A light shines: making metaphors visible

An Epiphany Bible study on “light” and “dark” in the Bible for St. John the Baptist Episcopal Church, Lodi, CA

Tanner's Annunciation

A note: whenever the subject of race and racism comes up, strong feelings also come up. The strength of these feelings tells us how important it is. I ask that you approach this conversation with honesty and humility. That is what I’m going to do. I am not going to ask you to keep yourself in a situation or conversation that feels unsafe: but know that I will keep this space open for questions and honest struggles with issues and emotions.

So many of the passages and prayers we read in this season after Epiphany are framed with the metaphor of God’s light shining upon the dark world. This is one of those cross-cultural, basic human metaphors[1]. We cannot see in the dark like a cat. Darkness/nighttime is dangerous for a human being. The physical ability of sight is, on the whole, good for humans. And so, the metaphor gains traction in a culture and language. Things that are good, but don’t have anything to do with photons, like hope and happiness, and especially in our Bible, truth, are associated with light, and their opposites with dark.

In this study, we are examining how the metaphor of “light” and “dark” is used in the Bible, and how we can make meaning with that metaphor today.

Jan 26: The traditional light/dark metaphor, Isaiah 60 (BCP, NRSV)

Feb 2: Applying light/dark to human beings, Song of Songs 1 (NRSV, RSV)

Feb 9: The variety of experiences with “dark”, Psalms (BCP)

Feb 16: The light continues to shine, John 1:1-5 (NRSV, The Voice, KJV)

Extra: The Christian appropriation, Ephesian 5:6-14 (NRSV, CEV)

Study texts and questions (pdf)

Psalm texts from BCP79 for Feb. 9 (pdf)

[1] George Lakoff has written several books on this from a linguistics/sociology perspective (e.g. Women Fire and Dangerous Things (1987); Metaphors We Live By (1980). John E. Sanders wrote a book on these basic human metaphors from a Biblical studies perspective: Theology in the Flesh (2017).