I read the passage slowly, letting it float in the air between us, letting it settle:
In the beginning the Word already existed.
The Word was with God,
and the Word was God.
He existed in the beginning with God.
God created everything through him,
and nothing was created except through him.
The Word gave life to everything that was created,
and his life brought light to everyone.
The light shines in the darkness,
and the darkness can never extinguish it (John 1:1-5).
His life brought light to everyone. The words already shine like a beacon for me. Oh, that my life would also bring light, His light.
But for now, it’s just about listening, the five of us quiet and full around the table outside, twinkle lights glowing warm on our cheeks. The wind, even the Spirit, dances, and I sit back, thankful for Fall. “Okay, I’m going to read it again,” I say, “and this time I want you to think about which word or phrase stands out to you.” Carefully I shape the Word, letting it flood my lips, my tongue, with sweetness. I like to taste the feast, to savor it. I glance up as the flavors blend and mature, watching our children–Zoe running one hand through her hair; Adam swinging his head, catching and releasing my eyes; Riley grinning sleepy, exploding into joy when I look at her. I feel Kevin beside me. Even though we’re not touching, we’re always knotted up. Kevin and I try to take turns leading these conversations, but we don’t really know how to do anything individually.
“Okay, Adam? What word or phrase stands out to you?” I’ll be honest: I don’t really expect him to fully understand the question, much less to give me a solid answer. His God-connect has always been music and worship. But I ask him first because these conversations can be lopsided, and Zoe gets tired of being the deep-thinker when it comes to words. Both of my autistic children are hyperlexic, which is somewhat common to people on the spectrum because of their visual acuity. They decode words, matching syllables to sounds, more easily than they comprehend language, which means that hyperlexic people can read far more complex texts than they can understand. Determining the actual level of comprehension is a challenge because a discrepancy also exists between their receptive language skills (what they understand) and their expressive language skills (what they can say). Adam also has difficulty completing the neuro-motor processes required to speak. In other words, he thinks far more deeply and has much more to say than his body will allow. I’m patient; it’s important always to give Adam extra time for responses. And I love watching a thought born in his eyes travel carefully to his lips.
Adam’s eyes dart, sharp and intense. With great concentration, he sifts and sorts information, trying to set it aside, trying to find clarity. I think of all the papers Adam brought home in elementary school– jagged-cut pictures, crazy-colored and smack-glued in sequence order below paragraphs of prose; images randomly circled and shaded and marked, the instructions below—Circle the farmer’s hat. Color the rabbit brown. Mark a blue ‘X’ on the tractor’s wheels. Adam has spent so much of his young life trying to understand what it all means, but has always understood, in his own way, the things that matter most. His blue eyes grab mine, holding on.
“Light.” The word slices quickly, like the brilliance it labels, as though someone just flipped a switch. It’s as though Adam tosses the word out of his mouth before it can escape. “Light shines in the darkness.” Adam hates darkness, even the edges of shadows. I pass by his room in the middle of the day and the overhead light blazes, even when he’s somewhere else. I flick it off, off, off with my fingers, but if he’s home, he turns it back on, on, on, that and his music, both always flooding the room and spilling out into the hall. The compromise between us has been that lights in the common spaces remain off unless needed, but in his places, there’s always light. And at night, he absolutely will not sleep without a light on somewhere.
I glance at Kevin and a wow briefly flashes between us, just a silent thought we share and hold equally. The surprise isn’t that this particular verse would spark for Adam, but that he understands the question and is able to tell us. When you have learned to anticipate that your child will not be able to talk to you, it’s always a surprise when they do. We hold the moment like a bird wriggling in our cupped palms, bound any moment to fly away forever.
“Great answer,” I tell him, lifting my arm for a fist bump across the table.
“Happiness can be found even in the darkest of times, if one only remembers to turn on the light. Albus Dumbledore,” Zoe says evenly, her voice quiet.
God is light, and in him, there is no darkness at all (1 John 1:5). The people walking in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of deep darkness a light has dawned (Isaiah 9:2). The Word flicks on joy, scattering shadows. His life brought light to everyone. God brought us happiness in the darkest of times. “In the same way, let your light shine (Matthew 5:16).” There it is again. Oh, let me be a light-bringer.
I shift my attention to Riley. “Well, what word or phrase sticks out most to me is beginning, because in the beginning God made us, and He made the world, and He made everything.” Long ago, Riley learned to repeat questions as a strategy for constructing complete answers. She lifts one arm as she talks, moving her fingers back and forth as though she’s using them to walk her thoughts across the space between us. It’s no less our miracle that she speaks and understands simply because she talks to us more frequently. This has always been her favorite thing about God, that He creates and created everything.
And the first thing God said in the beginning, when He set about that creating, was, “Let there be light (Genesis 1:3).”
Zoe shifts in her chair, thinking. “Well, mine is closer to Adam’s. It’s the part about how the darkness can never extinguish the light. So, light always wins.”
Light always wins. And in heaven, like in Adam’s room, the light is always on. I’m wondering now if, in some soul-deep way, this reminds my son of home? Because he’s always felt a bit like a foreigner here; he doesn’t know the language. “And there will be no night there—no need for lamps or sun—for the Lord God will shine on them (Revelation 22:5).” I have always loved light too, and I think maybe now I know why.
I read the passage again, carefully, tasting the words. “Now. What do you think God is trying to say to you tonight through this passage?”
We wait, watching the breeze lift the wispy hair from their foreheads. His life brought light to everyone, and our children, their lives bring His light to us. God still pours light out of clay pots.
A silent moment and another and another, and then, “Adam?”
He looks at me, drilling me with those eyes, lifting a confident chin. “Well, um…I think I’ll say ummm…putting on faith. Yes.”
Adam pushes and drags the words, but his answer is intentional, clear, solid.
Kevin and I glance at each other—another wow, and we’re not ready to let it go.
“Adam, say that again,” Kevin says.
“I say put on the faith,” Adam says again, this time more quickly, as though the words are still sitting rich on his tongue. The words on and faith land strong, propelled by the force of all the significance he can lend them. Somewhere in the clutter and jumble of unneeded words and stumbling flesh always beats the heart of Truth. Truth clothed with humanity, light in the darkness, even our faith.
In God’s places, the light is always on, because He is the light.
And the darkness can never extinguish His Light.
This is the faith we put on; the faith we wear like a breastplate; the faith we hold, glinting and sharp like a shield, as we make our way through every darkness. And that tonight it pours from Adam’s heart? Well, that just makes it the brightest thing all week.