Over the desk in my study I have a picture taken by Gordon Converse, who for more than 40 years served this newspaper as a photographer. It is a striking black-and-white photograph of his daughter Debbie when just a child, running along a gleaming driveway through the woods near their home.
Debbie is in silhouette. Her feet are flying as she hurls herself into the slanting rays of a rising sun. Her much taller shadow is trailing behind her, but in her eagerness to reach the light, she hasn't even thought of looking back.
That photograph shines with a message I cherish. When we are walking - or running, like Debbie - toward the light, shadows seldom frighten us. It is only when we look back that we might feel threatened by the shadows of darkness, fear, evil. They are most quickly and effectively dispelled from thought and life by spiritual light. This comes from a fuller understanding of God.
I vividly recall a time when shadows were cast across our yard by tensions with our neighbors. We happened to be English, and they happened to be German.
They were upset over criticism they said we had voiced in the neighborhood over the way they were bringing up their children. Somehow this had been distorted into hints of child abuse, and these rumors were being fueled by their youngest son as a form of protest at his parents' fair but firm discipline. The fact was, we had praised their approach to child-rearing, especially their commitment to discipline.
Clearly, both families needed to be turned toward the light - beginning with us! We turned to the Bible - not for vindication of our innocence or even for comfort - but for a better grasp of God's laws, which had always brought us healing answers. These laws are helpfully described in Psalm 19: "The law of the Lord is perfect, reviving the soul. The statutes of the Lord are trustworthy, making wise the simple. The precepts of the Lord are right, giving joy to the heart. The commands of the Lord are radiant, giving light to the eyes" (New International Version).
Two of these commands, says the Apostle John, are "to believe in the name of his [God's] Son, Jesus Christ, and to love one another as he commanded us" (NIV, I John 3:23). With this in mind, we posed some tough questions to ourselves:
"Although the accusations seem unfair, are we being as loving as we are commanded to be? Do we really need more than the wisdom, joy, and light that are already flowing to us from God? Do we have the right to see our neighbors in any light but that in which the Father sees us all? After all, doesn't Genesis say, 'And God saw every thing that he had made, and, behold, it was very good'?"
The Monitor's founder, Mary Baker Eddy, made these firm suggestions: "Strive for self-abnegation, justice, meekness, mercy, purity, love. Let your light reflect Light" ("Miscellaneous Writings," pg. 154). The capital L makes it clear that it is God's light that dispels mental darkness.
That was just the illumination we needed! We took out a recipe for Apfelkuchen (German apple cake). It's time-consuming to make, but that labor of love gave us an opportunity to rid ourselves of feelings of self-righteousness, indignation, injustice, and to dwell on the meekness, mercy, and purity that our neighbors had often expressed toward us.
Several hours later, I called their younger son to the yard fence, using the secret neighborhood whistle the kids had invented. I handed him the cake and a card with a loving message in it.
Within minutes I saw his mother hurrying across the lawn that linked our properties. Her eyes were shining. And as she hugged us in gratitude, we knew that the shadows of inharmony were gone.
We corresponded for several years after both our families had left that neighborhood and settled in different countries abroad. And whenever I recalled those friends, I thought of a passage in Paul's letter to the Ephesians: "For ye were sometimes darkness, but now are ye light in the Lord: walk as children of light" (5:8).
Our darkness hadn't lasted long. And from that day, we didn't just walk toward the light. Like Debbie, we ran!
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