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The darkness did not overcome it

A conversation after Morning Prayer caused me to recalled how during this season I'd often read the Prologue chapter of William Temple's "Readings in St. John's Gospel." So, I read it again.

It was published in two parts in 1938 and 1939. Temple was writing it during the rise of fascism in Europe. Hitler has already taking segments of some countries, Franco has won in Spain, and the Saint Louis, with its Jewish refugees, was turned away from American ports. The war began on Sept 1 with the invasion of Poland. He writes it in a rather dark time. But there was also, Marian Anderson at the Lincoln Memorial, Lou Gehrig's "the luckiest man on the face of the earth" farewell speech, and the Wizard of Oz and Mr. Smith Goes to Washington.


Temple translates verses 4 and4 this way, "What came to be was Life, and the Life was the light of men, and the light shineth in the darkness and the darkness did not absorb it." Temple understands John to be saying, "The darkness in no sense at all received the light; yet the light shone still undimmed." The darkness isn't somehow made brighter by the presence of the light. "The divine light shines through the darkness of the world, cleaving it, but neither dispelling it nor quenched by it."


He sees it as a universal principle, always so. "Take any moment of history and you find light piercing unilluminated darkness...The company of those who stand in the beam of the light by which the path of true progress for that time is discerned is always small. Remember Wilberforce and the early Abolitionists; remember the twelve Apostles and the company gathered around them."


Temple hears this in it all, "And the one great question for everyone is whether he will 'walk in darkness' or 'walk in light' " (1John 1:7, 2: 10-11)


In 1963 the Church of the Advocate, Philadelphia, sent out a Christmas card created by Allan Crite.  It had been another year with a lot of darkness. George Wallace stood in the doorway of the University of Alabama, Medgar Evers is murdered, four little girls are killed in a church bombing in Birmingham, John Kennedy is assassinated, and my drill instructor tells the platoon that we're going to Vietnam (most of us couldn't find it on a map).  There was also the March of Washington, success in the Birmingham struggle, Bobby Dylan and the Beatles, and JFK's "Ich bin ein Berliner."

It was at the Advocate that I first lived the Prayer Book Pattern. That straightforward, balanced, rich ascetical discipline became my attempt to "stand in the beam of the light." That helped me, and many others, not get caught up in the progressive illusion that our generation was going to abolish evil and destroy the darkness. It also soaked us in the call to sacrifice for truth and justice.

William Temple said, “Worship is the submission of all of our nature to God. It is the quickening of the conscience by his holiness; the nourishment of mind with his truth; the purifying of imagination by his beauty; the opening of the heart to his love; the surrender of will to his purpose—all this gathered up in adoration, the most selfless emotion of which our nature is capable.” 

The parish development quest is one of shaping churches that offer an environment of holiness. A culture in which we learn to recognize and walk in the beam of the light through spiritual discipline and moral formation.