I had one of those nights. You know the ones… Despite lying there and considering all the possibilities (too much caffeine? worried? forgot something important?), there seems to be no particular reason why I can’t seem to sleep more than an hour at a time. And so, I lay there debating… should I get up and so something useful? But my bed is warm and cozy and the house is cool. And maybe lying in bed is something useful. Maybe every waking hour doesn’t require productivity. So I laid there in the dark and began to think about darkness.
I have been following conversations, particularly in the churches in the United States, about the way that our liturgical and theological language of light and dark often gets mapped onto conversations about good and evil (think about language of things that lurk in shadows). I’m so aware that the language we use has deep implications, but in church it often also has centuries of use. And like anything we have been done for a long time, we sometimes stop really thinking about how else it might sound or be experienced. When we use language that focuses so deeply on our hope of Christ’s coming as a moment of light… what do we lose?
In Advent of 2019, we read Barbara Brown Taylor’s Learning to Walk in the Dark which explores some of these very themes. In it, she traces the ways in which we avoid darkness, but also the ways that God actually meets us in darkness. Who among us having one of those nights of sleeplessness hasn’t turned to prayer? And when we pray, how many of us close our eyes – as if to shut out the many visual distractions around us and focus on God?
So in this season, where we experience our longest nights of the year, when even the daylight is often soft and grey… may we find God not just in our hoping and longing for the light, but in the places and times of darkness. May the darkness feel not like a threat, but like the warm embrace of a comfortable bed and the invitation to slip into rest.