Advent 3: The Rap on Darkness

“Sadly, Christianity has never had anything nice to say about darkness. From earliest times, Christians have used ‘darkness’ as a synonym for sin, ignorance, spiritual blindness, and death. Visit almost any church and you can still hear it used that way today: ‘Deliver us, O Lord, from the powers of darkness. Shine into our hearts the brightness of your Holy Spirit, and protect us from all perils and dangers of the night.'”

These are the words of Barbara Brown Taylor from her 2014 book entitled, Learning to Walk in the Dark, in which she explores the forms of perpetual sunniness or “solar spirituality” in many religious circles. These are communities where the “emphasis [is] on a sure sense of God’s presence, certainty of belief, divine guidance in all things, and reliable answers to prayer. Members strive to be positive in attitude, firm in conviction, helpful in relationship, and unwavering in faith.”

The truth is, though, that despite our best intentions and effort, we all tend to experience “dark times” so regularly, which make it difficult for many to see God in the ways they once did: a job is lost, a person we love leaves, a medical diagnosis is given, a child makes choices we would never wish for, a relative is incarcerated, our home is burgled, our business endeavor goes bankrupt, a friendship of a lifetime sours, a dream ends…

Taylor goes on to say, “At the theological level, this language [of light and dark] creates all sorts of problems. It divides every day in two, pitting the light part against the dark part. It tucks all the sinister stuff into the dark part, identifying God with the sunny part and leaving you to deal with the rest on your own time. It implies things about dark-skinned people and sight-impaired people that are not true. Worst of all, it offers people of faith a giant closet in which they can store everything that threatens or frightens them without thinking too much about those things. It rewards them for their unconsciousness, offering spiritual justification for turning away from those things, for “God is light and in him there is no darkness at all” (1 John 1:5).

Not such a bad thing if your lived reality has the steady constancy of the sun 24/7. However, Taylor says many people’s lives more often reflect the waxing and waning of the moon—and therefore they need a more “lunar spirituality” in order to honor the truth of who they are in relation to God.

It seems appropriate that the birth narrative would be placed in the night time, as the Light of the World arrives with Joy for the downtrodden. It also seems appropriate that a group of dirty, smelly people on the margins, aka the shepherds, would be the first ones invited to the party by that God messenger. Darkness can be downright sacred when we aren’t too busy running from the discomfort of things looking differently.

The richness comes when we, like the shepherds, can be awake to notice when the break through comes, when the angel arrives, when enlightenment rises to consciousness. Hence, this is one of the primary reasons we do church together each week—to learn how to live with our eyes wide open for what-we-do-not-know. The dark times of our lives can become dusted with a bit of starry sacredness when we commit to simply trying to be “awake” to where God may be—even though we may not be led directly to the manger of God-revelation so easily as they were!

As it says in Psalm 139: 11-12, “If I say, “Surely the darkness will overwhelm me, And the light around me will be night,” Even the darkness is not dark to you, and the night is as bright as the day. Darkness and light are alike to you.”

Like Abraham who had left home for reasons he didn’t understand, and was finally shown by God his future as he stood in the dark and stared at the stars, like Jacob who wrestled with an angel all night until he had understood the fallout with his brother 20 years before. Like Jesus, who prayed at night in the garden to find his way, and then waited in the darkness of the tomb for resurrection.

May the sacredness of your own life become visible in a new way soon BECAUSE of the dark night that is holding you in Love.

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