Dominus Illuminatio Mea- The Lord is my Light.
It’s curious, is it not, that everywhere we see the university crest we are confronted with the first verse of psalm 27- the Lord is my light. Why have we kept this motto since the 16th century to reassure the world that despite the changing ideas about science, the world and the role of God that Oxford hasn’t exclude the Almighty altogether? – A bit of Latin to increase the market value of university items for the tourist market? Good solid Oxford tradition?
Does this motto have any importance for our university today? The Lord is my Light.
Light and en-light-enment. Certainly these are two things we look for from our time in the university. But where specifically does the Lord come into all of this?
As a University Chaplain I often hear students telling me their dilemma that- What we do now, in Chapel, or in our own rooms in prayer can seem removed from the subjects we study. It can be hard to reconcile questions of faith with everyday activities and studies, with friends who don’t ‘get it’. Even if you’re a Theologian, it is unlikely to be wise to insist to your tutor that the Lord was enlightening you! So where does that leave us? Can I find the Lord as my Light, even in the midst of a modern university? And if I can, how do I share that light? Light and enlightenment.
Let us turn to our scripture Readings today, what better place to start than the wise men in the Gospel of Matthew- with men who are clearly intelligent searchers for both Light and enlightenment.
In some ways the wise men are a familiar story, a classic case of research which doesn’t turn out quite as expected, a experiment which produces some anomalous results.
After considerable, time consuming intellectual endeavours these wise men set out seeking a great King, so great that a Star was set in motion to herald his arrival, someone of universal and historic importance.
And what did they find? A noisy, indifferent city, and a somewhat hapless couple from the country, squatting in someone else’s stable and their newborn, helpless baby. Not exactly what they must have imagined along the way. A beautiful, celestial light has drawn them to something very earth bound indeed.
I’ve been really struck this Christmas by the difference between what they expected and what they found.
What do we expect and what do we find? Like these wise men, we all spend quite a lot of our time on the bright stars of ideas, of research, of knowledge, as indeed it is right for us to do and yes, God is there amongst them. If God is truth, he is surely in anything that is true. But that is God remaining ‘up there’, in the world of intellect and observation and then only in a fairly abstract way.
The real wisdom of the wise men was not that they were clever enough to observe the stars and interpret scriptures and prophesies, but that, when they came to what was underneath the light of the Star (which couldn’t have been anything grand, anything they could have expected), they recognised him, fell down and worshipped.
If I too am to find real light and en-lighten-ment. If I am to find and share the Lord as light in the university, it has to start with me, it has to start with you. I need to daily allow the Lord to make his way from ‘up there’ to ‘down here’, from idea’s to experience, from my head to my heart. In order to notice and to recognise what’s underneath the star.
How? Well, like the wise men I needn’t be afraid of looking at the reality of my life and my world and seeing God present in surprising or even shocking ways, but always seeing him in the real everyday events, a God who is at home in the middle of my mess.
The real question is, ‘dare I believe in a God so immanent, so here and now’? For this is who he is and what he does, as our reading from Deuteronomy reminded us- “it is not in heaven, that you should say, ‘who will bring it to us that we should hear and do it’…But the word is very near you, it is in your mouth and in your heart…”. And that’s a scary thought isn’t it. It means that I don’t have to wait until I do something more ‘Godly’ to find him
The other two Chaplains at the Catholic Chaplaincy are Jesuit Priests and their spirituality emphasises the importance of this noticing, this continual need to stop each day and looking back with the light of God’s Spirit to notice where the Lord has been in my life. It’s a practice I would recommend. More often than not, as we get used to doing it, you notice that God doesn’t only show up in the ‘Holy moments’, when I pray or go to church, although he is very much there too, but in surprising, small moments that stick in your mind. Moments of light. A moment of clarity in your work, a conversation with a friend, moments of joy and gratitude,
But He’s also right there in the middle of the things I get wrong, the places in my life that I’d rather he didn’t show up in, inviting me to change and be healed.
What do I expect, and what do I find?
If the Lord is to be our light and true enlightenment in the university, we, like the wise men must look for him, both in the bright stars and the confusing reality of our lives, and expect to find him. But when we do find him (and invariably it will not be in a way we hoped for or imagined) we must be prepared to recognise him.
The light he will shed will not be the dreamy and flattering light of the star, but will be something more revealing and a little stronger. A light that, like the wise men will constantly challenge us to return to our own country by a different route…and who knows, you may leave the university following a completely different route than the one you anticipated (how do you think I ended up here?!), but if you let him enlighten you, even a little, it will be different but always better than you could have possibly hoped for.
Light is something that is often difficult to conceal, I may ask how, if we can identify the light of Christ right here in the midst of my everyday life, can I share this with those around me… let me turn in conclusion to the words and prayer of a famous Oxford man, John Henry Newman, himself much occupied with finding the light of Christ in the University even when it challenged and surprised him, continually leading him to return home by a different and surprising route…
Stay with me Lord, and then I shall begin to shine as you shine; so to shine as to be a light to others. The light, O Jesus, will be all from you. None of it will be mine. It will be you who shine through me upon others.
Let me praise you in the way you love best, by shining on everyone around me. Give light to them as well as to me, light them with me, through me.
Teach me to show your praise, your truth, your will. Make me preach you without preaching; not by my words but by my example and by the catching force, the sympathetic influence, of what I do- by my visible resemblance to your saints, and the evident fullness of the love which my heart bears for you. Amen.