Check to see the lighthouse of faith from within

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By Fran Salone-Pelletier, Religion Columnist

Recently, I attended a funeral for a parishioner who had requested the singing of “This Little Light of Mine” as the opening hymn. The song was both an unusual choice and a heart-rending one. It evoked smiles on the faces of the attendees, mostly retired. Here we were, aging adults, singing a children’s song, alive with rhythm. I guess we all felt it was inappropriate to clap our hands, but the song surely begged our indulgence.
The memory of the service had not left my mind when I read an editorial about lighthouses written by Elizabeth Hudson, editor-in-chief of Our State magazine. My interest was sparked. The words of the hymn were recalled, but now interwoven with facts about lighthouses.
Hudson wrote of thick walls made of monolithic reinforced concrete set upon concrete pilings buried deep into the earth to assure stability and ability to sustain hurricane force winds. Through her words, I could see powerful imagery. I could see the faith of God’s people reinforced with the concrete of grace, a building made strong to stand against tides of inhumanity and cruelty, wars and rumors of wars. The construction was made to last so long as it received appropriate care and maintenance.
With particular interest in the Oak Island Lighthouse, Hudson cautioned, “The climb to the lighthouse’s balcony is 131 steps...but (this climb) is different. Instead of a gently curving, spiral staircase, Oak Island has ship-ladder steps. They’re near vertical, shooting straight up the middle of the tower. The space between the treads; the space between each step is exposed, open to the plunge below. You try not to think about what would happen if you make a misstep.”
Isn’t it a lot like faith? Faith is open to our response. There is no boundary to it. There is only exposure to limitless love, limitless hope, limitless God. We try not to think about what would happen if we make a misstep. We also know that any misstep we make is also an opportunity to plunge more deeply into God who is below us to save, as well as above us to be held in awesome wonder.
“To make it to the top, you keep looking up,” Hudson continued. “The volunteer who is watching you from the landing reminds you to keep looking up. Don’t look down.”
There lies the heart of the matter. If we keep looking up, not to heaven in and with a “pie in the sky” kind of faith, but with a faithfulness that defies scary steps and relies on God’s Word watching us from the landing toward which we are climbing. We tell ourselves to hold on. Despite our clammy, damp palms, and racing hearts, we do. We hold on to the railing of faith, listening to the voice of those who have successfully gone this route before us. All of a sudden, Hudson reminds, “You stop thinking about the steps, and start thinking about what you’re moving toward. You think about what you’ll see at the top. You’ll see the light itself.”
From deep within the towering lighthouse of faith, we will be able to see all creation differently. Our perspective will change. So will our vision. We’ll see the light itself! Then we’ll think about all who have labored and lived their entire lives at the base of the lighthouse of faith, keeping watch, making sure the light stayed brilliant. We think of the saints and martyrs, not just those from long ages ago, but those whose paths have crossed ours. We remember the men and women, children and youth, who lived life courageously despite all manner of challenges. Swathed in riches or desperately poor, their faithfulness was not impoverished. Their hope and love were gracious and abundant. They made sure the light of God never went out.
Hudson ended her editorial with a degree of sadness: “You can go your whole life and never set foot inside a lighthouse.” The sorrow underlying her words is made more soulful when it is applied to all who refuse to enter the lighthouse of faith. It is even sadder when their refusal comes because others have led them wrongly or did not acknowledge the myriad ways in which faithfulness can be expressed.
Hudson’s vivid description of the lighthouse converged with my own understanding of the symbiosis of faith and church. “You can’t know these magnificent structures — these buildings whose purpose is to project outward — until you go inward, deep inside their concrete-and-brick bellies, and scale the steps, up and up, until you emerge, finally, at the top. Face-to-face with the eye.”
We can’t know either the magnificence of faith or church unless we understand that both must project outward. We won’t recognize or realize the crucial nature of the outward movement until we go inward, both as individuals and as church families. We need to scale the steps of justice and mercy, compassion and charity until we emerge face-to-face with the eye of God.
Then, perhaps only then, will we be able to say we have “never seen anything this radiant, never seen anything this intense. Then, we will know why we kept scaling the steps, kept going up.”
However challenging or daunting, our journey is clear. Its sole reason is to get to the light. The towering faith of God’s people, the church, must be shared. We are called to be the light of the world, to brighten its darkness, cast away shadows of fear, and illumine the dim corners of doubt.
We are called to be a people whose life can be best described as “a magnificent lens flashing and pulsing, like a heartbeat on fire, bearing its soul.” This little light of mine ... this little light of yours ... will become this large light of ours, if only we scale the steps to get to its source and let it shine, let it shine, let it shine!
Fran Salone-Pelletier has a master’s degree in theology and is the author of “Awakening to God: The Sunday Readings in Our Lives,” lead chaplain at Novant Health Brunswick Medical Center, religious educator, retreat leader, lecturer and grandmother of four. She can be reached at grammistfran@gmail.com.