Who’s afraid of the Dark?

September 20, 2020

I will give you the treasures of darkness and riches hidden in secret places, so that you may know that it is I, the Lord, the God of Israel, who call you by your name. –Isaiah 45:3

As a child I had ambivalent feelings about going to sleep at night. I loved it when my mom came into my bedroom, wrapped her arms around me and told me she loved me. Then she would secure my blankets around my little body; she called it tucking me. Our last ritual was saying a prayer from her childhood. I would close my eyes, clasp my hands together, and in a reverent attitude pray, “Now I lay me down to sleep. I pray the Lord my soul to keep. If I should die before I wake, I pray the Lord my soul to take.”

This prayer brought me some comfort, and it terrified me at the same time. I could die before I woke up in the morning? What was out there? DARKNESS. I knew monsters lurked under my bed and in my closet. I could hear them creeping up the stairs the minute my mom left my room. Vampires, werewolves, witches, and goblins. Darkness was terrifying.

Many a night I laid awake too scared to move because of the darkness swallowing me up. What was the solution to my fears? Leave a light on in my room so that it was never completely dark.

How much fear do we have of darkness? Why did we have to stop playing outside when it got too dark? Is all darkness bad? Do we try to avoid it at all cost? If we do everything right, can we eliminate darkness from our lives? If we keep the light on, can we ward off dark emotions and feelings?

In the beginning God creates the heavens and the earth and the earth was a formless void and darkness covered the earth, so God creates light and the light is good. What about the darkness? Barbara Brown Taylor writes, “Christianity has never really had anything nice to say about darkness. From earliest times, Christians have used darkness as a synonym for sin, ignorance, spiritual blindness, and death.”

We pray for God to deliver us from darkness into the light. We sing, “This little light of mine. I’m gunna let it shine.” One of my favorite moments of the year is on Christmas Eve when we sing “Silent Night” and share the light of God as we light each other’s candles and the candlelight illuminates the sanctuary and us in peaceful bliss. Light is very good indeed.

But, is it possible for us to live in God’s light 24/7? After all, darkness is a part of every day. It’s always there. One of the most difficult times of my life was when Jennifer and I attended a prosperity gospel church with a quite simple message: keep unwavering faith and continually pray for deliverance and God will protect you from all darkness.

As one of my mentors Reverend Lyn Evans said, “That’s great until life happens.”

Darkness falls into our lives in a myriad of ways. Taylor says we lose our job, our marriage falls apart, our child acts out in some attention getting way, we pray hard for something that does not happen, we begin to doubt and question some things we were taught in school and in church, death knocks on our door. We face pandemics, racism, out of control wildfires, tropical storms, and violent division. Darkness is everywhere.

Taylor writes that “sunny spirituality” does not give us many tools for living in the dark. We can try to avoid the darkness or go around it, but it will still be there. We can cultivate more faith and pray continuously but darkness will still be a part of our lives. Jennifer and I discovered that if we believed that through faith there would be no darkness at all, all that happened was we were more afraid of the dark. Every time something “bad” happened we experienced guilt and shame because we thought we let the darkness in. We lived in constant fear of darkness.

Barbara Taylor asks some good questions. What would our lives look like with God if we trusted the rhythm of days and nights? What exactly are we afraid of and how much do we miss by reflexively reaching for the lights? Do we have enough faith to explore the dark instead of using faith to bar all our doors? How much more is in store for us if we learn to walk in the dark?

I struggle with darkness but there is hidden treasure in it as well. In the darkest times of my life, I have experienced God’s grace and love the most. In the darkness, false gods die, and we discover that God’s grace sustains us and leads us through the dark valleys. “Through darkness and doubt often come the greatest creativity and faith. Our faith is strengthened every time we go through a period of questioning and darkness,” writes Father Richard Rohr.

May we experience the truth of luminous darkness.
May we walk through our dark nights together with God’s guiding Spirit.
Like seeds, may we grow in the darkness.

Blessings and peace,

Posted in Meditations.