I couldn’t even see my hand in front of my face, it was so dark. My partner and I were standing deep inside the bowels of a mountain in Montana. One of the excursions we had taken on this day of our vacation was to a deep winding catacomb of caves buried deep under Montana’s famous Big Sky.
After winding our way through the cavern — sometimes sliding on our butts down a narrow stone slide to get from one chamber to the next , our guide brought us into a large chamber, where he turned off the lights. He was making the point that the first explorers of these caves didn’t have bright halogen lights to guide them — they had candles and lanterns — and sometimes they would go out.
Poof! Instant, inky, blackness. The kind of dark that even bats would be afraid to enter — so thick you could cut it with a knife — a stifling, terrifying darkness. The crowd got quiet for a moment, then suddenly talkative — remarking on the obvious darkness, but also talking to reassure themselves and others that they were still there — and each of us, to a person, longed for the guide to turn the lights back on.
I’m sure the guide intentionally puts this particular demonstration near the end of the tour through the cave, because after you have experienced such total and complete darkness the first thing you long to see is the sunshine. We paused long enough for a few more pictures in the cavern, but hurried our way to exit, blinking gratefully in the bright light that bathed us outside the cave.
Scientifically speaking, however, we were never completely in the dark in that cold, forbidding cavern. There is not a place in this earth, or universe, where light is not present, in some form or another. Theologian Matthew Fox reminds us that:
Light is a vital ingredient in all atoms and in molecules and life-forms (including human ones) that are made up of atoms.
Everything around us, Fox reminds us, is composed, in some measure, of light — even the pitch dark contains some form of light. Even our bodies are composed of “immense amounts of light: The 100 trillion atoms in each of our 100 trillion cells together store… enough light to illuminate a baseball field for three hours with 1 million watts of floodlights.”
In reality, even though our eyes could not perceive it, there was enough light, contained in the people in the belly of that cavern to keep a baseball field lit for days. When it comes to light, every human being is jammed packed with plenty of wattage. So, why is the world such a dark and forbidding cavern for so many of us?
Well, speaking to gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender people in particular — our world is so dark because we have been told so many times, by so many people who claim some manner of authority over us, that the last thing we could offer the world is light. They tell us that perhaps if we change our sexual orientation or gender identity that we could shine a light in the world — a “light” of “redemption” from our lives of “sin.” If we change, then we’ll have some light to shine — until then, we’re as dark as a Montana cavern — offering nothing but blinding blackness.
But, even in the darkest night — even in the hearts deemed to be the darkest by some people in the world, there is light. Even if we can’t perceive it, or we’re told that we’re mistaken to think it — we each carry light within us. Our job is the same as John the Baptist’s — to testify to that light.
Those who claim LGBTQ+ people have no light to share have themselves fallen in the trap of misunderstanding the light. They have become a light unto themselves. They have decided that they know how God thinks and how God would act. Of course God hates LGBTQ+ people. They hate them and God would naturally hate what they hate. This is the temptation of light — to think that once we see it, we can own it, focus it and make it a personal possession.
John is clear though — we are not the light — we are reflections of the true light that comes from God. As St. Francis said:
We are the moon reflecting the rays of the sun from our surface.
Epiphany is the season that follows Advent and Christmas. Epiphany comes from the Greek word that means “to show or reveal.” We speak of having an “epiphany” when something becomes clear to us that may have been confusing or unknown just moments beforehand. An epiphany is a sudden flash of knowledge — a flash of light that reveals what was once hidden.
As LGBTQ+ people our epiphany is to understand that we have much to share with the world — both the church and the secular world. We are God’s unique creations, blessed with gifts to give and share. We are children of the light — creations of the living, breathing, still-speaking God. We are not children of darkness — no matter how many people would scorn our witness to God’s light. Our duty is to continue to witness to God’s light in the world — no matter how many people insist on trying to pull the plug on our testimony.
In this Epiphany season I invite you to lighten up!
Founder of Motley Mystic and the Jubilee! Circle interfaith spiritual community In Columbia, S.C., Candace Chellew (she/her) is the author of Bulletproof Faith: A Spiritual Survival Guide for Gay and Lesbian Christians (Jossey-Bass, 2008). Founder and Editor Emeritus of Whosoever, she earned her masters of theological studies at Emory University’s Candler School of Theology, was ordained by Gentle Spirit Christian Church in December 2003, and trained as a spiritual director through the Omega Point program of the Episcopal Diocese of Atlanta. She is also a musician and animal lover.