This past weekend I visited the Getty Museum for the first time in a long time. There was one painting that stopped me in my tracks. It wasn’t from Rembrandt or Van Gogh. It was a canvas from a fellow Dutchman named Pieter de Hooch. The painting was a very simple scene that depicted a mother preparing a piece of bread with butter on it for her son. It wasn’t the colors or the composition, the details or the textures, or even the subjects' faces that caught my attention. What stopped me in my tracks was the light.
I noticed the light shining on the open door from far across the gallery and it drew me in to get a closer look. I didn’t even notice how dark most of the painting was because I was so overtaken by the beauty of the golden light. The light was so compelling that it actually brought about a sense of warmth in me. It looked as if the morning sun was literally shining through the back of this canvas. I was blown away that someone could capture light in such a pure, authentic, and warm manner.
What I would like to do in this short reflection is make one simple claim: This painting reveals how the rising independence of the Dutch Reformed Church in the 17th century challenged the cultural and societal norms surrounding domestic life and child-rearing, which reveals significant cultural developments in the Dutch Republic that impact the quest for autonomy among Gen Z in our 21st century American culture [everyone sighs]. Don’t worry, that was a joke. I am no art critic so I wouldn’t even know where to start to make that sort of argument. I'm just imagining some really smart art historian saying something like that :)
Here is my actual takeaway: despite the fact that most of this painting is dominated by shadows and darkness, I was drawn in by the slivers of light. The light captivated my attention.
This simple experience I had at the Getty reminded me of the many references to light in scripture. In fact, in the NIV there are over 250 references to “light.” In case it’s been a little while since you’ve meditated on this beautiful imagery, let me jog your memory with a few scriptures. Holy Spirit, come and open our minds to your reality as we meditate on your word.
“You, Lord, keep my lamp burning; my God turns my darkness into light” (Psalm 18:28)
“The Lord is my light and my salvation—whom shall I fear?” (Psalm 27:1)
“Even in darkness, light dawns for the upright, for those who are gracious and compassionate and righteous” (Psalm 112:4)
“Your word is a lamp for my feet, a light on my path” (Psalm 119:105)
“The unfolding of your words gives light; it gives understanding to the simple” (Psalm 119:130)
“I saw that wisdom is better than folly, just as light is better than darkness” (Ecclesiastes 2:13)
“He reveals mysteries from the darkness and brings the deep darkness into light” (Job 12:22)
“Though I have fallen, I will rise. Though I sit in darkness, the LORD will be my light” (Micah 7:8)
“In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven” (Matthew 5:16)
“The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it” (John 1:5)
[Jesus] said, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life” (John 8:12)
“I have come into the world as a light so that no one who believes in me should stay in darkness” (John 12:46)
“For you were once darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Live as children of light (for the fruit of the light consists in all goodness, righteousness, and truth) and find out what pleases the Lord” (Ephesians 5:8-10)
“But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s special possession, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light” (1 Peter 2:9)
“The city does not need the sun or the moon to shine on it, for the glory of God gives it light, and the Lamb is its lamp” (Revelation 21:23)
Just in case you skimmed through this list, I’d encourage you to go back and read through it once more. Go slow. Ask the Lord to draw your attention to just one of these scriptures and hold on to it in your mind. If you’re setting permits, you could even try reading these scriptures out loud.
When I went through this meditation practice, the verse that surfaced for me was this: “Even in darkness, light dawns for the upright, for those who are gracious and compassionate and righteous.”
Even in the darkness…
Even in the darkness, the light of Jesus breaks through. Even in the darkness, the light will overcome. Even in the darkness, the light of our Lord brings warmth. Even in the darkness, the light exposes what’s true. Even in the darkness, the light is making things grow. Even in the darkness, the light is setting people free. Even in the darkness, the light cannot be shut out. Even in the darkness, Jesus—the one true light—is present.
This past week I had multiple conversations with people in our Baseline community where the spirit of the conversation was a bit glum. For good reason too. The people I was interacting with were using words like “bummed,” “discouraged,” and “tired.” After 18 months of pandemic life, I have come to a place where I actually expect people to feel this way. These feelings seem to be the norm rather than the exception to the rule. And it makes sense. COVID numbers are rising. Guidelines have become more restrictive again. People are sick. Events are being canceled. Some are still out of work. There simply is a lot of darkness in our world right now.
I personally have felt like it’s easy to be very overwhelmed by this darkness. That’s why this painting felt like a prophetic sign of hope. It was a physical reminder that the light is more powerful than the darkness. Remember, it was the light that drew me in. It was the small bit of light that captivated me. I barely noticed the sea of shadows that took up most of the canvas. Even in the darkness of this painting, I felt a sense of warmth. I think that was possible because my eyes were glued to the light.
When it comes to our lives with Christ, we are invited to fix our gaze on the light. Even in the darkness, we can shift our focus towards the light. Sometimes all it takes is just tilting our heads ever so slightly. Sometimes it’s just saying a simple prayer in the morning when we first wake up. Or meditating on a scripture and asking God to reveal himself to us. Or opening our hearts to close friend. Or sitting with God in silence for five minutes in the middle of a workday. This is how the light of Christ breaks into our lives and warms our spirits even in the darkness.