As we are quickly approaching winter and our days are rapidly growing shorter, I have been thinking a lot about darkness. Getting used to our later and later sunrises here in Boise that have already crept after 8am, knowing that we will get some morning light again for a bit after the time change this weekend. And yet still not looking forward to those December mornings where the sun doesn’t come up until after 8:30am! Somewhat dreading the thought of more time alone and more time without the sun. My reflection about darkness has been added to through some recent conversations around the book Dear Church: a love letter from a black preacher to the whitest denomination in the US, by Rev. Lenny Duncan. In the book Rev. Duncan calls to awareness how our liturgies and word choices in the church reinforce the idea that white is holy and black/darkness equals sin and is bad. He talks about how the season of Advent is often reduced to being about a journey from darkness to light, and not as much focused on its themes of expectation and anticipation. This was a hard revelation for me because I appreciate the imagery of darkness to light, especially in a season where there is so much literal darkness outside with the shortest days of the year. However, through reflecting on this I was reminded of another book I had read a year or two ago. Learning to Walk in the Dark, by Barbara Brow Taylor.
In her book Taylor tells about her journey to understanding and appreciating darkness. Through her reflection she tells of rereading scripture noticing the number of times God shows up at night. That God is fully present in it all moments and especially in the darkness giving us a way to let the dark teach us what we need to know. Thinking about Taylor’s book and the idea that there is much to learn from spending time in the dark, I was reminded of a refrain from a sermon preached by one of the campus pastors at my university. I think the scripture was about Gods promise to Abraham of having as many children as the stars (I remember we were having our evening worship out under the stars). The phrase that has stuck with me was “new life starts in the dark.” As I have reflected on this I have thought about the literal ways that life needs darkness to start. Seeds must be buried in the protection and darkness of the earth to germinate and bring forth life. Babies grow in the darkness and protection of their mother’s womb. It is in the darkness of night that we rest our bodies in sleep to be able to wake refreshed (hopefully) to another day. But beyond the literal ways that new life starts in the dark there are also places of spiritual and metaphorical darkness where new life starts as well. It is often in the times of feeling alone, disconnected, or in the darkness that we experience growth.
This is where I think we can begin to adjust and grow our understanding of darkness. To see that darkness is not something bad or something to fear, but rather it is a place where important growth happens. It is a place where new life starts. It is a place where we can find rest. It is a place where God shows up and helps our eyes adjust so we can see more clearly what the challenge or the struggle is teaching us. To begin to disassociate black with sin and bad and white with clean and good.
However, this is only part of it. How can we also learn more about the ways something as basic as our view of light and darkness can have different meaning for our siblings of color? How can we create space to truly listen to voices different than our own, to grow our view of the world and the ways we do or say things that might be interpreted differently by them?
Right now it feels like there is a lot of darkness all around in the midst of uncertainty around the pandemic. With fires still raging across the west. With tropical storm after tropical storm continuing to hit the gulf coast. With cries of justice for people of color that have gone unheard for far too long. But in all of this what can we learn? What are we being called to see? Can we listen to our environment that is telling us climate change is real and we need to start caring it before it’s too late? Can we listen to the ways this pandemic is calling us to be aware of how connected we all really are, and how our choices affect others?
Can we listen to our siblings of color saying enough is enough, the time for change is now?
May we be made aware of the places where new life is sprouting out of the darkness.