I am struggling this week with the contrast of darkness and light. I am trying to get my sermon done for Sunday. I have read the lessons and picked out key words. I looked at the Benedictus – the canticle in place of the psalm and see that:
“1:78 By the tender mercy of our God, the dawn from on high will break upon us,
1:79 to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the way of peace."”
I looked at Colossians and read:
“1:12 giving thanks to the Father, who has enabled you to share in the inheritance of the saints in the light.
1:13 He has rescued us from the power of darkness and transferred us into the kingdom of his beloved Son,”
Until recently I have really valued the contrast of darkness and light. Because I have been so prone to depression, light has very real meaning. There is another level spiritually. I would lie in bed at night trying to get to sleep (I’m definitely not one of those who falls asleep as soon as my head hits the pillow – I could still be awake 3 or 4 hours later.) There would be this black pit open up before me. I would be terrified, something waited for me in that pit and I was afraid of it. To escape falling into the pit, I would envision Christ – starting out as a pinpoint of light and growing until the light covered the darkness.
I shared this with my CPE group a few years ago. It was suggested at the time that I go into the darkness and see if it was there to teach me something. At the time I was too afraid. Lately, I have been praying, with caution, for the opportunity. And if it happens and I go into it, it will be with prayer.
But why the change? Darkness and light rather than darkness versus light. Before only bad was in the darkness – only bad could be in the darkness. Witness the above quotes from the scriptures for this Sunday.
Two things have changed me. I read, a few years ago, an Advent litany on darkness. It paired the down side of darkness with an up side. I began to look at darkness as something to be embraced – in the right circumstances. The nurturing element. How we need the darkness for rest. Plants not only need light to grow, they also need the absence of light – darkness – to grow. In our mother’s womb we are in the dark and being nurtured. There were a number of other postives about darkness but the nurturing ones stand out the most. So darkness, rather than something to be avoided, is to be embraced in its life giving form.
I have also, as mentioned before, being doing some feminist studies on my own. I feel a real pull in this direction. I have been reading Carol P. Christ’s “Re-birth of the Goddess”. In it she explores the transition from a more equal society to the patriarchal societies that influence the writings in the Bible. She speaks of worship being in caves, the womb of the mother, – in the darkness. At first, I kept thinking how frightened I would be. I’m claustrophobic as well as having a deep rooted fear of the dark. As read and thought more, I began to embrace this womb/cave idea more.
One of the most powerful services for me spiritually is the Easter Vigil as we did it at Emmanuel and St. Chad’s. We would start in Rugby Chapel. The windows had all been blacked out. We would light the new fire and do the readings by candles which had been lit from that fire. We would then move from there into the full light of St. Chad’s chapel. I realize we could look at this as a move from darkness (to be avoided) into light (the desired place) except that in the darkness as we read, I felt nurtured with the life force flowing through me. It wasn’t a move from darkness to light but a move from one life-giving space to another.
What do I think about my fear of the dark now? I’m am still dealing with a deep-rooted fear of the dark. But sometimes I wonder if this is not a fear of the feminine – of fully embracing my femininity. Strangely enough, my fear of the dark lessens the more I celebrate being a woman. Traditionally the light has been associated with the male – something to be greatly desired – and the dark with the female – something to be avoided.
I look back to those moments when I would struggle to get to sleep and see that black pit. It happened at a time that I was struggling with my identity. When I answered the call to the priesthood, I began to embrace the female within me. Since that time, I haven’t experienced the sense of the black pit. Could it be that all the time I was being called to embrace myself as female? Could it be that the pit, that I actually now yearn to experience, is no longer because I have embraced myself as female?
This business of darkness versus light, which appears in our lessons for Sunday, leaves me struggling. I understand and embrace the concepts of moving from that darkness of oppression and death into the light of freedom and life. But, I am also aware that darkness is life giving and freeing and that light can be life-denying and oppressing. So as I prepare my sermon, I am trying to find a balance of darkness and light rather than a skewed vision of darkness versus light.
Love and Prayers,