“In that region,…there were shepherds in the fields keeping watch over their flock by night.” Keeping watch. As in keeping them safe, from predators or just getting lost. The story of Jesus’ birth includes that bit about sheep being taken care of.

I’m sure there was other watching going on elsewhere. Magi were star gazing. Joseph was watching Mary in her last stages of pregnancy. Herod was looking over his shoulder for any threat to his power.

Some watching is protective, like watching kids play in the park. Some watching is to protect one’s self-interest, as in watching the competition. Some watching is spooky, as in ogling or spying.

“Watch what happens,” invites the chemistry teacher. “Watch out!” warns a cautioning friend as you nearly step into traffic. “Watch for the signs,” a lost driver says to a passenger.

Stay attentive. Keep your eyes open. Shepherds, in your vocation, take care … of the sheep entrusted to you. Keep them safe.

In the context of this Lenten discipline of mine this photo I’ve chosen for today* carries the theme of watching. Photographers keep their eyes open and cameras ready to capture in a split second an image that particularly appeals. A glance, an instant, a sight — oh, there it is! Maybe you have time to set it all up perfectly, adjusting for light, composition, the story. Or, perhaps the image is fleeting and you just aim and try to catch it before it is gone forever.

10363-1Here’s this scene, an old lighthouse in Washington State, now someone’s home. And that someone has gone out to raise the flag at mid-morning. I have another version of this photo, but I had taken it before the resident emerged with the flag. His presence makes the photo more interesting, and including him in it necessitated moving the lighthouse off to the right, so the composition was improved. My watching paid off.

I’ve always liked lighthouses. When I was growing up, my grandmother used to listen to a daily radio serial called “The Guiding Light.” When the program moved to TV, there it was as the opening title came up: a lighthouse with its beam projecting toward the dark seas.

img204_edTMP-2.jpgAnd then I discovered that my own Upstate New York village, nowhere near the ocean, had its own lighthouse! It was an Esso service station. (Though the building is no longer used to service autos, the beacon still blinks up at the top, all these decades later. Cool.)

But, more to the point…what is the purpose of a lighthouse to begin with? It is watching, both active and passive. That is, by day the keeper or guard goes to the 360 degree windowed top and looks out at the seas, watching weather and waves and boats and ships. Yet, mainly, the lighthouse is there to be watched for, its powerful light a beacon, a signal, a warning, and one could argue, a savior of sorts, if the sailor watched for its light.

Keeping watch, keeping safe.

So Jesus’ life story begins with a reference to those shepherds watching over their flock. And the Easter story in the Gospel of John includes another “watch over the sheep” story. In a post-resurrection appearance, Jesus asks the Apostle Peter three times, “Do you love me?” And three times, Peter answers yes. And Jesus responds to each of Peter’s affirmations by telling the apostle to take care of Jesus’ sheep. “Feed my lambs.” “Tend my sheep.” Feed my Sheep.” In other words, “Peter, since you love me, take care of those who have followed me.”

It is said that the reason this dialogue took place three times is that Peter had denied Jesus three times. So Peter must affirm his love three times, and three times receive his assignment: to keep watch, to feed, to protect, to keep the vulnerable ones from getting lost in the myriad ways that loss might occur.

So, in this admittedly roundabout way, that view of the old lighthouse has prompted this reflection on watching and watching over and watching out. And taking care…not in the sense of being suspicious, but in the vocation of being full of care for one another.

Love.

And that is why the Light still shines in the darkness. And it will not be overcome.

[* today? My intention was to write each day in Lent. That didn’t include Sundays, of course. But yesterday, a Saturday, was so full of family and church stuff, there wasn’t an hour to write. I’m very at peace with that! My penance: adding a bonus picture.]

 

 

 

 

 

 

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