Step by Step Journey: Writings of Richard Dahlstrom - because there's always a next step

Welcome Autumn – by Learning to Walk in the Dark

August 21st was one of those rare days where people cheered darkness.  In Seattle, where the eclipse only reached 92% of total, it was still dark enough,  cold enough, awesome enough, to elicit cheers.   It was the same everywhere along the path of darkness forged by the moon –  eruptions of joy as people embraced the darkness.

The rest of our lives, it’s a different story, especially if we’ve been taught to love Jesus.   We’ve often learned that darkness is unequivocally bad.  Every verse mentioning it says so, linking darkness with Satan, and all else worth avoiding in the world.

As a result, we’ve managed to find ways of banishing darkness.  We’ve caste it out of the natural world by lighting up the night so that we don’t need to deal with it at all until we close our eyes for sleep (though our extension of light beyond what nature intended means we’re paying a price).  We’ve cast it out of our faith too, by creating what one favorite author calls “the full solar version of Christianity”, a faith which intensely seeks to keep the lights on perpetually.  “All good, all the time – that’s Jesus!” they say, with a big grin and powerful handshake.  In its worst forms, it claims to “pray the darkness away” whether the darkness is cancer, infidelity, abuse, job loss, or a shocking accident that leaves a husband and father suddenly staring into a future of loneliness, his family having been killed in the car.  All good all the time?  Wishing it were so, yea even praying it, doesn’t make it so.  Ugh.

Darkness is real.  But don’t despair.  God lives there too.

When Abraham doubted God, where did God send him?  Out into the dark to count the stars.  When Jacob was running for his life as a self perceived failure and dropped down to sleep in desert, God met him there in a dream, in the dark.  Later God met him again in the dark for a wrestling match. The shepherds?  The dark.  Jesus birth?  The dark.  Jesus final triumph over evil that caused him to cry “it is finished” and graves to break open?  The dark yet again.  It turns out some good things happen in the dark after all.  But there’s more.

The reality is that darkness has been with us since the beginning, before sin.  “There was evening and there was morning, the first day…”   From the beginning, it was our lot in life to deal with the darkness, about half the time actually – at least physically.  Ecclesiastes tells me that the same’s true in the real of spirit and emotion, at least in this present age.  “There’s a time for everything” is how the wise old preacher put it:  birth and death, war and peace, seeking and losing, laughter and tears – a time for everything; including darkness.

The reason this looms large as an issue is because we live in a world were all manner of bad things happen, plunging us into the darkness of uncertainty.  She walks out of the oncologists office with a 40% chance of living a year.  He weeps at the graveside of his spouse, wondering what’s next for he and his three children.  They weep as the ultrasound reveals an abnormality.

What are we supposed to do?  Celebrate?  Resort to hollow praise in hopes that if we sing loud enough all will be fixed?  Claim our healing and prosperity?  Nope.  There is one thing only:

Don’t be afraid of the dark.  Recognize that these seasons of uncertainty, loss, betrayal, and even death, go with the territory of the world in which we live.  I sometimes thing that some of us Christians like the light so much that, ironically, we stick our heads in the sands to live in denial of the darkness all around us.  But hear this:  the overwhelming testimony of the Bible is that, though the darkness is real – God meets us there, and walks with us there.   Our fear of the dark has the affect of shuttering our lives, so that joy dries up, risk dries up, faith and hope dry up.  Our single paradigm becomes avoiding the dark – hardly a decent way to live ever, but especially if you’re called to courageous faith, as all disciples are.

Barbara Brown Taylor in her wonderful book, “Learning to Walk in the Dark” writes about one grown woman who was terrified by the dark:  her fear was the fault of everyone who taught her to fear the dark, convincing her that it is cdangerous – all of it, all the time, under every circumstance – that what she cannot see will almost certainly hurt her and that the best way to protect herself from such unseen maleficence si to stay inside after dark, with the doors locked and sleep with lights on.” 

Not Abraham or Jacob, as they pondered infinity under the starry sky.  Not Jonah in the darkness of a fish’s belly.  Not Job in the darkness of mysterious and massive loss.  Not Jesus in the Garden, or even on the cross when the whole world turned dark.  Not Paul and Silas in the darkness of dungeon prison.

Why?  Because the light of the world is with us, even in the dark.  “Even the darkness is light to you….” is how the Psalmist says it.  This is why I say, “Welcome autumn – with your shorter colder days.  Thank you for the chance to learn how to walk with you through the dark seasons.”

If you’d care to comment on how God has met you in the dark, I and perhaps other readers too, would be grateful.

 

 

 

4 Comments

  1. Lauren

    September 30, 2017 at 4:00 pm

    Three years ago anxiety reached a fever pitch in my life. Breaking under it’s weight, I was so angry at God and the greater Christian culture…”hadn’t I done all the things?!” Why was God allowing this to happen to me? I went to church and tythed the “right” amount, was a dutiful spouse, had kids, posted cool verses on fb…surely that meant a gravy train of light ever after! It took two and a half years of pain, anger and confusion to finally and profoundly understand that God never left. Instead I learned how wildly courageous God is. He boldly stood beside me knowing that my walk in the dark was possibly the only way I would come to know true lightness in my life. I believe God knew that what my heart really yearned for couldn’t be realized in the context of comfort. It was only in the stripping away of comfort, in the darkness, that I could take an honest inventory of my heart and my life. And in doing so, I see how God has indeed answered my prayer.

    Reply
    • Don B. - Mount Hermon

      October 1, 2017 at 2:25 pm

      Bravo! Lauren. Christ in you, the hope of Glory! Joy.

      Reply
  2. Cameron

    September 30, 2017 at 6:32 pm

    Thank you for the reminder. I’ve recently been getting involved in efforts to prevent or help stop human trafficking. It’s sad and some of the darkest I’ve witnessed — but through this awareness, I see by God’s grace there is so much light and hope. In fact it’s the only way by being brave to look in the darkness, we learn our way to stop it.

    Reply
  3. Mary Anne Murphy

    October 2, 2017 at 8:26 pm

    In my late 20s I left my beloved Seattle home for the first time. Destination: Beirut, Lebanon where my husband and I were to teach. It was there I met darkness in the chaotic form of a war. My world blew apart with the unknowns of urban guerrilla warfare. Water, electricity, telephone were all up for grabs. BUT darkness has a way of clarifying life and giving perspective. I learned there were stars that can only be seen in darkness: a special Bible verse leaped off the pages, a special gift of a friend’s visit, a special provision of a place to sleep when our building was unsafe, living next door to Near East School of Theology where I could audit classes etc. Therefore I thank God for the darkness. It was a major turning point in my life as priorities got realigned in a way I might not have known. My favorite darkness verses: Daniel 2:22 “[He] knows what lies in the darkness, and light dwells with him.” Isaiah 45:3 “And I will give you treasures hidden in the darkness – secret riches.” Mary Anne now in Seattle

    Reply

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