Let him who walks in darkness and has no light trust in the name of the LORD and rely on his God. But now, all you who light fires and provide yourselves with flaming torches, go, walk in the light of your fires and of the torches you have set ablaze. This is what you shall receive from my hand: You will lie down in torment. — Isaiah 50:10 b-11
I said to my soul, be still, and let the dark come upon you
Which shall be the darkness of God. — T.S. Eliot, Four Quartet
We are used to hearing God described in terms of light, power, peace, joy, comfort. There is a good deal of truth in this. Sometimes we think this means that when we follow God we will always experience this light and joy. This does not seem to have been Jesus’ experience, and it may not be ours either.
In this time many people look at the world around them with a sense of darkness, discouragement, despair. We grieve for the pollution of air, soil and water, the weakening bonds in families and communities, the difficulty of finding work that offers both a living and a positive contribution to life, the spread of war and of fear. When we look within we may still grieve. For me the long winter nights and the short cold days exacerbate the doubt and loneliness that come with trying to live an alternative.
It’s tempting to try to mask the darkness with self-made light. I crave comforts—cocoa, pretzels, exciting novels, attention, approval. I insist to myself that I choose rightly and I try to push myself through more and more work in an effort to regain the sense of clarity and calling that I started with. It doesn’t work. I can never get enough of the things I crave to still my anxieties. I can never do enough work to convince myself that I am making a real difference. I exhaust myself. I don’t trust myself. I see only what’s immediately around and in front of me. I feel tormented.
I am learning instead to be still and let the dark come upon me; to admit my fear, doubt and wanting to myself and to confess it to God and the people I love and trust. When I do this I am not always taken out of darkness, but I begin to get my night vision. I am aware of the vastness around me and of the next few steps I need to take, and I know God’s presence with me in the dark.