An Unflattering Light

By Sarah Cornwell

A Reading from 1 John 1:1-10

1 We declare to you what was from the beginning, what we have heard, what we have seen with our eyes, what we have looked at and touched with our hands, concerning the word of life — 2this life was revealed, and we have seen it and testify to it, and declare to you the eternal life that was with the Father and was revealed to us — 3we declare to you what we have seen and heard so that you also may have fellowship with us; and truly our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ. 4We are writing these things so that our joy may be complete. 

5 This is the message we have heard from him and proclaim to you, that God is light and in him there is no darkness at all. 6If we say that we have fellowship with him while we are walking in darkness, we lie and do not do what is true; 7but if we walk in the light as he himself is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin. 8If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. 9If we confess our sins, he who is faithful and just will forgive us our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness. 10If we say that we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us.  


According to Wikipedia, the oldest surviving photograph was taken in 1825. Though the process has changed extensively over the past near 200 years, one thing has remained constant: a photograph requires good light. In the age of digital media, we no longer need light for film, but we do need it to look our best. The right lighting can minimize imperfections — wrinkles, dry or oily skin, thinning hair, cellulite. By contrast, the wrong lighting can call uncomfortable attention to all those traits we perceive as unattractive and which we would rather keep hidden. In an age when humanity uploads to the internet over a billion photographs of ourselves a day, carefully curated to show our most attractive selves, to portray us in the best light, we should be particularly ripe for John’s words, which stress the importance of walking in the light.

The light of Jesus Christ and the soft, flattering light of the “perfect” photograph are quite unrelated. In the light of Jesus Christ, our shameful imperfections are laid bare. Not the shallow (and perhaps needless) shame of a few extra wrinkles or rolls, but the deep shame of our failure to truly love God and our neighbor. We would rather hide in darkness with our artificial light, flattering our vanity and feeding our insecurities, than step into the light where we must confront our sin and make a choice. We could choose to take responsibility for the ugly side of our nature and repent, or we could choose to cling to it, sticking with the lighting we control, the level of darkness that feels safe. After all, if we give up our sinful habits, we may no longer look quite so glamorous, quite so enviable, as in our perfectly-lit photos.

Jesus is inviting us into the light, into himself, to experience a richer form of beauty, one where our real imperfections are not masked, but removed, and we are free to love and serve rather than impress.

Sarah Cornwell is a laywoman, ballet teacher, and an associate of the Eastern Province of the Community of St. Mary. She and her husband have six children and they live in the Hudson Valley north of New York City.

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Daily Devotional Cycle of Prayer

Today we pray for:

The Diocese of Bhopal (United Church of North India)
St. John’s Episcopal Church, Bangor, Maine


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