Paschal Mystery: The Play of Light and Shadow

Blog by Sr. Janet Schlichting

“I have a little shadow that goes in and out with me/ and what can be the use of it is more than I can see.”    Robert Louis Stephenson

“Glory be to God for dappled things!”  G.M. Hopkins

We are born creatures of light and darkness, on many levels. From the darkness of the womb, we are pushed into the startling instancy of light. We sleep and wake according to the pattern of day and night. We spend our lives in the rhythm of sunrise and sunset, the color that lingers as evening fades into darkness, and “rosy-fingered dawn” (Homer), streaks the sky of a new day. Darkness and light become metaphors for ignorance and truth, for evil and redemption, for hate and love, for grief and joy.

Shadow, the product of darkness and light, is a constant for us, and a necessity for establishing the dimensions of what we see. Shadow can function to obscure and deform, to bring drabness and dreariness, and then again, reveal in the shifts—or play– of light and darkness the changing shape of the world around us, ebbing softly into roundness, dividing sharply into angles and planes– a box, a pyramid– or rendering the folds and falls of a tablecloth or a garment. An artist relies on light and shadow to compose a painting, rendering portraits that seem to shine from within like Rembrandt’s, or the dramatic contrast of the chiaroscuro used by Caravaggio.

All over the earth, light and shadow play in an ever-varying drama. Our lives play out that way, too, and so did those of the apostles, in the shadows of fear and hopelessness transformed into light-bearers, as darkness turned to dawn in the garden for Mary of Magdala, as the fearful tightness of the Upper Room yielded to Peace and Joy.  There was Thomas, in the shadow of doubt, invited into the wounds of Jesus and believing; there was the Risen Lord tending a charcoal fire, a  jolt of shame for Peter the betrayer, now turned into an Easter breakfast of love and mercy in abundance. Peter’s shadow was transformed into healing power for people who sought to lie in his shadow and be cured. There was Stephen, standing in the shadow of certain death, his face glowing like an angel’s. And they are us.

I am musing about the inevitability of shadow. Even as we profess the glory of salvation in Christ Risen, we dwell in spaces of darkness. Set free from bonds of sin and death, we are not spared times of doubt and pain. Shadow seems part of being human. But we are graced—Christed–with this insight: shadows are impermanent. In and around us they dim and flare, flash and fade, stretch and shrink, shaping our own unique play of light and darkness. We know the weight and weariness of the world. But the light that dapples our journey is sure–a promise that will not fail us.

As with Peter and the flame-lit disciples, there is a sort of Divine burnishing going on with us. We  develop a certain glow, and to our surprise, flicker as light for others. Christ illumines our common path on the journey of faith and love that the Eastern church calls “divinization.”  Standing around the new fire this past Easter Vigil, we heard the Exultet:  “Rejoice O earth in shining splendor, radiant in the brightness of your king!” and we saw how the candle flames moved over the faces of those gathered. In truth, we are together aglow, walking in the shining shadow of the Paschal Mystery.

Posted in News, Weekly Word

13 responses to “Paschal Mystery: The Play of Light and Shadow

  1. Thank you, Jan! I love that “you, as artist” is spoken beauty!! Love you, my Sister. ❤️

  2. Thank you, Jan. I love the insight about shadows obscuring and revealing and then our being Christed! Thank you for being an instrument of grace, a face of Christ, for Christine us.


  3. Thank you Sister Jan.
    This offered me grace
    and balm. I loved it and it
    is lingering with me, it imparts layers of insight
    and wisdom.
    Peace – Valerie

  4. Thanks, Janet! A wonderful reflection on shadow, light and darkness. Gives me food for meditation.

  5. I stand in awe at the beauty of your writing, dear Jan. We who are children of the Light are lifted up by your beautiful words and the images they engender.

  6. I deeply appreciated your scriptural, philosophical, and very poetic reflection on the reality of life…. paradoxes galore, but ultimately light filled…thank you.

  7. Thanks, Jan, for your beautiful reflection. I needed the reminder of the roles of Light and Shadow in life.

    Blessings on you for the continuing Great 50 Days of Easter!


  8. Dear Janet,
    Your reflection made me think of a recent “Bread Meeting”
    I attended with about 3000 people of different faiths. All were in unison to action steps taken for social justice here
    In Franklin County, Ohio. When the actin was affirmed the word “Bread” would be said by the leader of the meeting and the entire group would respond “ Rising”. Yet not
    all commitments were made and we experienced the shadow side of our community for social justice. Yet, it did not deter the group to keep working on making the
    “Bread Rise”.
    Blessings and peace,

  9. Sr. Janet,
    What a wonderful reflection of the shadow in our world and in our lives. Your presentation really made me think. You are also a very good writer.

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