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Michael J. O’LoughlinDecember 14, 2022
Photo from Unsplash.

A Reflection for the Memorial of St. John of the Cross, Priest and Doctor of the Church

Find today’s readings here.

I am the LORD, there is no other;
I form the light, and create the darkness,
I make well-being and create woe;
I, the LORD, do all these things. (Is 45:6-7)

Perhaps given the time of year, it’s a bit predictable to focus on these phrases from Isaiah. We are, after all, approaching the shortest day on the calendar. In Chicago, where I live, the sun will rise next Wednesday at 7:14am and set at 4:22pm. Sunlight for just nine hours and eight minutes.

Darkness is on my mind.

Like others preparing to endure these darker days, I’ve strung up colored bulbs, inside and out. I light candles in the afternoon and it might soon be cold enough to warrant burning wood in the fireplace. Fighting the darkness, while futile, can nonetheless be beautiful.

After I read this passage, I decided to explore what others have written about this passage. It seems many Christians are focused on the darkness and the woe, curious if God creates evil and suffering. That’s an understandable line of inquiry, but it’s not what caught my attention.

Fighting the darkness, while futile, can nonetheless be beautiful.

Instead I was drawn to the inevitable darkness that can be present at times, both physical and metaphorical.

An episode of The Americans came to mind. One of the main characters, Elizabeth, as an undercover nurse, befriends an artist. The artist, dying from cancer, explains how she approaches her charcoal drawings. All explorations of light and darkness. That’s it. Look closely, and whatever is in front of you can be broken down into light and darkness. Most people just don’t take the time to notice.

I’ve thought about that episode from time to time over the years, in moments that were vibrant with light and some that felt filled with shadow. It’s offered me a sense of balance. I’m attuned to the challenges that sometimes accompany moments of light. I’ve also been comforted in knowing that even the darker moments, if you look closely, they also contain light. And in these final, dark days before Christmas, Isaiah offers us a timely reminder of the light that awaits us.

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