02/29/2012 02:07 pm ET Updated Apr 30, 2012

Light and Dark

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The following is excerpted from "Journey Into Light"

Light and dark are the colors of life. No life is ever all of one or all of the other. On the contrary. Life is the interplay, the dialogue, the interpreter between the two.

But being able to read the languages of light and dark around us, knowing which we're seeing when, is a cultivated spiritual art. It is the difference between being spiritually mature and being a spiritual child, between being wholly alive and only partially alive.

It was the mystics, lost in the presence of God, who could say "alleluia" in the midst of great sufferings of the soul -- the sense of rejection that came with desolation or the public ridicule that came with official rejection of all kinds. It was the mystics who could see the light of God in the middle of periods others would have called dark.

It was a sense of Divine Light in all things that kept the Jewish convert Edith Stein strong in the face of death at the hands of the Nazis; and Joan of Arc unyielding to the churchmen who condemned her for following her conscience rather than being obedient to them; and Galileo faithful even in the midst of rejection by a church intent on smothering modern science in the name of faith; and Dorothy Day implacable in her pursuit of peace in a country that called her "communist" for doing it.

Spiritual leaders like these remember what so many of us far too often forget:

Christians are not people of the cross. Christians are people of the empty tomb, the ones who know that every step on the way to the Light is Light.

But somewhere along the way, as plague and war and greed overtook the world, Lent, we came to believe, was a kind of dark place, the wilderness of the soul. The place we go to see ourselves in all our limitations, all our failures, all the struggles that come with growing into the fullness of the self.

But nothing could be further from the truth.

Jesus goes into the wilderness to prepare for the launching of his public ministry, not to bewail his fate. With wild beasts as companions and angels to minister to him, we begin to see the desert, the dark place, the icon of all the challenging places in life, fill and overflow with light. Satan may be tempting Jesus to look in other directions for life, yes, but the Light that flows from this gospel to us is clear: Jesus is not going to go to the cheap and easy in life. Jesus is not going to curl up inside himself and simply let evil have its day. Instead, his message is radiant here: There is no other direction in life that can possibly make us whole than total dedication to the will of God for the world.

Will it cost us? Probably. Can we do otherwise and still live in the light that is flowing out of this desert? Absolutely not.

Jesus is about to spend his life on these things and the energy of that decision fairly crackles in him. No dark time this. Surely, as followers of Jesus, we need to do the same: to see the Light in him and follow it ourselves.