You are an egret on a gloomy day in the San Joaquin Valley.
Which, for me at that very particular moment, felt the same as, â€œYou are the light of the world.â€
On a recent morning, Iâ€™d read the snippet from Matthew on â€œthe light of the world,â€ a passage Iâ€™ve used with sermons, Bible study, andâ€”in deeply private waysâ€”for my prayer life.
Hours later, while pedaling through a park, I glanced right, abruptly squeezed my brakes, and came to a complete stop. An egret stood, still as a statue, in the middle of the field. Behind, vehicles rumbled by on a busy street. Beyond the roadway, suburban homes sprawled, backyards jammed together, and endless driveways poured more cars into the Fresno-area roads. Above and around me, low clouds dulled the day, creating a vase expanse of monotonous, relentless gray.
The 5th Sunday of Epiphany â€“ for February 6, 2011
â€œYou are the light of the world. A city built on a hill cannot be hid.â€ (Matthew 5:14)
The egret, a magnificent bird with feathers as white as fresh snow, remained immobile. It seemed, in that dreary cold, like â€œthe light of the world.â€
Alive. Glowing. Phosphorus.
I stood, watching. I pray for my faith to be that bright. That metaphor. That truth. To be, if only for a handful of others, if only once or twice in a lifetime, alive and glowing and phosphoric enough so that those others may see my, in Matthewâ€™s words, â€œgood works and give glory to your Father in heaven.â€
I wish all of us would remember that we are the light of the world, that we are called to shine forth with beauty and mercy. Itâ€™s awful hard these days to â€œshine forthâ€ with the divides between red states and blue states, liberals and conservatives, angry Biblical literalists and people like Christopher Hitchens and his God Is Not Great atheism. On too many days, the world seems roiling with hate and spoiling for a fight. What difference can I make? What difference can you make?
After my early morning read of Matthew, but before Iâ€™d witnessed the egretâ€™s brilliance, Iâ€™d watched a segment of NBCâ€™s Today Show. Mostly I used the broadcast for background noise while stretching muscles before bicycling. And there loomed Glenn Beck, hyping a newly published book. Meredith Vieira, one of Todayâ€™s hosts, pushed Beck to explain his (and others) recent vitriol over the Tucson shooting. Now, I should be forthright here . . . Iâ€™m no Glenn Beck fan. On the one hand, I donâ€™t think any of Beckâ€™s wordsâ€”and he can loud and divisiveâ€”prompted the young man to shoot Representative Gabrielle Giffords. I suspect, as more information surfaces, weâ€™ll learn that the killer of six innocent lives was mentally unstable. But the other hand exists, and the other hand often seems squeezed into a fist because many like Beck (on the â€œrightâ€ or â€œleftâ€) intentionally create a gloomy, angry environment.
Beck, responding to Vieira, made a startling admission. In my biased view, he revealed something about himself rarely expressed in the right vs. left verbal attacks. Below is a clip from the January 19 program. (If you watch it, fast-forward to minute six and listen through minute seven.) Beck defends his divisive verbiage with two examples. He asked Vieira if what he has said is any different than whatâ€™s found on Jon Stewart or the Simpsons. Wow. Wow again! Jon Stewart, who in some polls is more trusted as a â€œnewscasterâ€ than the anchors on the alphabet networks, is nonetheless a comedian. His show airs on The Comedy Channel. The venerable Simpsons, which for decades has cast a relevant and irreverent eye toward culture, is nonetheless a cartoon. Stewartâ€™s Daily Show and the Simpsons are entertainment. Did Beck admit he too is entertainment?
As Beck himself noted in the interview, â€œlines have become very blurredâ€ in how viewers experience the information dumped onto them every second on television, the Internet, and beyond. And yet maybe I didnâ€™t really understand what Beck meant. But, liberal or conservative, libertarian or contrarian, I weary of the hate around me. I weary of entertainers casting darkness before them.
The egret remained, motionless, sublime. How can animals do that?
Would I have been as stunned with the birdâ€™s beauty had I not just listened to Glenn Beck defend his angry perspective because it wasnâ€™t that much different than other comedians? I donâ€™t know. And I certainly donâ€™t know how to stop the apparently endless fury of finger-pointing and blame-hurling. I also certainly have no ideaâ€”with apologies to the egret and its fellow birdsâ€”what comes first, the chicken or the egg . . . the media merely reporting the hatred that creates enmity, or the media itself fomenting the hatred.
None of this I can figure out. Too many lines are blurred.
So, I watch the unmoving egret, humbled. I let go of Glenn Beckâ€™s peculiar defense of his actions. On a cold and dreary morning Iâ€™m thankful to be away from the 24/7 chatter of news thatâ€™s not news and pundit thundering. I watch, breathing in and out, and remember those words from Matthewâ€™s Gospel . . .
You are the light of the world.
I take a few tentative steps toward the egret. Up, it rises. Beauty unfurled, wings working with the invisible air. My prayer, in that field of morning metaphors, is to seek to be a light.