Light and Inspiration

At the Presbyterian church this morning, the theme was letting your light shine. I can easily get defensive (in my mind, of course) when I hear this sort of message. It makes me feel that I should beat myself up because I’m not attractive to people—because I’m quiet and reserved, as opposed to being the life (or light—ha ha) of the party. I can’t say that I felt that way this morning, though. Granted, I don’t feel compelled right now to be a “light”—as if I have to stand out as an exceptional person to draw people to Christ. But I’m not as antagonistic to what the pastor said, as I would be if I were in an evangelical setting that was trying to force me to be something I’m not.

In the children’s service, the pastor’s puppet, Jake, was not talking that much. But I appreciated the message of that service, even though I’m not sure to what extent I agree with it. The message was that spiritual food inspires us to go out and to be a light to the world for Jesus Christ—serving the world, being kind, etc. But I can look back at times when I prayed in the morning and read my Bible, and I can’t say that doing those things enabled me to go into a setting and to fit in socially, making a difference for Christ. Nor can I say this about my attendance of churches in the past. I’d go to a welcoming church, come home to my roommates, and feel alienated from the people around me. It was like coming down from the mount of transfiguration, into the messy world of cynicism and problems.

Another issue that I have is this: If Jesus Christ is in me, and I’m demonstrating his light, shouldn’t I be able to do that in every conceivable setting? Yet, my experience is that certain settings are easier than others. Of course, I can come home to my Mom, her husband, and the kitties and be nice—because they’re nice to me. But I’d have problems being nice in a setting in which I’m not valued, or in which I’m put down. Going to church, reading the Bible, and praying may help me to cope better in that sort of setting—better than I would without those things. But does doing these things enable me to be a light? Not especially.

At the same time, coping is important. Although I read the Bible, I don’t really get my spiritual food from it because it appears so dark—with all its judgment and wrath (which are justified in many cases, but they don’t exactly make me feel warm and fuzzy on the inside). But I receive encouragement from meetings that I attend, from devotionals that I read, from church, and from prayer. Do these things make me perfect? No. But one thing that helps me is that I don’t just have to survive on one meal a day—I can keep coming back to receive strength.

The pastor’s message was good because he told a story about shutting up the Pharaohs inside of us. I can’t exactly tell the story clearly, because I’m not sure that I understood it completely. But he was talking about a lady who was going from slavery to freedom, in pursuit of a guiding pillar of fire. As she moved towards that light, she needed to silence her inner Pharaoh—who made her feel worthless and afraid, influencing her to distrust God’s goodness. So part of being a light is for us to have light inside of us—light which is the opposite of negativity.

I was thinking about something earlier this week. I enjoy going to meetings, since I learn something new from them, and the stuff that I hear is encouraging. But what will happen when I get bored with them? Will I stop going? I look at my experience with evangelicalism: there was a time when I felt encouraged by it, but there came a point where it was empty to me, and I got sick of its oppression. I then stopped attending evangelical functions. Will I get a divorce from my current spiritual path, as I divorced my past one? I imagine that people who have remarried after a divorce have the same sort of question: What makes me think that this time will be different?

The answer that I came up with is that I’ve always been on a search for inspiration—for something that can make me feel better and to look at life in a positive way. At one point, I got that from evangelicalism, but it soured in my belly. Now, I receive inspiration from other sources. I’m not sure if I will always be on my current spiritual path—though I hope so. But I will always search for inspiration and meaning.

About jamesbradfordpate

My name is James Pate. This blog is about my journey. I read books. I watch movies and TV shows. I go to church. I try to find meaning. And, when I can’t do that, I just talk about stuff that I find interesting. I have degrees in fields of religious studies. I have an M.Phil. in the History of Biblical Interpretation from Hebrew Union College in Cincinnati, Ohio. I also have an M.A. in Hebrew Bible from Jewish Theological Seminary, an M.Div. from Harvard Divinity School, and a B.A. from DePauw University.
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