Casting a longer light
A reflection on experiencing and seeing beyond the current darkness. By Shaun Lambert
I recently saw a photo from a friend of mine, Julian Hoffman, of his long shadow stretched across a golden lit pathway leading to some distant hills. The sky above had trails of grey-white cloud stretching across a blue expanse. Julian Hoffman is a naturalist and writer who lives in Greece, and he entitled the photo ‘the long light of home.’
As a phrase it immediately resonated with me. It took me back to 2006 when I was stressed and anxious and could not see far ahead. I had come across a phrase by Diadochus of Photike, a fifth century Greek Bishop and pioneer of the Jesus Prayer, which rang me like a bell, ‘Let us keep our eyes always fixed on the depths of our heart with an unceasing mindfulness of God.’ That phrase changed my life but looking back now I realised that for me it cast ‘the long light of home.’ When I could not see the way ahead, it enabled me to see a longer light, and intuitively I knew this phrase would lead me home.
The phrase, ‘the long light of home’ also resonated with me as we are in the midst of another lockdown and uncertainty of how long it will last. I realised I needed to be held by something that cast a longer light than the current darkness we face. In this moment I find the idea of home as something we are journeying toward holds me in hope (Hebrews 11:13-16). I have been reading about the homing instinct of swallows and butterflies, fragile creatures yet capable of incredible journeys home. Like others I believe we have as humans a Spirit-led homing instinct that leads us home to God, that follows a longer light than cast by our current circumstances. That homing instinct, as we uncover the layers that cover it, can give us a sense of moving forward even as we are told to stay in our houses, even as we feel fragile.
I have just read Julian Hoffman’s book Irreplaceable which is a ‘testament of minor voices’ speaking up for wild places around the world (including allotments in Watford near where we live) which cast a longer light for those who love them, and are under threat and literally irreplaceable. Those allotments are now covered under a car park, but resistance is still the posture to take. I know nature and creation help me and after reading Julian’s book I paid much more attention to the small wild places around me. I have been walking every day in some ancient woodland in Stanmore through different seasons and observed how the trees symbolically cast a longer light for me as they journey with stability through autumn, winter, spring and summer. They adapt to each season as we are learning too.
I have recently led an online retreat for Scargill House, a community and retreat centre. On retreat we can pay attention to what is ‘real’ around us in the material world as well as the ‘Real’ presence of God. This can enable us to see by a longer light, to see more clearly, and to come back re-perceiving lockdown and Covid-19 from a more expansive place. Retreat centres can be lighthouses for us as they share their wisdom in a new way, steering us past the rocks of lockdown into a safer harbour.
I shared the idea of ‘the long light of home’ with Baptist minister and artist Chris Duffett who sent me an image he painted of Hagar in the wilderness being seen by God (see above). Hagar as a slave was badly treated by Sarah and fled into the wilderness (Genesis 16). As I look at the painting, I see the long light of home reaching out to her from God. As I think of her story, I am reminded of the idea that there is a room for her in the Father’s house (John 14:2). Sometimes the long light of our home with God stretches before us, and sometimes it reaches out toward us.
Chris has written a blessing to go with the painting:
‘May your eyes be opened to see the One who sees you.
May your eyes glimpse just how much you are loved.
May you know deep within that you are of great worth and value
And that the creator of all things notices and sees you.’
I wish to leave you with a blessing inspired by this beautifully resonant phrase of Julian Hoffman’s:
‘May you see the long light of home stretching out in front of you.
May it give you the longer light of hope in this time of darkness.
May you experience the long light of home reaching out to you
In the presence of the God who sees you.
May you have a foretaste here on earth of the room
The Father has prepared for you in the new heaven and earth.’
Whoever you are and whoever you minister to, may you cast a longer light for all those in need, than is cast by the news around us.
Image | Hagar in the wilderness being seen by God | Chris Duffett
Julian Hoffman is the author of The Small Heart of Things and Irreplaceable: The Fight to Save Our Wild Places and lives in north western Greece. Listen to him in conversation here.
Revd Chris Duffett’s creative ministry can be accessed via chrisduffett.com.
Shaun Lambert is a Baptist Minister currently based in London looking to explore mindful community and mindful church
 My italics. Quoted in Olivier Clement, The Roots of Christian Mysticism (London: New City, 2002), 204.
Do you have a view? Share your thoughts here.