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Darkness: Weekly Summary

Darkness

Summary: Sunday, December 1—Friday, December 7, 2019

People who live with faith in the midst of darkness never stop growing, are not easily defeated, are wise and compassionate, and frankly, are fun to live with. They have a quiet and confident joy. (Sunday)

Experiences of darkness are good and necessary teachers. They are not to be avoided, denied, run from, or explained away. (Monday)

All the saints and mystics assure us that darkness will never have the last word. The Scriptures promise us that the Light shines in the darkness and will not be overcome by it (see John 1:5). (Tuesday)

There is a light in us that only darkness itself can illuminate. It is the glowing calm that comes over us when we finally surrender to the ultimate truth of creation: that there is a God and we are not it. —Joan Chittister (Wednesday)

I believe I have learned, because of my own struggles, how to see, hear, and feel the struggles of others, voiced and unvoiced. —Diana L. Hayes (Thursday)

Christian wisdom names the darkness as darkness and the Light as light and helps us learn how to live and work in the Light so that the darkness does not overcome us. (Friday)

 

Practice: Seeing with the Heart

She,
In the dark,
Found light
Brighter than many ever see.
She,
Within herself,
Found loveliness,
Through the soul’s own mastery.
And now the world receives
From her dower:
The message of the strength
Of inner power.

—Langston Hughes [1]

In the wonderful little book by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, the Little Prince discovers inner power when the tamed fox shares a secret with these evocative words: “One sees clearly only with the heart. Anything essential is invisible to the eyes.” [2] Spirituality invites us to look with a different pair of eyes, beyond what Thomas Merton called “the shadow and the disguise” [3] of things until we can know them in their connectedness and wholeness. The nondual or mystical mind fully experiences and learns to love limited ordinary things and peeks through the clouds to glimpse infinite and seemingly invisible things. The contemplative mind “knows spiritual things in a spiritual way” (1 Corinthians 2:13). [4]

William Shannon writes:

The paradox of the contemplative way . . . involves a darkening and blinding of the exterior self and an awakening and enlightening of the inner self. The time comes when it is necessary to darken and put to sleep the discursive and rational lights that one was familiar with in meditation. This is no easy task, for one tends to feel guilty about relaxing and resting in the darkness; and there is a strong inclination to climb back into the safety and security of the boat of habit. [5]

Barbara Holmes reflects on Shannon’s insight, applying it in particular to people of African descent:

The disassociation with darkness as the price of assimilation has alienated dark people from its restorative potential. Shannon introduces the possibility that darkness may be the blessed dimming of ego-driven striving, a destination and condition of safety and repose. In this state of trusting refuge, the light of divine revelation, which pierces but does not castigate the darkness, may finally be seen. [6]

For this week’s practice, I invite you to take some time to consider “this state of trusting refuge,” where you might experience “seeing with the heart.” As you engage this practice, allow yourself to be relaxed, sincere, and playful at the same time.

Find a place where you can observe or be present with others for 15-20 minutes. This could be a public park or library, a church before services, or some other place where you feel safe and comfortable. Slowly and gracefully look around you in every direction, including behind you, noticing and confirming that all is well in your environment.

Now close your eyes or lower your gaze so that you can shift your focus to your inner experience. Bring your attention to your heart. If possible, actually feel your heart beating, as it has, tirelessly, since before you were born. Smile or breathe deeply in acknowledgment and appreciation of this gift. Let yourself feel that sense of gratitude for a few minutes.

Now, without looking up, focus your light of awareness to “see” the beating hearts of those in this place. Feel, as deeply as possible, your connection to each one.

Finally, slowly lift your face and look around you, allowing yourself to experience whatever you are experiencing.

Did bringing your attention to your own heart and considering your connection with other hearts allow you to glimpse infinite and seemingly invisible things? You might consider saying a silent prayer of thanks, writing your impressions in a journal, or creating some art as a way to reflect on this experience.

References:
[1] Langston Hughes, “Helen Keller,” The Collected Poems of Langston Hughes, ed. Arnold Rampersad, assoc. ed David Roessel (Alfred A. Knopf: 1994), 146. Reprinted by permission of Harold Ober Associates. Copyright 1994 by the Langston Hughes Estate.

[2] Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, The Little Prince, trans. Richard Howard (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt: 2000, ©1943), 63.

[3] Thomas Merton, The Other Side of the Mountain: The End of the Journey, ed. Patrick Hart (HarperCollins: 1998), 323.

[4] Adapted from, Richard Rohr, Things Hidden: Scripture as Spirituality (Franciscan Media: 2008), 115-116.

[5] William H. Shannon, Thomas Merton’s Paradise Journey: Writings on Contemplation (St. Anthony Messenger Press: 2000), 136.

[6] Barbara A. Holmes, Joy Unspeakable: Contemplative Practices of the Black Church, 2nd ed. (Fortress Press: 2017), 7-8.

For Further Study:
Gayle Boss, All Creation Waits: The Advent Mystery of New Beginnings, illus. by David G. Klein (Paraclete Press: 2016)

Joan Chittister, Between the Dark and the Daylight: Embracing the Contradictions of Life (Image: 2015)

Diana L. Hayes, No Crystal Stair: Womanist Spirituality (Orbis Books: 2016)

Mark Longhurst, “Beyond Light Supremacy: Let There Be Light *and* Darkness,” Patheos (October 11, 2019), https://www.patheos.com/blogs/ordinarymystic/2019/10/beyond-light-supremacy-let-there-be-light-and-darkness/

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

Richard Rohr, The Naked Now: Learning to See as the Mystics See (The Crossroad Publishing Company: 2009)

Richard Rohr, Preparing for Christmas with Richard Rohr: Daily Meditations for Advent (Franciscan Media: 2008)

Image credit: Helen Keller, no. 8 (detail), 1904, Whitman Studio, The Helen Keller Foundation; colorist, Jared Enos.
Inspiration for this week’s banner image: Not knowing or uncertainty is a kind of darkness that many people find unbearable. . . . The very meaning of faith stands in stark contrast to this mindset. We have to live in exquisite, terrible humility before reality. In this space, God gives us a spirit of questing, a desire for understanding. In some ways it is like learning to “see in the dark.” —Richard Rohr
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