Gaining New Traction

Darkness

Gaining New Traction
Monday, December 2, 2019

Experiences of darkness are good and necessary teachers. They are not to be avoided, denied, run from, or explained away. Even if we don’t experience clinical or diagnosed depression, most of us will go through a period of darkness, doubt, and malaise at some point in our lives. I hope during these times we can reach out to someone—a therapist, spiritual director, friend—to support us. And when we feel strong may we be the shoulder someone else can lean on.

There’s a darkness that we are led into by our own sin (the illusion of separation), and selfishness (living out of the false or separate self), and stupidity. We have to work our way out of this kind of darkness by brutal honesty, confession, surrender, forgiveness, apology, and restitution. It may feel simultaneously like dying and being liberated.

But there’s another darkness that we’re led into by God, grace, and the nature of life itself. In many ways, the loss of meaning, motivation, purpose, and direction might feel even greater here. Some call it “the dark night of the soul.” Yet even while we feel alone and that God has abandoned us, we can also sense that we have been led here intentionally. We know we are in “liminal space,” betwixt and between, on the threshold—and we have to stay here until we have learned something essential. It is still no fun and filled with doubt and “demons” of every sort. But it is the darkness of being held closely by God without our awareness. This is where transformation happens.

Of course, the darkness that we get ourselves into by our own “sinful” choices can also become the darkness of God. Regardless of the cause, the dark night is an opportunity to look for and find God—in new forms and ways. Neither God nor goodness exist only in the light but permeate all places, seen and unseen. It seems we have to “unknow” a bit every time we want to know in a new way. It is like putting your car in reverse in the mud and snow so that you can gain a new track and better traction.

United Church of Christ pastor and Living School “sendee” Mark Longhurst describes how both light and dark are essential for transformation.

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 [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. 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. [1]

Periods of seemingly fruitless darkness may in fact highlight all the ways we rob ourselves of wisdom by clinging to the light. Who grows by only looking on the bright side of things? It is only when we lose our certainties that will we be able to deconstruct our false images of God to discover the Absolute Reality beneath all our egoic fantasies and fears.

References:
[1] 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/.

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), 165-166.

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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