago broke down restricting tissue to allow for more flexibility. The procedure was uncomfortable, but tolerated knowing better movement would result. The days that followed were filled with an unrelenting achiness, similar to overexerted muscles from gardening, but flexibility was definitely improved. 

It is the “daily” of it all that tries my patience. Things like having to make several trips up and down two flights of stairs because I can no longer carry a full basket of laundry. Then the feeling of guilt for lacking gratitude in that I have clothes enough for a full basket, laundry equipment to clean them, and legs strong enough to climb multiple flights of stairs. 

The same guilt rises when I grumble doing household chores in my tiny flat. There are only four warm and cheery rooms. Still I mutter under my breath about changing bedding, dusting furniture, and cleaning up pet hair. Sometimes I think God must see me as a fussy three year old needing a nap. 

I had been doing my best to adjust to a new normal. Grateful for the laser treatment and being a bit more limber, I offered up the discomfort as I worked my way through chores. But by Sunday I was spent.

There is a fine line between acceptance and resignation—or hopelessness—and I was about to cross it. That line is drawn with trust that God is near and in control, especially in the struggle.

On Monday morning I had an appointment and was slow to get out of bed. The delay meant there was not time enough to ease into my day with coffee and prayers. It was below zero that morning and the car engine was rough to start, and I thought “yeah, me too.” 

The heavy clouds and naked trees did nothing to improve my mood. Slumping towards the steering wheel, hands at 10 and 2, I looked and felt like I was 90 as I drove off into town. Leafless black-limbed trees whizzed past in a blur. 

Cresting a small hill I saw the fullness of a red and coral sunrise that had been hidden behind the woodlands. I saw in the distance a sunbeam on a small patch of dormant trees. Maybe only a dozen or so that was a vivid crimson in the band of light. 

The light on their dark limbs sparked in me a desiring. I hoped as I drove down the road that the light remained long enough that I would enter into its rays. There was a restlessness in me to move toward the Kindly Light, and I saw a need to maintain that restlessness when I felt distance from the comforting love of God.