I don’t like darkness. I know some people do, but I prefer things to be bright and clear. The darkness scares me. It scares me because of those unknown threats that I can’t make out; and it scares me more because of the darkness that lurks in my soul. I don’t think I’m alone with this dislike. There are a host of others who join me in ruing this time of the year when the days are shorter and the shadows lengthen.
The irony in all of this is that this season of Advent is God’s call to believers to trust the darkness to Him – both the external forms as well as the personal. Faith faces the darkness and dares to step into it believing that in the process we will experience God.
This week I read something by a UCC pastor, Mark Longhurst, who contends that both light and darkness are essential for our spiritual transformation. Longhurst states:
In spirituality…we elevate the light over the darkness and praise the light and expel the darkness. Light conquers the darkness, the darkness will not overcome the light, John’s Gospel says (Jn. 1:5)…. The more Genesis works its wisdom on me, though, the more light and darkness seem bound up together…. God separates light from darkness, but they both need each other, and they both bear the breath of God (Italics mine). This, too, I think, is the truth of our lives. The light and the darkness are bound up with one another. Spiritual transformation does not happen only on the light level. We have to do the inner work of facing the shadow, or repressed realities, of who we are, both the beautiful and the bad. Some of our most painful experiences in life – whether death, divorce, or disease – often turn out to create a capacity in us for greater love. What we think is light shows up in what we think is darkness – and vice versa (“Beyond Light Supremacy: Let There Be Light and Darkness, Patheos, 10/11/19).
When I think about it, those periods of seemingly meaningless darkness often grow me when I bother to look for God in the midst of them. After all, no one ever grows only when he or she looks at the bright side of things. It’s only when we walk by faith and not by sight that we come to know a God who dwells in inscrutable darkness as much as He does in inexpressible light.
As the story goes, there was once a young girl who was in bed preparing for that inevitable time when the lights must be turned off. Prayers had been said and her mother had hugged her. Perhaps in an effort to put off sleep, the girl asked her mother why God created nighttime. “Why didn’t God make it daytime all the time?” Her mother mumbled something about how it’s easier to sleep in the dark and we all need rest. But then the daughter interrupted her by saying, as only a child can, “Oh, I know why it gets dark at night; that’s when God puts the world in His pocket!”
Yes, this time is difficult for so many of us. But let us use it to wait and work and hope even while it is still dark. The Light of Life is surely coming. When it does, we will then be better able to carry it into this dim and shadowy world with us and in us.
"Where can I go from Your presence? If I say, ‘Surely the darkness will hide me and the light become night around me,’ even the darkness will not be dark to You; the night will shine like the day, for darkness is as light to You” (Psalm 139:7, 11-12).