The Endless Sound Of Light

Gleaning In The Fields Of Light

By Ken Woodley

In the beginning, the Gospel of John tells us, was the Word and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.
And John tells the truth.
But there is more.
Forget the past tense.
The Word still is. The Word lives. The Word surrounds us. Taps us on the shoulder. Knocks on the front door of our hearts. If we don’t answer, it knocks on the back door.
If we still don’t answer, it knocks on a window. If it must, the Word will slide down our chimney and do something far more meaningful than fill our stockings with toys.
The Word wants to fill us with joys.
Joys to the world.
Joys for the world.
In the beginning, the Gospel of John tells us, the Word was with God.
And John tells the truth.
But there is more.
Forget the past tense.
The Word still is with God.
And God is trying desperately to whisper in our ears. To speak softly in our hearts. To fill our soul with resonant words of love. If we don’t listen, God finds other ways to speak:
With songs and books and paintings and poetry and the bloom of flowers and the absence of leaves on the trees because those bare limbs speak with assurance of spring.
In the beginning, the Gospel of John tells us, the light shone in the darkness and the darkness did not overcome it.
And John tells the truth.
But there is more.
Forget the past tense.
The light still shines.
Darkness still cannot overcome it.
But the darkness tries.
The darkness tried in the beginning and the darkness tries today.
The darkness tries to distract us when the Word taps us on the shoulder or knocks on our door.
The darkness tries shouting to drown out the soft whisper of God.
The darkness tries to banish the light.
But still the Word speaks to us.
Still the Word is with God and God is with us.
Still the light shines all around us.
And still the darkness cannot overcome it.
The light-filled Word of God speaking love to us will never be silenced or extinguished.
Just as it was in the beginning, it is now and it ever shall be.

Another Night Before Christmas

’Twas the eve before Christmas, when all through the night
not a creature was stirring in fear or in fright.
The stockings were hung in a world full of cheer,
knowing that peace and that love could be here.
The children were nestled all snug in their beds,
no nightmaring vision haunting their heads.
Their mothers and fathers were safely inside
and no reason at all for any to hide.
When up on the hillside there arose such a noise,
of angels and shepherds all singing of joys.
Away toward that manger we walked through the snow
as if there was no place that we’d rather go.
The moon hung like a stocking high up in the sky
but a star shone far brighter and seemed so nearby.
There were swords turned to plowshares just waiting for spring
as we drew ever nearer a bell-sounding ring.
The chime, we discovered, was deep in our heart,
a carol of music that never would part.
For as long as we wished, we knew it would stay
if we made it a place deep inside us to play.
Closer we came to the manger scene now,
immune to the cold in some way and somehow.
There wasn’t a wise man, no, nowhere in sight,
just ordinary folks feeling love’s holy might.
There was no barn and no stable, no building at all,
but the child still within us did answer the call.
The babe in the manger would find shelter there,
in our hearts, in our souls whenever we care
For others who hurt, for others in pain
and give of ourselves, with nothing to gain
But a turning of cheeks when the anguish is ours
and a field full of thorns then blossoms with flowers.
No room at the inn but room inside we
who give birth to the message and meaning we see
In the love Jesus promised God has for us all,
whether we stand or whether we fall.
Angels we have heard on high
and angels we have felt so nigh.
There is goodwill at this season to cover the Earth
as a present at Christmas for this sacred birth.
But a gift to keep giving across the whole year
would be deeper than cups or bowls of good cheer.
Away in that manger, no crib for a bed,
but born every day in our footsteps, instead.

A Desperate Reach Of Love

There is a flickering in the wilderness.
Certainly we saw something, you and I, in the depth of all this darkness.
Over there, just to the left.
A light.
Pushing back against the darkness that tells us every day in screaming headlines that there is no God and that we are not—and could never, ever be—loved.
Something that seems to have fallen from the stars.
Come from the sky.
Tumbled down from a heaven which the darkness denies.
The darkness trying with all of its might to persuade us to believe that the voice we have followed, the voice we heard crying in the wilderness, is a figment of our imagination.
But the voice won’t be stilled or silenced.
And the voice is not mine.
The voice is not yours.
We both hear the voice testifying at this moment to the light.
And now, look. Certainly, the flickering grows brighter, as if our persistent steps have somehow fueled the light’s desperate reach of transcendent incandescence.
A desperate reach toward …
Can it be true?
A desperate reach of transcendent incandescence toward us?
Toward us all?
My, God! It is true!
But there’s more.
There is something inside the light.
As if the light has wrapped the greatest gift of all inside its bright shining:
A love brighter than the sun we cannot see.
A love that the darkness cannot hide forever.
Or even for another second.
An advent.
A coming that the darkness is powerless to stop.
A coming that has found us.
Found us holding candles in a darkness that has become, for us, nothing more than a place for the light of this love to shine with greatest effect.
And now—just like that—the wilderness of sand has given way to the straw of a manger.
To a mother and her newborn.
To a father carefully tending the small fire that keeps us all warm as we gather with those who were there in the darkness with us, called by the light to unwrap this love.
A love that breathes.
A love that cries out into our own wilderness until our wilderness is healed.
A love that has a name:
A love that tells us that this love has other names, too.
Our own.
If we let the light of this love reach out its incandescence through us toward those whom the darkness still binds with its lies.
If we go out into the wilderness of others and scatter their darkness with this truth:
There is a God.
We are loved.
And that love is forever.

In The Footsteps Of A Dream

(Note: the following is my keynote speech at the December 10, 2017 re-naming dedication ceremony of the Barbara Rose Johns, Farmville-Prince Edward Community Library)

What a truly good day this is.
A Sunday where we share this communion together.

I commend the Town of Farmville, Town Council and Town officials who have made this communion possible.

