Monday, September 29, 2008



Light is the beginning.

It rained earlier that afternoon in Wisconsin country. I was three-and-a-half-years-old. When the storm passed, Mother got us ready to go shopping in town. Dressed in my little white sun dress, blond hair combed and beribboned, “best” sandals strapped to my feet, I was allowed outside with a stern admonition to “stay clean” while Mother got my baby brother ready.

I headed for the upper gravel driveway above our sloping back yard. A delightful mud puddle had formed beneath a giant oak tree. I remember standing in that puddle, that oozy mud squishing splendidly between my toes, gazing up into the canopy high above me. Beams of sunlight shown down through the branches and rain drops sparkled like millions of diamonds stuck to the leaves.

It was a numinous moment; a child's heaven. By the time my Mother found me, I was dripping wet, covered in that splendid mud and had lost my hair ribbons. I've been in awe of light ever since.

Light came first. Genesis 1:3 says God pronounced “Let there be light.” Science's big bang theory puts a lot of light out there too. Regardless of whether you lean toward the Biblical version or the big bang (I accept both), they begin basically with the same thing. Light is life.

When my now-grown son was a small boy, he and I delighted in pointing out “God Sky” to each other. You've seen it; that wonderful phenomena in which rays of the western sun blaze through dark roiling clouds after storms, or beam over the distant mountain peaks just at sunset, delivering a celestial blessing across the landscape. “God Sky” became our shared wonder. The light that lingers on the peaks stays longer, glows richer, becomes other-worldly, the higher you are. Which may account for the fondness he has for the high places.

The light of a single match can be seen in absolute darkness at a great distance. Light as a metaphor for hope, authenticity, knowledge, goodness and love is as old as recorded history. When things are bleak and we don't know what to do, we talk about being “in the dark.” When the rest of the crowd is following each others tails, we admire someone “living by their own lights.” When we see two people in love, we say that we can see “the light of love” shining in their eyes.

An age is called 'dark,' not because the light fails to shine but because people refuse to see it,” noted James Michener. The world seems to be in need of more light right now. Maybe some more salt too. I wouldn't be honest if I didn't admit that I could use more light shining on me this fall, but that would miss the point. Instead of taking it in and keeping it, the world need us to be reflecting light into the world. It's as if by doing so we become both a battery and a mirror; re-energized, we shine hope and light and love on others. I don't necessarily write biblically. But you might want to read Matthew 5:13-16. It's an astounding message! “You are the salt of the earth,” it says. “You are the light of the world!” Reflect on that – and then let it shine.

©2008 Jan Johnson Wondra


Monday, September 22, 2008

# 2

Monday, September 22, 2008

Autumn is a beginning, not an end.

I've always celebrated autumn, which begins today, as the beginning of my new year. To do so has perhaps made me a throwback....the ancients took harvest as the signal of a new year too.

As nature winds down, I gain energy. As the natural light retreats I find it necessary to add new flavor to my life. I organize my desk. Review and write new goals. Assess my volunteer activities. Make lists. Clean closets. I'm not the only one. There has to be a reason that this time becomes hectic throughout society. School starts. Every club seems to hold an organizational meeting. The social season swings into action. The markets shift from the August lull, often giving us an October surprise. This year we got a September one. For many, it was salt rubbed into open wounds.

What is it about salt?

Literature and life are full of references to salt. Job says in the Bible ;“Can that which is unsavory be eaten without salt? Or is there any taste in the white of an egg?” James Beard asked simply, "Where would we be without salt?"

Many of us choose to think of salt as the flavor that we add to our own lives, while others think of salt as the experiences which are liberally sprinkled upon us as we age. William Shakespeare asked “Is not birth, beauty, good shape, discourse, manhood, learning, gentleness, virtue, youth, liberality, and such like, the spice and salt that season a man.”

If you follow that logic, all of life becomes salt. This morning I pondered this, sitting for a while on my back deck in the shifting light, as a breeze sounded the wind chines and ruffled the still-green leaves. I have had cause this year to pause and reflect on the interplay of light and salt in my life. What does it mean to be “worth your salt?” It's an odd phrase, spoken by the likes of Mark Twain, Andrew Jackson, Tallulah Bankhead and Teddy Roosevelt, to name a few. I am hopeful that being worth my salt means that not only have I gained wisdom and insight from what life has brought me(both the good and the not-so-good), but that I am getting better at how I handle what life throws at me. Certainly I've gained strength.

This year, instead of directing all my energy outward, I am open, holding my breath as the hush that is fall descends. I choose to apply my liberally sprinkled salt to reflect, just a little, some of the light that has shown on me as well. Buddha said “Let yourself be open and life will be easier. A spoon of salt in a glass of water makes the water undrinkable. A spoon of salt in a lake is almost unnoticed.”

©2008 this and preceding blog

Monday, September 15, 2008


Monday, September 15, 2008

Life is short.

Much of it goes by while we're not paying attention.

Before we know it, it's gone and with it the chance to become the authentic person we are meant to be. An authentic person adds to the world around them by fulfilling that which she was put here to do; adding substance, light and love. This blog is meant to give flavor, help identify and preserve the authentic in each of us and add light to life in the 21st century.

The name of this blog was chosen quite deliberately. In ancient days, salt and light were basic elements of survival. Salt did not just give food flavor, it was the primary method of food preservation. If you couldn't mine for -- or trade for -- enough salt, you couldn't preserve enough food against the winter months. Your family would face starvation. Salt was so important that the fables of many ancient cultures include folk tales about salt.

A favorite Eastern European folk tale of my daughter (who was born in Pskov, Russia and brought home to America at age three) is the tale Salt Is Sweeter Than Gold, in which a dying king wants to find out how much his three daughters love him so he knows how to divide his kingdom. His youngest daughter tells him that she “loves him more than salt,” which the proud king considered to be an insulting answer. The king banishes her and decides to throw a banquet to celebrate giving the kingdom to his two remaining daughters. A terrible storm washes away all the salt in the kingdom, the food spoils and the people are hungry. Soon, the importance of the princess's declaration and the gift she brings, means the survival of the kingdom and demonstrates the depth of her love to her father.

Where is your salt? What flavor do you find in the world...and what do you add?

Just as salt meant food, light -- fire -- was survival against the dark unknown. The beasts of the great forests of the world were voracious. Light kept the wolves at bay. Light kept the terrors of the night, some real, some imagined outside the walls of the castle, or the hovel. Light meant life.

What is the source of your light? Does it emanate from something temporal? Or is it eternal? Do you reflect it onward or hide it away?

I hope you return to Salt, Light & Life again, as I explore these questions....the answers you and I uncover together, I believe, can add all three to the world.