When I was a young adult, I worked at a summer camp in Northern Saskatchewan. As Assistant Camp Director, one of my jobs was to do rounds after ‘lights out’ and make sure that all of the campers were in their own tenting areas. Sneaking out after dark is a rite of passage in pretty much every summer camp, and we were in a heavily forested area, so I suppose campers could be forgiven for thinking that the dense trees would camouflage them as they snuck out of their tents.
They tried to hide. Bless their sneaky little hearts, they tried. They’d go all Mission: Impossible and dress in black, and smear their hands and faces with ash from the fire pit. Some would even go so far as to slink around in socked feet, lest their Nikes make too much noise in the underbrush.
And I’d bust them. Every time.
I appreciated their grudging awe. (And the heart attacks that I could cause with a casual “hi guys…” as a knot of teenagers snuck onto the trail thinking the coast was clear.) Naturally, rumours were abundant. Some campers thought I could smell them. (Not a stretch, considering these were usually 14 year-olds who hadn’t showered for days). Others decided that my sense of hearing was conclusive proof that I was genetically descended from bats. One camper even suggested we’d planted homing devices on them. But truthfully, it wasn’t hard to spot them, even in the inky blackness of a moonless summer night in a Saskatchewan forest. What was my superpower?
I could see their flashlights from a mile off.
I didn’t even have to chase them. I’d just wait for them to get close, switch on my own flashlight, a universal signal for ‘game over’, and after the hyperventilating subsided (theirs, not mine), I’d escort them back home to their tenting area. And I never needed to scold them. Being exposed by the light (both theirs and mine) was enough to remind them of where they should be, who they should be with, and what they should – or shouldn’t be – doing. By rights, I should have been angry with them. They could have gotten themselves into some really dangerous situations. But usually, their own remorse and self-recognition was enough. More often than not, after I returned them safely home, I’d just shake my head, smile, and say to myself, “What goofballs. Man, I love these kids.”
It’s interesting, really, to think of the significance held by something as simple as a flashlight. When you need to see what you’re doing, it can be pointed where you need it. When you’re in your campsite and scared because you can’t see what’s ‘out there’, a flashlight provides a sense of safety and security. When you’re trying to find your way along a winding trail in the dark, it can light the way and keep you from stumbling. But when you’re sneaking around where you shouldn’t be, doing things you know you probably shouldn’t be doing, the light just means busted.
This week, in both the readings from Isaiah (9:1-4) and in the Gospel of Matthew (12:4-17) we hear that those who have been in darkness have seen a great light. And I think the idea of a flashlight applies well, here. But how I might interpret these passages depends on where I’m at on any given day. When I need a certain situation to be illuminated so that I can see clearly what I’m doing, God’s light is appreciated and welcome. When I’m frightened and need reassurance that I’m safe, the light of Christ banishes the things in the shadows and it comforts me. When it’s dark, and I need to see where I’m going – even if the only thing illuminated is the next step – I am thankful for the light that shines on my path.
But I’ll be honest. When I’m out of line, that light is the last thing I want to see because I know it means I will be exposed. I know that no matter how hard I try to evade God’s notice, no matter how clever I am, no matter how well I think I can hide my actions, my motives, my heart… that light means busted. Jesus’ flashlight is big. And when he shines it on me and what I’m doing, it can be a little uncomfortable. Or a lot uncomfortable. If I’m a long way from my tent, it’s a long walk back.
But does it mean that light is a threat? Far from it. It just illuminates things. What’s beautiful is that, despite how we may interpret that flashlight on any given day, it’s always present for the same purposes: it shines light on what we’re doing. It comforts us. And it shows us the way. Safely. And without scolding.
And after walking us home to our tenting areas, Jesus shakes his head, smiles, and says to himself, “What goofballs. Man, I love these kids.”
By Darcie Lich
Vocation Team – Oblate Associate