A communion that speaks for the transforming journey that is possible in this world when people are committed to becoming Founding Fathers, Founding Mothers, Founding Brothers and Sisters together in a nation still striving toward a more perfect union.

The United States of America is not a finished work.
The Founding Fathers did not complete the job when they signed these words:

“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal. They are endowed by their creator with certain inalienable rights, among them are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.”

The Founding Fathers were just beginning the process, commencing a national journey to give full birth and long life to those founding ideals.
We are still in the course of our human event as a nation.

A human event greatly shaped by the woman we are gathered today to honor by adding her name to this building, this treasure trove of knowledge, visions, ideas, ideals and creative imagination, a hub and gathering place of open minds.

For that is what this library most definitely is, as operated and cared for with such excellence by library staff, board members and volunteers.

But this library has also now become an historic milepost on our national journey together, all of us here now deep in the course of our human event.

Not everyone in America wants us to succeed. The tragic events in Charlottesville over the summer declare the intentions of those who preach and practice racial hatred and hope to prevent us from ever making Barbara Rose Johns’ dream come true.

And Barbara, truly one of this nation’s Founding Mothers, had such a powerful dream.
She believed that the story-book ending could come true.
She believed that we would all live happily ever after.

But the world isn’t always kind to dreams.

Fairy-tale endings—even one based on the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution of the United States of America—are most often confined to fairytales.

After leading the historic student strike that gave birth to the Civil Rights Movement on April 23, 1951 Barbara Rose Johns had to leave Prince Edward County. A cross was burned at Robert R. Moton High School and there was a sense of danger all around. Suddenly, she was just gone, off to live with relatives in Alabama, leaving even her best friends wondering what had happened.

Three years later, the Johns home in Darlington Heights was completely destroyed by arson after the U.S. Supreme Court had validated the dream of Barbara Rose Johns with its landmark Brown v. Board of Education decision.

Prince Edward County’s Massive Resistance to the Brown decision turned the dream of Barbara Rose Johns into a nightmare.

But not forever.

Her dream is alive and well and standing in our own shoes.

The decision by the Town of Farmville to re-name this fabulous state-of-the-art library in honor of Barbara Rose Johns—who spent her entire adult life as a librarian in the Philadelphia public school system—is a milestone moment, a mile-marker showing how far the dream has traveled since 1951.

It joins the Moton Museum and Prince Edward County’s Light of Reconciliation as an indelible moral marker of this community’s progress. And it joins them as an example to a nation still so deeply divided over race.
The Barbara Rose Johns Farmville-Prince Edward Community Library will forever speak with emphatic clarity:

We shall overcome those who attempt to divide us over the God-given color of our skin.

Today, there is a Johns family home in Darlington Heights, built on the exact spot where the flames of arson had burned down the home where Barbara dreamed her dreams.

Wondrously—despite everything that had happened to drive her away—it was Barbara, herself, who had insisted that her brothers and sister re-build at their home place in Prince Edward County. And Barbara drew up much of the construction plans, herself, and consulted with the local contractor, often visiting the building supply company here in Farmville to see the materials herself.

Barbara wanted the family to have a home to come back to when they returned to Prince Edward County to visit friends and, as it turns out, to celebrate this community’s ongoing journey of racial healing and reconciliation.

A journey that offers living proof, and living hope—not only to the nation, but also to the world—that our lives, that we ourselves, can become human bridges across the deepest chasms.

Unfortunately, cancer claimed the life of Barbara Rose Johns in the fall of 1991, before construction on the new family home was complete. But she did see the foundation. And, in her mind’s eye, I am sure she saw the finished house because she was a human being of extraordinary vision, seeing things that nobody else saw.

Like her vision of “happily ever after” for us all.

Some people in this nation will shout, No, not ever.
But the Town of Farmville today provides the nation with a different answer.

Happily ever after is possible and it is what a loving God is hoping and praying that we will achieve together from sea to shining sea.

Not in the way that it is portrayed in the world of fairy tales. But in the way that life offers us happiness in the real world if we are willing to sweat and strive for it…

If we are willing to be wounded and then healed together.

Wounded and healed together.

Today, we are closer to that dream come true than we were yesterday.

And yesterday we were closer than ever seemed possible in the fall of 1959 when the schools were locked and chained.

This Sunday of communion is no fairy tale and Amen to that.

May God bless us all as our national journey together, as children of God, continues. Founding Brothers and Founding Sisters. One family. Under God Indivisible. With liberty and justice for all.

In The Wilderness Again, And Hallelujah!

Here we are again.
Turned upside down.
Turned inside out.
Sheep in the wilderness again.
But that’s alright.
That can, in fact, be a good thing.
The wilderness doesn’t have to be dangerous.
The wilderness doesn’t have to be scary.
The wilderness can be liberating.
The wilderness can be deepening.
The wilderness is beautiful.
Filled with wonder.
The wilderness is where things happen.
The wilderness is where we can most deeply encounter the Holy Spirit.
Jesus was all about the wilderness.
The wilderness was where he embraced his ministry after overcoming the temptation to do something else.
The wilderness is where we embrace our own ministry, overcoming the temptation to regard ourselves as lost or left behind.
We are nothing of the kind.
It may seem that we are in a lonely place.
But that’s alright.
That can, in fact, be a good thing.
Jesus was always going off to a lonely place to pray, contemplate, and commune with God.
Lonely places are where things happen.
Lonely places are where we can most deeply encounter the Holy Spirit.
Jesus was all about lonely places.
And funny thing about the word lonely.
Take off the first L and the word becomes “one-ly.”
A one-ly place.
A place where we become one with Jesus.
A place where we become one with God.
A place where we become one with the Holy Spirit.
A place where we gather and become one with each other.