Monday, October 8, 2007

Jesus the "Light of the World"

Jesus offering the Light (Arathi) Oil on Canvas. 2004 Collection of the Artist.

Light is the symbol probably most common to all religious traditions. Here are some typical texts:

Bhagavad Gita
God brightens the world with his light,
He alone moves as the inner controller of all…
The Great Being without flaw, one and indivisible
Pure, the Light of lights….
His shining illumining the whole world.

The splendour in the sun, which bathes the whole world in light,
The splendour in the moon and in the fire –
Know that it is all from me.
Thus too I penetrate the earth,
and sustain all things with my vigour…
I will set you free from evil, have no fear.

The Holy Quran
Allah is the light of the heavens and the earth.
His light can be compared to a niche
that enshrines a lamp…
It is lit from a blessed olive-tree, neither eastern nor western.
Its very oil would almost shine forth,
though no fire touched it.
Light upon light;
Allah guides to his light whom he will.

Granth Sahib
In every heart there is light;
That light art thou.
By the light that is God himself
is every soul illumined.

Or, to return to the Hebrew tradition (Psalms):
Your word is a lamp to my feet,
a light to my path....
Let your face shine on your servant.

The Lord is my light,
my light and my salvation.

Thus, the illumining presence of God is a key part of this light symbolism. The darkness may threaten, but all its dangers are dispersed when the devotee is assured of the divine presence. ‘A lamp for my feet’ is an image that especially resonates with the everyday experience of a village Indian Christian. Recalling words from scripture will be a daily source of guidance and encouragement, and - especially for those socially oppressed - a source of newly confident self-identity.

Then, in more ‘sophisticated’ traditions of India, light will more likely refer to the soul’s inner illumining, the dawning of a heightened consciousness, a transformed vision that is to become the means of transformed life. Christ’s followers too have often expressed their faith in such terms, especially those who have been touched by one or other Christian Ashram. And invariably, in worship aiming to be more indigenous and culturally responsive, the opening act will be the lighting of the central lamp. As the Alternative CSI Liturgy puts it:
‘As the lamp is lit, may the flame of God’s loving presence
spring up in our hearts
and transform us by the knowledge of his glory’.

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