“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
A.J. Cronin, a Scottish physician, and novelist, tells of traveling through the European continent immediately after the Second World War and encountering the terrible destruction there. He came to the romantic, once beautiful city of Vienna and was stunned by what he saw. The destruction was so complete.
And as he moved through the ruined streets of that city, he felt deep resentment beginning to build up within him. He was downright angry that such terrible desolation could have occurred in such a magnificent place. He began to curse the darkness which had caused it all.
It was late afternoon. A freezing rain was falling. And in order to take refuge for just a few moments from the elements, Cronin stepped into the door of a little church, a church which somehow had managed to escape severe damage.
And as he stood there, he watched as a shabbily dressed old man walked through the door of that church and inside. He was carrying in his arms a little girl. She looked to be about six years old, and it was obvious to Cronin that she was terribly crippled. The old man carried the little girl over to the altar rail, and there, he helped her to kneel down in front of the altar, and then he knelt beside her.
Then the old man took a coin, and he dropped it into a box, and he took a candle and lit it. He took that single candle and handed it to the little girl. She took it in her hands, and for a few moments there, she just held the candle in front of her looking at the flame.
Cronin noticed that the light from that candle illuminated a look of sheer pleasure on her face. Then the two of them prayed for a few moments. Then they placed the candle up on the altar, leaving it burning, and they got up. The old man picked up the little girl, and they turned to walk away. Cronin walked up to them at that point and stopped them.
Looking at the little girl, he addressed the question to the old man. “Did this happen in the war?” And the old man replied, “Yes, I’m her grandfather. The same bomb that did this to her killed her mother and her father.”
Cronin said, “Do you come here often?” And the old man said, “Yes. Oh, yes. We come here every day, every single day to pray. You see, we want our gracious God to know that we are not angry with him.”
The old man then turned and walked out the door. But Cronin didn’t leave. Instead, he walked back to the altar and stood for a long while in front of that single candle burning brightly.
It was later on that he wrote these words, “It was just one little candle burning in the midst of a ruined city. But somehow, the light of that one candle gave me hope for the world.”
The Quakers say, “It is far better to light a candle than to curse the darkness.”
And there’s a lot of darkness in this world of ours.
There is the darkness of sin and evil. There is war and disease and death. There is hatred and poverty and despair. There is sexual abuse and racism. There are many people who are willing to curse that darkness.
But whenever God’s people gather to pray, we are lighting a candle in a dark, dark world.
In our cultural moment, there is a palpable fear that conservative Christianity is losing its ability to influence our culture. Part of the seduction of Christian Nationalism is that it promises to take America back to a time of conservative stability. I think that presupposition assumes that America is the new Israel—God’s nation. But what if we aren’t Israel? What if America is Babylon or ancient Rome? It was a dangerous thing to practice your faith openly under those regimes.
What can a faithful follower of Jesus do if we are living in a strange land?
Darkness is nothing but the absence of light and it can never extinguish a single flame. But a single flame diminishes even the blackest of nights. And when we pray, we bring a flicker of hope because we welcome the gentle presence of God into this obsidian world. And no one can stop us from doing that.
I love what Eugene Peterson says about the undermining nature of prayer,
“Prayer is subversive activity. It involves a more or less act of defiance against any claim by the current regime. . . . [As we pray,] slowly but surely, not culture, not family, not government, not job, not even the tyrannous self can stand against the quiet power and creative influence of God’s sovereignty. Every natural tie of family and race, every willed commitment to person and nation is finally subordinated to the rule of God.”
Every morning I utter borrowed prayers, wordless prayers, and words for family and friends. I lift to heaven situations and sorrows that I don’t know what to do with into the incandescent presence of the One who said He was the light of the world. In fact, sometimes I just say, “Lord, I give you this day because I don’t know what else to do with it.”
When I do that, I am lighting a candle in my corner of the world.
This little light of mine, I’m gonna let it shine.
Great story. And yes our prayer lights a light in the darkness. Needed reminder. Thank you.