November 28, 2017

Mid-November to mid-December is my favourite time of the year. As the northern world grows darker with the tilt of the earth, we compensate by adding more lights to our life. Evening by evening another house lights up their Christmas lights—and the night is that less dark. In their last few years of me driving them to dance lessons, the girls and I had a ritual every night: counting the number of houses with their festive lights on. It would begin just after Remembrance Day with a few "early adopters," but by month's end it would be in the 40s and 50s, and this along country roads.

I don't mind the darkness. You can only really see those holiday lights when it's pitch black; or on Christmas Eve, driving home from the last service and seeing light shining through church stained glass. "And the light shines in the darkness; and the darkness cannot overcome it" (John 1:5).

But there is another kind of darkness that we have to live through. It shows itself in many guises: depression, guilt, loneliness, ennui, loss. And it seems, as the sun hides itself at this season, so too the light in our lives seems to dim and the weight of the dark threatens to overwhelm us, like waves beating upon us on a night-striken shore. Maybe I am too much in the dark, maybe I'm just a little too sensitive to it because of what I do, or who I am. Maybe, because, in a few days, it will be fifteen years since my mother died I feel it most keenly. But whatever the reason, I feel a pull towards the dark: a gentle, but persistent, pull. Some of us think that this dark-tide is "evil" or "wrong" or something to be overcome. But so many mystics (or lunatics) and even old C.G. Jung remind us that the shadow is not separate from us, but a part of the human condition. Indeed, the creation story of Genesis informs us that before God created the Sun to rule the day, and the Moon to rule the night—there was darkness.

After the Shoah (the Holocaust), rabbis, and indeed many ordinary Jews and non-Jews the world round asked one damning question: a question asked by Pope Benedict XVI as he stood in Auschwitz "Where was God in those days? Why was he silent? How could he permit this endless slaughter, this triumph of evil?" Many survivors answered that there could be no God to have allowed this. But many more kept wondering, and suffering. And many more ask this question in ISIL-dominated lands, in Darfur, in Bosnia, in residential schools, in nursing homes, at gravesides.

Some words were written on a wall in a cellar in Germany where thousands of Jews hid from Nazi terror. They were discovered not long after the end of the war, and were inscribed by some unknown person likely killed in Dachau or Triblinka. These words spark a bit of light into the dark:

     I believe in the sun even when it is not shining. 

     I believe in love even when I cannot feel it. 

     I believe in God even when He is silent.

God was experienced in absence, in silence. And that, for many of us, is a terrifying thought. But for those of us who live, from time to time, in the dark—or the absence, or the silence—it is a balm for our sin-sick souls. It means, like those words from the poem "Footprints" we are not alone in the dark, silent absence.

I remember being sick with scarlet fever as a child and my dad stayed in my room all night. Every once in a while, my fevered brain would wake me up and I'd panic because of the darkness in my room - but then a sleepy, and invisible (it was dark, after all!) voice (Dad's voice) would soothe me back to sleep.

So, for all of you who, as Isaiah prophesies: "walked in darkness", who "dwell in a land of deep darkness" we will see a great light, on us, a light will shine. (Isaiah 9:2). Each night is completed by a dawn;

There's a dark side to each and every human soul. We wish we were Obi-Wan Kenobi, and for the most part we are, but there's a little Darth Vader in all of us. Thing is, this ain't no either-or proposition. We're talking about dialectics, the good and the bad merging into us. You can run but you can't hide. My experience? Face the darkness. Stare it down. Own it. As brother Nietzsche said, being human is a complicated gig. So give that ol' dark night of the soul a hug and Howl the eternal "Yes!"
     ~ Chris Stevens, from the TV show Northern Exposure

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October 14, 2017