Light of the World

“How many lights do you want? Something like this is less expensive than one with more lights.”

What WAS he talking about? The window contractor stood with me in the spare bedroom in my San Diego house. The goal was to replace two wooden windows (that didn’t work well and had to be propped open) with two aluminum windows that could actually be opened safely. The original windows were from the 40s.


“Each opening is a ‘light’. These windows have one light. We can put in windows with four lights. Strips of aluminum across so they look like French windows. They cost more but they look good.”

I opted for the cheaper ones. They were closer in appearance to the rest of the windows in the house, except the two we’d gotten for cheap at the swap meet and put in the kitchen. Besides, how is dividing ONE light making “more” lights? It was the same window, broken into fourths, actually offering less real light.


Today is Palm Sunday. I went to Lenten Lunch this past Friday at St. Stephens the Martyr, the local Episcopalian church. During Lent, the churches of Monte Vista serve Friday lunch on a rotating basis. It’s a wonderful thing. The purpose of my going was to talk to the young woman who is the Methodist minister about the coffee house project.


St. Stephens the Martyr, Monte Vista, CO

St. Stephens is a beautiful little stone chapel, built to replicate an actual village church in England. It was built by English immigrants to the San Luis Valley. It’s a small medieval structure here in the middle of the wild west. It very closely resembles the little church in Gfenn that inspired Martin of Gfenn.


The Church of the Knights of St. Lazarus, Gfenn, Switzerland

Lenten lunch was the kind of lovely event I remember from my childhood and half thought had ceased to exist in the world, but all of that could be said of Monte Vista. There were four kinds of soup to choose from, four kinds of sandwiches, cookies. Attending was a group of 50 people from all the churches in Monte Vista. I have learned that the traditional denominations have very small memberships. I met many very nice people and was, once more, happy to be in Monte Vista. One of my problems with Christianity (as it’s practiced) is the whole “us vs. them” thing that emerged in the Reformation. I understand it, but I’m convinced that God is bigger than that. With church membership what it is here, there might be little of that in Monte Vista. Those of us who love this small, half-dead town, we need each other and we know it.

My neighbor, E, is a member of St. Stephens. She is also a petite and passionate dynamo of humanity. I think she’s wonderful. She’s Australian. And, that day, she coordinated, cooked, introduced, smiled — and THEN she played the piano to accompany the hymns!

This was followed by what I would call a “homily” delivered by the lay pastor. I listened, trying to dampen down the stuff in my mind. After writing three novels that draw heavily from Scripture, novels that inevitably put my own “Christian” philosophy out into the world, I struggle against the very human tendency to judge what others say. There are some things I just don’t believe.

I don’t believe we’re sinners. I don’t believe in the resurrection. I think it’s irrelevant. I don’t believe that Jesus is my personal savior. I don’t even believe that Jesus, as a person, is the point. As a metaphor, he’s timeless and very important. Here’s a man who was willing to knock out hypocrisy and greed (that will happen later on today, I guess, when he goes to the temple and throws out the moneylenders — an action I’d like to see happen in this country). He was a man who had courage that had been inspired by compassion for the suffering of others. He was a man who could articulate important messages for people to live better, happier, more peaceful lives — messages against greed, “Look to the lilies of the field…” for example. He also demonstrated the nature of faith and its relation to action, “C’mon, Simon Peter. Look at me. Don’t think about the water.”

The people from whom I am descended were “Bible thumpers.” The Scripture was (apparently) the ONLY book they read other than the Martyrs Mirror. This remained the story in the family home until my mom’s generation. My grandfather — not a Bible thumper — loved the written word and so, except on Sundays, they had Victor Hugo, Thomas Carlyle, John Greenleaf Whittier, and more. Still, when I was a kid, the Sunday funnies had to wait until after church. Mennonites originally, the doctrine was primarily the Sermon on the Mount. I do not know if it’s because of the influences of my childhood or my own study, but that is also the part of the New Testament that speaks to me. How to live life? It’s all there. And it isn’t even hard. It’s natural.

Perhaps later today I will see my neighbor, E, hurrying up the street to take communion to — and with — one of the members of St. Stephens who lives in an extended care facility.

E is a single light.

And I still can’t go to church, but if I could, it would be St. Stephens.

17 thoughts on “Light of the World

  1. I am captured by the last sentence you wrote. It has layers of mystery written into it. If you have posts elsewhere that express this, I’d like to see them.

  2. My family was not a group of church-goers. We were for awhile and then that stopped. I cannot remember if it was before or after my dad was in the Holy Name Society and Knights of Columbus. I was going to change that when I had my kids and we did go to church every week. And when they moved out and left home (and the church), so did I. I just can’t go back. I so appreciate what you wrote, Martha. It speaks volumes to me; especially that last line. I so get it.

    • I think my neighbor gets it, too, and I appreciate that. I was apprehensive when I moved here, knowing how church is important in most people’s lives in a community like this and, in fact, the first thing people did when they met and decided I was OK was invite me to church. I had to say “No.” I wanted the “No” to communicate, also, “But I’m glad you go” along with the refusal. So far so good. Last Friday was really entering the “lion’s den” as I was there specifically to talk to the Methodist minister who also wants to find a way to open a coffeehouse in my town. I want the backing of the churches. It struck me that I’m in a position similar to that I found myself in Denver in 1983 organizing the “Festival of Asian Arts and Culture.” Because I wasn’t Asian, I was able to interface between the different Asian groups. Maybe that’s what will happen here with this plan to provide a place for people to gather, relax, do their homework, enjoy their friends. I hope.

      • Thank you! At the luncheon there was a group of people who meet every week to pray over all the empty buildings in town that they’ll not remain empty. I got (inside) really annoyed by that. I kept thinking, “It’s not about prayer. It’s about making something happen through your human effort.” The coffee house was on my mind, of course. But yeah, another reason church is not for me.

  3. I am not a church goer, but was sort of born into a Church of England family, my grandparents being pentecostal and baptised so it was a mixture, that did nothing to convert me, I go to churches to take photos of the architecture, family weddings and a funeral. It does nothing for me. However, yes, I am now on page 100 of Martin of Gfenn and because I am on page 100 it means I will read it until the end because I like a good story, religious or not. You can always learn something. I am enjoying the book and am now ready for the next one.

    • Yeah, back in the Martin of Gfenn days, the church was everything and everywhere. It would be impossible to write about the 13th century without the church — and it meant I had to learn a LOT since my upbringing was passionately anti-Catholic. It really opened my eyes doing the research for Martin. I’m very glad you like the book! I think it’s mostly about painting and not giving up.

  4. I was thrilled to open Colorado or Bust! this afternoon and find a post. I’ve missed reading about your life in Monte Vista, and this post was worth the wait: a thoughtful exploration on Christianity, your upbringing, and life in a small town. Perfect for Easter. Martha, I must be oblivious or a little slow. When you are not posting on Colorado or Bust, could I just go the and find you there? I really have missed you.

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