Light in the Dark: A Reflection on John 9, Ephesians 5, and Julian of Norwich

Both of today’s New Testament readings for the third Sunday of Lent talk about light, a metaphor I’ve reflected quite a bit on in this space over the years, particularly in the context of the seasons of Advent, Epiphany, and Lent. It’s just such an apt image for the life of faith, with its ready associations of illumination, brightness, sight, exposure, revelation, darkness, blindness (recognizing that this metaphor has ableist implications), and so on. In the Gospel reading, Jesus gives sight to the man born blind and asserts: “I am the light of the world” (John 9.1-5). And the Epistle reading, from Ephesians, calls us “light in the Lord” and exhorts us to “Live as children of light — for the fruit of the light is good and right and true” (Ephesians 5.8-9). In this year’s Lenten series on Julian of Norwich, we’ve already seen how she realized that God was the light behind her visions, and therefore, if she would see whatever it was God wanted her to see and anything that remained obscure or dark was not for her to see. Today I’d like to look at how Julian uses the idea of God as light towards the end of her Revelations of Divine Love, which connects to both references to the image in today’s readings.

She writes:

Our faith is a light, coming in nature from our endless day, which is our Father, God; in which light our Mother, Christ, and our good Lord the Holy Spirit lead us in this passing life. This light is measured with discretion and is present to us in our need in the night. The light is the cause of our life, the night is the cause of our pain and all our woe, in which woe we deserve endless reward and thanks from God; for we by his mercy and grace willingly know and believe our light, walking therein wisely and mightily. And at the end of woe, suddenly our eyes will be opened, and in the clearness of our sight our light will be full, which light is God, our Creator, Father, and the Holy Spirit, in Christ Jesus our saviour. So I saw and understood that our faith is our light in our night, which light is God, our endless day. (Ch 83)*

Here Julian imagines life in this world as trying to walk in the dark. Not being able to see where we’re going, we grow confused and fearful. (Reminding ourselves of her parable of the servant, we could say that it’s this state of darkness that causes us to fall into the ditch and get stuck.) In this state, she imagines our faith as being like a lantern illuminating our path, and the light in the lantern is from God and is God.

The Gospel story plays with the image of light and darkness, sight and blindness in an interesting, ironic way. John sets this story up as the major catalyst for the Pharisees’ opposition to Jesus. So the marginalized and stigmatized blind man can see the light of Christ, where the privileged and sighted religious leaders cannot. But, as Paul reminds us, this light isn’t just about a one-time illumination, healing, or peak religious experience, but about living. And Julian’s image stresses this too: it’s not just light, but light to help us find our way and to keep us from stumbling in a dark world. But, again, the light is “measured with discretion” — it is a lantern, not the full light of day, which, in this image, remains inaccessible to us on this side of glory. As she clarifies in the next chapter:

This light is charity, and the measuring of this light is performed for us to our profit by the wisdom of God; for the light is not so generous that we can see clearly our blessed day, nor is it all shut off from us, but it is such a light as we can live in meritoriously, with labour deserving the honourable thanks of God. (Ch 84)

The world is unquestionably a dark place — not necessarily in the sense of ‘evil’ (though there is a lot of that), but also in the sense of obscure and confusing. It’s hard to see the path in front of us; it’s hard to know how to act when confronted with problems that are beyond our scope and ability to solve. But, as Julian reminds us, Jesus told us that he is our light, and he will illumine the path before us. And that path is not just to see, but to walk down — it’s for living. So then, let us live as children of the light, fixing our eyes on Christ, who is our Light today, tomorrow, and always. Amen.


* Unless noted, all quotes are taken from the long text of Julian or Norwich’s Revelations of Divine Love as translated and set in Julian of Norwich, Showings, translated by Edmund Colledge and James Walsh. The Classics of Western Spirituality. Mahwah, NJ: Paulist Press, 1978.

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