Waiting and Unknowing

Darkness

Waiting and Unknowing
Sunday, December 1, 2019
First Sunday of Advent

Advent [meaning “coming”], to the Church Fathers, was the right naming of the season when light and life are fading. They urged the faithful to set aside four weeks to fast, give, and pray—all ways to strip down, to let the bared soul recall what it knows beneath its fear of the dark, to know what Jesus called “the one thing necessary”: that there is One who is the source of all life, One who comes to be with us and in us, even, especially, in darkness and death. One who brings a new beginning. —Gayle Boss [1]

I hope it isn’t difficult to understand why I’m beginning the Advent season reflecting on darkness. [2] I’m not trying to be a spoilsport, but once Thanksgiving is over, we in the United States are rushed headlong into the Christmas season. Yet Advent was once (and still can be) a time of waiting, a time of hoping without knowing, a time of emptying so that we can be filled by the divine Presence. Though you may be wrapping gifts, planning special meals, and spending time with family and friends, I hope you will also take time to allow the Advent darkness to do its work as well.

Not knowing or uncertainty is a kind of darkness that many people find unbearable. Those who demand certitude out of life will insist on it even if it doesn’t fit the facts. Logic and truth have nothing to do with it. If you require certitude, you will surround yourself with your own conclusions and dismiss or ignore any evidence to the contrary.

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.” We can’t be certain of what’s in front of us, but with some time and patience, our eyes adjust, and we can make the next right move.

The Gospel doesn’t promise us complete clarity. If God wanted us to have irrefutable proof, the incarnation of Jesus would have been delayed until technology and science could confirm it.

Scriptures do not offer rational certitude. They offer us something much better, an entirely different way of knowing: an intimate relationship, a dark journey, a path where we must discover for ourselves that grace, love, mercy, and forgiveness are absolutely necessary for survival in an uncertain world. You only need enough clarity to know how to live without certitude! Yes, we really are saved by faith. People who live in this way 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. Infantile religion insists on certainty every step of the way and thus is not very happy.

References:

[1] Gayle Boss, All Creation Waits: The Advent Mystery of New Beginnings, illus. by David G. Klein (Paraclete Press: 2016), xi-xii.

[2] For those readers unfamiliar with the Christian liturgical calendar, Advent is the period of four Sundays before Christmas. It is intended to be a time of preparation, through prayer and reflection, on the coming of Christ at the Nativity (Christmas), in worship and community today, and at the end times.

Adapted from Richard Rohr with Mike Morrell, The Divine Dance: The Trinity and Your Transformation (Whitaker House: 2016), 100-101; and

Richard Rohr, The Naked Now: Learning to See as the Mystics See (The Crossroad Publishing Company: 2009), 120.

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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