Leaving the Light On

patio light
Come Home…

Ever since Roberto started working at Seasons 52, I’ve been leaving the living room light on for him when he works the dinner shift. That usually means I’m at least in bed trying to sleep if not completely zonked out when he gets home, often after midnight. Last week, however, I went to the Charles King concert at Artomatic and I was the one coming home late. Ever thoughtful, Roberto left the big kitchen light on for me. He’s usually hungry when he gets home, so I took that as a hint and I’ve been making sure the kitchen is stocked.

What struck me tonight is that the very act of leaving the light on is a lonely, expectant one. It says “please come home, I’m waiting, I love you.” Filling the fridge means the same thing, especially when I’m filling it with spaghetti and meatballs. Interestingly, however, I’m not unhappy in this loneliness because I know it’s temporary. It will be over in just a few hours, sometimes sooner than expected.

And then I realized that is exactly how God feels about us. We wander away from Him, or even ignore Him, and yet there’s always a light on in Heaven, a place with our name on it. It’s not quite the same as leaving the door open, not as expectant or demanding as saying Call Me, Maybe, but rather the quiet, patient, constant love displayed as a twinkle in the sky or the blink of a firefly. “I made that, and I made you, and I hold you in the palm of My hand,” to paraphrase the prophet.

So why do we so often choose darkness over light? For me, the root of sin is often about fear. I lie, or fail to act, or break a commandment because I’m afraid of the consequences. The light comes with a price that I’m not always ready to pay. Hiding our lamps under a bushel is so easy. We can just sit on the bushel and stay put. No walking, growing or moving necessary. Lighting a lamp for others, being a beacon of hope, that’s work. It doesn’t just happen. But a major portion of it involves waiting.

This weekend, I attended the retirement Mass of a priest who has served the Church for 47 years. He spoke about the great gift of forgiveness, and his joy of sharing God’s forgiveness through the sacrament of Confession.  Sometimes, he would sit in the confessional and no one would come. But he was there, waiting.

Many dioceses call their Lenten outreach program some variation of “The Light is On,” a weekly evening when every church offers the sacrament of Confession. The first time I saw a sign for a “Light is On” program was on the Metro in the spring of 2007. I had come to Washington DC to campaign for the passage of the State Children’s Health Insurance Program as part of my work with LA Voice PICO. It was an empowering experience to put my faith in action on Capitol Hill and then step into a public transit system and see the Catholic Church inviting people to come by. I found it very counter-cultural. I still do.

Much more common is the practice of leaving on nightlights for children. My dad always made sure we had nightlights. I don’t remember the nightmares or bedtime monsters that must have provoked this practice, but I do remember the little white bulbs they used and how they plugged straight into the wall. They weren’t strong enough to read by  (I was reading at four so I hadn’t quite outgrown monsters), but they were bright enough to walk by. And the light meant someone was waiting for us, there if we needed them. It was a sign of total safety.

Maybe within each of us there’s still a three-year old with a nightlight. And that’s ok, because we are Loved.

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