Some years ago, I was sitting on an old wooden pew in a church that was older than my nation’s constitution. I was somewhere in the Meseta…the great plains of northern Spain. Stone and intricately carved wood, costly gems, gold and silver, oil painted frescoes, glowing stained glass, and iron work surrounded me in this ancient church, seeking to draw my eye, mind and heart into worshiping God. The artisans’ skill and care was as evident as the Christian symbolism they incorporated into their work, but even as I marveled at the beauty and intentionality of this place of worship, I recognized the absence of the awe and wonder I used to feel in such storied spaces. My feelings that afternoon were no different than the previous afternoons I’d spent in churches along the Camino De Santiago Francés. 

I was burned out. Tired from 11 years of pastoral ministry. Worn down by the obligations and politics of church leadership. Spiritually bruised by some wounding, abuse and betrayal that can happen in church communities. Exhausted from excessive programs and traditions that continued to be scheduled mostly because they had always been scheduled. While I still loved the Church and didn’t want to give up on it, I was having a hard time connecting with God’s presence through church. It was this sense of depletion that had motivated me to walk this ancient 500 mile pilgrimage. And it was probably why my soul struggled to experience the presence of God in the many sacred, beautiful churches and cathedrals I’d encountered along the way. 

Sitting on the rustic back pew, a patch of light caught my eye as it danced across a shadowed stucco wall. That light, a reflection from a dangling glass pendant hanging before a window, moved to its own rhythm. To me, it was the most vibrant and alive presence in the church. It captivated all of my focus and attention. 

As I sat quietly, a familiar voice whispered to my hungry soul: Always look for the light. My eyes filled with tears from the longing in my heart as I watched the light dance before me, knowing again the presence of God with me.

The following days and weeks were filled with the marvel of light. Sunrises. Sunsets. Sunlight cascading down the leaves of chestnut trees. Sunlight moving quickly over the open plains and playfully racing clouds across the sky. Sunlight began to symbolize for me the companionship of God as I walked across Northern Spain. I felt the light within me as much as I experienced it all around.

John O’Donohue wrote There is a quiet light that shines in every heart. It draws no attention to itself though it is always secretly there. It is what illuminates our minds to see beauty, our desire to seek possibility, and our hearts to love life.”1 It was through quiet stillness and spiritual depletion that light attuned my spirit to better recognize God’s ever faithful presence with me. As I connected with the natural power and purpose of sunlight, I was able to also connect with that quiet spark of God’s light within me…blessing me with a renewed sense of appreciation for the beauty and infinite possibilities of life. 

In Matthew Fox’s book Passion for Creation: The Earth Honoring Spirituality of Meister Eckhart, Fox shares Eckhart’s belief that there is something like a spark of divine nature, a divine light, a ray, an imprinted picture of the divine” in the soul of every human being. This little spark within one’s self is discovered as a person releases the limited pictures, assumptions, and expectations they have of God.

On the Camino, I knew I felt empty”… and it didn’t feel like I was on the threshold of a deeper revelation. It felt like spiritual poverty; I knew I was edging towards a bankruptcy of my soul if I continued with the same expectations to know and experience God as I had in the past. I knew something was slipping away from me, and it was scary. I was afraid it would be the death of my faith and relationship with God. And there was nothing I could do about it but abide in it.

God does not die on the day when we cease to believe in a personal deity, but we die on the day when our lives cease to be illumined by the steady radiance, renewed daily, of a wonder, the source of which is beyond all reason.”2

Through that season of feeling my old ways of knowing and relating to God slip away, in a fashion that felt close to a spiritual death, light was set free within me and I found myself drawn more closely to the source of Life within me and around me. The spiritual realm of my heart and world was better illuminated as I looked for the light.

During that time on the Camino and through the years following that walk, I’ve been contemplating what it means for me to be a pilgrim. As a pilgrim, I am journeying to the heart of God. To journey to the heart of God is to journey to that divine spark of light, of life, within me. Pilgrimage is not about arriving quickly and efficiently to the destination, it is about giving space and time, attention and love to the actual journey towards an intended destination. This is the pilgrimage my soul began that fateful afternoon in the rustic church of the Meseta, and it is the pilgrimage to which I want to dedicate the rest of my earthly life. 

When Jesus proclaims in John 8:12 that he is the Light of the world, he’s helping us understand that he, part of the Godhead and Creator of all life, illuminates and guides our souls back to the source of life, God with us. To walk in the light of Christ is pilgrimage—navigating us to the heart of God. 

I assume I’m not the only one, though, that can sometimes lose my sense of God’s light within me. Life happens. Bills need to be paid. Families have tension. Schedules are busy. Hearts break. Bodies hurt. Wars and epidemics are frightening. Politics are frustrating. The physical world we reside in is confusing, stressful and unpredictable. There is much that steals our attention and distracts our souls. That is our reality.

But Jesus’ I am the Light of the world” statement is brilliant: Jesus understands our reality of distractions, fear, stress and the overwhelming darkness it causes in our minds and hearts. It’s not Jesus’ nature to shame us and alienate us in our vulnerabilities. Instead, his nature is to light our way through our vulnerabilities and into the abundance of his life. Jesus is all about bringing us back to the heart of God, to our true self. On the way we are met, loved, healed and transformed in this divine light. 

Jesus chose an element, light, that is both familiar and essential for our physical, daily lives to remind us of his purpose. He encourages us to know him the way we know light. So what do we know about light? I return to my delighted observations of sunshine:

Creation needs sunlight, either directly or indirectly, to exist. The power and purpose of sunlight for life shows us the common grace of God. It’s available to everyone. It affects everyone. It provides for and preserves the livelihood of all of creation. 

How are you aware of sunlight in the course of your day? Recognizing the ways we are drawn to sunlight or the ways we take it for granted can help us acknowledge how we interact with (or ignore) God’s presence with us. 

Let me offer you a spiritual practice I designed to help people reflect on and experience God’s presence during the course of a day. A Pilgrimage with Sunlight is a one day retreat you can do anywhere — on the Camino or in your own backyard. It consists of three times of observation and prayer that could take as little as 15 minutes each or extend as long as you like. As you immerse yourself in this practice, I hope you’ll gain insight on these three questions:

  • How does our engagement with sunlight mirror our longing for Christ to illuminate the way to God’s heart?

  • How can sunlight can help us create rhythms in our lives where we purposely notice the light outside of ourselves and then look to the light of Christ within ourselves 

  • What do sunrises and sunsets, dawn and dusk, bright midday light and the golden hour, cloudy days and moonlight, eclipses and northern/southern lights reveal about the ways God enlightens our souls?

Like most spiritual practices, A Pilgrimage with Sunlight” is the most beneficial when practiced more than once…and helps you establish your own pattern and style of looking for the light.

  1. To Bless The Space Between Us, John O’Donahue. ↩︎
  2. Markings, Dag Hammarskjöld. ↩︎

Photo by Mario La Pergola on Unsplash

Text First Published August 2022 · Last Featured on August 2022