Light from Darkness
He said, “I am the voice of one crying out in the wilderness, ‘Make straight the way of the Lord,’”
John 1:6-8, 19-28
December 11, 2020, Words By: Fred Laceda, Image By: Unknown
A prison cell may be the last place we look for light; they are dim by design. But in my country, the Philippines, there is a flicker of light emanating from behind the bars we so often associate with darkness. The story of Reina Mae Nasino, a 23-year old detained social activist, has awakened a nation in deep slumber, calling it out of complacency.
Reina works for a non-profit that helps create dignified housing for the urban homeless. She is an outspoken critic of the government’s policies that violated the human rights of the people for whom she advocates. In November of 2019, she was arrested under false pretenses for her work. You see, along with the government’s violent crackdown on drugs, they’ve also targeted progressive groups and individuals, often planting evidence at the scene, in order to silence dissent, a practice called “red-tagging.”
What neither she nor the authorities realized at the time of her arrest was that she was pregnant. She gave birth 7 months later, at the height of the pandemic, while still behind bars. And after a month, her daughter, River, was taken from her custody in spite of the baby’s precarious health. Reina didn’t get to see her again for two months, after River had passed away from pneumonia.
Can light ever come from a place of darkness? Or maybe, should I ask, are we always as capable as we believe ourselves at distinguishing between light and darkness?
In Reina’s case, the government, those who are supposed to care and protect all people—the “light” of society—are the ones who lied and locked her up. And they did it in the name of “safety” and “security” with the implicit approval of millions of supporters, many of them Christians.
We all run the risk of being immersed so deeply in the bright lights of our own making that we become blinded by them. That is until, what we understand to be “light,” gets exposed by the people and places we once, consciously or subconsciously, associated with “darkness.”
Reina is part of a long line of social and human rights activists who are scapegoated, imprisoned or worse, because they are a threat to the status quo. And it’s easy for many to turn a blind eye, or even, out of fear, side with the systems that perform this function. But when the full repercussions of our collective acts become apparent. When the innocent victim is a baby. It exposes and reveals the false pretense of some of the things we cling to as “light.”
Reina’s defiant and mournful cry is a symbol of resilience and resolve in the face of a paralyzing tragedy. It exposes the violence and the lie behind the false peace paid for by the blood of the innocent victims. From the darkness of her cell, she reveals the darkness we mistook for light.
Our lectionary text this week highlights the role of John the Baptist as he both prepares the way of the Lord and stands as a witness to the coming of the light. John the Baptist, like Reina, is a social agitator. They both stand outside the conventional norms of society. They also both subvert our expectations. We might be expecting the one who prepares the way of the Lord to be coming from a prominent place, like Jerusalem. Or we might expect a notable figure like Elijah. But John comes from a place hardly inhabited and he himself is probably a social outcast.
Reina similarly comes from a place we hardly associate with the good news. Her cry, like John’s in the wilderness, is God’s cry for freedom and justice. They both shine as beacons of light in the face of massive injustice—then and now.
And they both invite us to see the unimaginable: the truth of the Incarnation. They stand witness to the reality of God’s capacity to dwell even in places of darkness, in places we deem as unredeemable, even in darkness itself. In Phyllis Tryble’s words, “Her call to care crushes complacency. Through her story, places below rise to expose suffering and healing. Through her, darkness shines upon light.” Are we willing to see light in darkness?