Benediction Online

Sunday, March 01, 2015

God in the Darkness

One of the wonderful things about living in Los Osos is how dark it can get at night and how many stars we can see. One night just over a week ago, my spouse went out in the dark to empty the trash. She was alarmed by a looming, moving, rustling presence around my car. It took her a few moments to identify this mysterious being. A bouquet of birthday balloons had been tied to the side mirror. What appeared to be a dark monster turned out to be a loving gift.

On Thursday mornings during Lent, Lorienne Schwenk and Faye Hogan are leading a conversation about Walking in the Dark, based on the book of that name by Barbara Bradford Taylor. In her book, Taylor points out that in the language we use to describe our faith we often contrast light and dark, with light being good and darkness being bad. Taylor criticizes churches which emphasize the positive, suggesting even if subtly, that if you are experiencing a time of darkness in your own life then somehow you have moved away from God, and just need to step back for the darkness to dissipate. She calls these full solar churches – where you have to live in the sun.

The idea that goodness and light follow those who love and serve God while darkness is the heritage of those who turn away from him, is definitely found in the Bible. Scholars identify four different strands of tradition in the early books of the Old Testament. One of these is known as the Deuteronomist. This tradition maintains that if Israel kept their covenant with Yahweh then all would be well with them, and it interprets all the bad things that happen as the direct result of their failure to keep the law. This concept is echoed in the Psalms and Proverbs which often talk about how the wicked are laid low and the good are exalted. But the book of Job offers a corrective. As you will remember, Job is a good man who is prosperous until suddenly everything goes wrong in his life; his children are killed when a building collapses, his livestock are decimated by illness and he himself developed a terrible skin disease. But this was not because he failed to keep the law or because he was not faithful to God. It was just ‘cos. Life happens. And it’s not always pretty.

Job did not experience full solar living, and today’s gospel shows that we cannot expect it either. We cannot expect everything to go well all the time. We follow Christ whose life led him to horrible persecution and a painful death. Jesus’ personal covenant with God was such that in order to fulfill his destiny, in order to be truly who he was called to be, he had to keep going despite the consequences.

And Jesus lets us know that we too have crosses to accept and carry.

It can’t have been easy for Jesus to anticipate his death. It is never easy when we are told that we have a limited time to live; coming to terms with impending death is one of the hardest challenges of age or sickness. The will to live is such a strong force within us that our mortality is hard for us to bear. So Jesus seems to over-react a bit to Peter, who was just trying to be helpful. “Get thee behind me Satan!” Whew! Haven’t we all done that? Having decided to do something we don’t really want to do, we snap at someone who suggests that we don’t really have to do it.

Jesus’ cross was a natural outcome of his living a life which challenged the religious and political authorities of his time, just as Martin Luther King’s assassination was a natural outcome of his living a life which challenged the religious and political authorities and demanded equality. Neither of them felt that they had a choice. It was what they got to do. Our crosses are not something we have to seek out, but pain and suffering that occur as a natural part of our own struggle to follow our calling to live authentic lives of holiness and compassion. Some of us have suffering which is evident to other people, but all of us have inner difficulties which can also be extremely painful as we seek to became whole and to let go of the patterns and traumas of the past which hold us back from following the joy of our own true nature.

Truly living in the light is knowing that darkness is part of the package, and supporting each other in those difficult times when it all seems overwhelming. Taking up our cross means accepting the challenges that we have been given and working with them instead of trying to run away, or allowing ourselves to feel like victims or unloved because God allows us to have these problems. Jesus accepted the challenge of his life which was to bring him pain and suffering. He accepted the cross. The first thing we get to do is to accept our cross, and then we can work with it, with the help of the Holy Spirit.

We live in an age when the world seems to be falling apart. The threat of climate change and environmental catastrophe is overshadowed by the horrors of the violence and war in Syria and Iraq to mention just two places; the rise of radical fighting groups in Nigeria and Libya who seem to count human life as worthless; and the martyrdom of Christians who stand in their way.

Jesus lived through great darkness and in the grace of God he conquered it, by living non-violently and refusing to return evil for evil. He is our model. Whatever the darkness in our own lives, God is as present there as she is in the light. We will conquer the darkness not by using its own methods to fight it, but by practicing forgiveness and compassion and working for justice. In fact, talk of conquering the darkness is not always the best frame. Jesus has conquered the ultimate darkness, and for us the challenge is to live courageously through it, knowing that it is not nearly as powerful as it seems.

Sometimes we sing the hymn “I want to walk as a child of the light” which says in the refrain, “In him there is no darkness at all, the day and the night are both alike.” God is present in the dark times as well as the sunny, solar powered days. Our experience of the cross is that it is dark and burdensome, but even there God has not forsaken us. For God the darkness is not darkness at all. It is a part of human life.
In fact, some darkness is friendly or at least, benign. Rather than gathering everything we think of as dark into one bundle and labeling it bad or scary or to be avoided, darkness needs discernment. Some of it is personal. Some of it is global. Some of it we have to live with and come to terms with, some of it can be changed and enlightened as we grow in God. God is present in all of it. “Yea even though I walk through the valley of death, I will fear no evil for thou art with me,” says the psalmist.

This is the great hope and the great promise of our faith. Not that we will live in happiness every day of our lives, not that everything will turn out well and we will be prosperous and comfortable, not that if we turn to Jesus we don’t need to suffer. No. Our hope is that even in the darkest moments, God is still present. In fact, God may be most present when we least feel his touch.

Whatever the challenges you are facing right now, whatever the pains and the fears, God is with you. God’s blessing surrounds you. You are beloved. You can accept your cross, knowing that you are not alone and that as you live out the inevitabilities of your life, seeking always to love God and your neighbor as yourself, you are following the path of Christ. And it is in that path that we find our true fulfillment.

Let us pray

Holy One, give us the serenity to accept the things we cannot change, the courage to change the things we can, and the wisdom to know the difference. Amen.


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