This post was first published in September, 2017. The world is still a scary and dangerous place. But we can still learn from darkness.
For me, 2017 has been a year of heaviness and darkness. I am not depressed or guilt-ridden; I just feel the weight of the world’s chaos and pain. Perhaps I have been gifted by the Holy Spirit with a greater sense of compassion in my later years
Perhaps I have been tempted by the Evil One to accept the tornado of forces he has unleashed and to give up on expecting calm days and blue skies. This convergence of emotions plus a deeper grip on the reality of sin has resulted in my overwhelming recognition of the power of the darkness.
In his Daily Meditation on September 5, 2017 Richard Rohr says: “Darkness is a good and necessary teacher. It is not to be avoided, denied, run from, or explained away. First, like Ezekiel the prophet, we must eat the scroll that is “lamentation, wailing, and moaning” in our belly, and only eventually becomes sweet as honey (see Ezekiel 2:9-10; 3:1-3).
I suspect that most people over forty would agree that “darkness” can be a teacher. I wonder, however, how many of us try to avoid, deny, run away from, or explain away the darkness rather than settling back into it and letting it teach us. How can the darkness teach us?
Theologians and philosophers have written thousands of words about this. I take my cue from Eugene Peterson, pastor and poet, who wrote an entire book on the phrase “eat this book” from the passage in Ezekiel quoted by Rohr. This metaphor for absorbing the words of scripture into our lives gives me some help in allowing darkness to teach me.
When we eat, we consciously open our mouths and take in the food. Then we chew it. Then our systems take over, process what we need, and provide for the elimination of what we don’t need. So how do we accept, chew, process, and eliminate the darkness of “lamentation, wailing and moaning?” First we take it in. We do not try to make it go away. We do not try to fix it (unless this is chronic depression); we live through it. We open our souls to the reality of the darkness without blaming God for causing it. We “chew” on the darkness and “swallow” it.
Secondly, we allow the Holy Spirit to help us digest what we are learning. We trust that in time with the Spirit’s guidance we will be able to separate the wheat from the chaff. We affirm (or re-affirm) that on earth we must live in the midst of suffering, walk through darkness and uncertainty, and become comfortable with mystery. We trust the grace and faithfulness of God to be with us in times of light and dark.
Richard Rohr has also written that “there is every indication that the U.S., and much of the world, is in a period of exile now. The mystics would call it a collective “‘dark night'” (Daily Meditation for September 11, 2017). Perhaps we can use this “dark night” to challenge our preconceptions, biases, false narratives, and contradictions and recreate our journeys as individuals and as a society.