A u c k l a n d A o t e a r o a N e w Z e a l a n d
a n g l i c a n c h u r c h
Light Out of Darkness: Reality From Shadow
November 30, 2003
Which city is the brightest and most shining example of New Zealand at its best? That might depend on where you are. I used to think it was Christchurch. But don't worry. I'm a little more enlightened now that I've lived in Auckland for a year.
For many people though, no matter where they were last Monday night, Wellington was Middle Earth. It was the brightest of all the cities of New Zealand. It was certainly the part of the country that was on show to the world during the world premiere of the third installment of director Peter Jackson's version of Tolkien's Lord of the Rings.
Over 100,000 people turned up for the parade of the Middle Earth stars. It was like a fashion show of sorts. The NZ Herald called it a 'fashion bonanza' for NZ designers. In the parade they were mostly dressed up to look their very best, or their very worst as orcs, ringwraiths, and other 'fell' creatures.
Yes the designer clothes were out, but what captured the newspaper headlines and hearts of the fans was the simple T-shirt worn by Orlando Bloom showing the star's love of NZ and of the NZ people. The red carpet was down and a banquet was laid out, but the one thing that seemed to matter most to the stars was that NZ had let them become like family.
This is rather in the style of John the Baptist. The basic and the rough are praised above the elaborate and the refined. John the Baptist clothed himself in the roughest of clothes and sought to live in the most basic and rough way. He had been referred to as a wild man.
In his own way, John sought the shadows. He sought them to find enlightenment, and that is exactly what he found. He found truth, knowledge, and prophetic wisdom. From within the shadows he was able to recognise the reality of the light in Jesus. The shadows are uncomfortable for us but often it is through them and because of them that we find and recognise reality and light.
I'm not suggesting that we all need to seek the basic or ascetic way of life. We don't need to mimic the rough lifestyle of John the Baptist. I enjoy the blessings of an affluent life-style as much as anyone else here. However, shadows are many things and they will be in our lives regardless of what we do. Shadows within us and around us are inevitable.
The shadows for Ekhart Tolle, author of The Power of Now, were found from within. It wasn't the only place he found shadows. But his life-changing experience of shadow was an inner experience. In the shadow of his despair he found enlightenment.
For C. S. Lewis the shadows are the world around us. He called this world the Shadowlands, from which he distinguishes reality or the Kingdom. The descriptions of the real Kingdom in his children's series The Chronicles of Narnia are helpful insights to his understanding of shadow and of the Kingdom (reality).
At the end of the final book, The Last Battle, when the characters finally find themselves in the real Kingdom, they immediately recognise it as something that they know of from home. But the reality is sweeter, brighter, larger, deeper, and richer than anything they have previously known. The grass is greener, the sky is bluer and the mountains are larger than anything they've seen before. The children's recognition of reality came through their knowledge of the Shadowlands.
The Lord of the Rings is a story of shadows and light. It is set in Middle Earth, a place of roughness, of shadows and violence, a place of darkness and war. The character of Gollum epitomises the shadows in humanoid form. He has become a shadow of his former self, a shadow of the one known as Smeagol. But without the shadowed, ruined Gollum, the reality of light cannot come to Middle Earth. He has an important and necessary part to play.
The shadows, whatever they are for us, are inevitable. We need not hide from them, we need not fear them, we may even seek them. For out of the shadows comes the glimpse of light. Because of the shadows, we can recognise reality.
During Advent we anticipate the coming of Jesus. The coming of light from the shadow. Jesus was born in the shadow of a stable. He was born in the shadow of the cattle and other animals around him. He was born in the shadow of a Roman king and in the shadow of concealment. According to the Gospels only a few wise men and shepherds knew how important he was, apart from his family.
Jesus brought us light from the shadows. The shadows within us and around us are inevitable. What we do with them is our choice.
(Sandy is on temporary placement at St Matthew's frrom St John's College, Auckland)