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Seeing through Shadows

Sunday, September 3, 2017

Hope in the Darkness

Seeing through Shadows
Sunday, September 3, 2017

Spiritual transformation is often thought of as movement from darkness to light. In one sense that is true, while in another sense, this image fails to show the whole picture.

Darkness is always present alongside the light. Pure light blinds; shadows are required for our seeing. We know the light most fully in contrast with its opposite—the dark. There is something that can only be known by going through “the night sea journey” into the belly of the whale, from which we are spit up on an utterly new shore.

Western civilization as a whole does not know how to hold darkness. Rather than teach a path of descent, Christianity in the West preached a system of winners and losers, a “prosperity Gospel.” Few Christians have been taught to hold the paschal mystery of both death and resurrection and how to acknowledge and address the dark side of the Church (for example, sexism, persecution of outsiders, pedophilia—to name a few). As a result, many people who formerly called themselves Christians have “thrown out the baby with the bathwater,” rejecting Christianity with the same dualistic, all-or-nothing thinking that immature religion taught them in the first place.

In many ways, this struggle with darkness has been the Church’s constant dilemma. It wants to exist in perfect light, where God alone lives (see James 1:17). It does not like the shadowland of our human reality. In Christian history, we see Eastern Orthodox churches creating heavenly liturgies with little sense of social justice; Luther’s abhorrence of his own darkness; the Swiss Reformers outlawing darkness; the Puritans repressing darkness; the Roman Church consistently unable and unwilling to see its own darkness; the typical believer afraid of darkness; fundamentalists splitting darkness off into a preoccupation with Satan. Then comes postmodernism, with a predictable pendulum swing, seemingly in love with darkness! We are hardwired to avoid the human mystery—that we are all a mixture of darkness and light—instead of learning how to carry it patiently through to resurrection.

There are no perfect institutions and no perfect people. There is only the struggle to be whole. It is Christ’s passion (patior, the “suffering of reality”) that will save the world. Jesus says, “Your patient endurance will win you your lives” (Luke 21:19). He shows us the way of redemptive suffering instead of redemptive violence. Patience comes from our attempts to hold together an always-mixed reality. Perfectionism only makes us resentful and judgmental. Grateful people emerge in a world rightly defined, where even darkness is no surprise but an opportunity.

Gateway to Silence:
The night shines like the day.

Adapted from Richard Rohr with John Feister, Hope Against Darkness: The Transforming Vision of Saint Francis in an Age of Anxiety (St. Anthony Messenger Press: 2001), 163-164.

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