Sunday, December 21, 2014

The Longest Night

Today is the winter solstice, the darkest 24-hour period of the year, where night settles in, hunkers down, and exerts it's stubborn refusal to be shooed away. It is dark. And our immediate reaction is to turn on all of the lights and hide from all that scares us out there in the long and terrifying night.

This has been a year of extreme darkness in many respects for me personally. Great loss compounded upon great loss resulted in heart-heavy weeping in the middle of long and fearful nights. I have longed for the light of day this year, but the nights only became longer as the year stretched on. I ached for that sunny, solar religion where everything would be just fine if I only prayed enough, if I just said the right penance and attended enough feel-good, Sunday worship services. "There's always a silver lining," or "keep you chin up" were the cliched phrases of well-intentioned parishioners. But grief is not like that. Things aren't always just fine in the end. It was only dark, and the grotesquely bright sunshine of the Sunday, solar experience made my grief feel like a circus and sucked the legitimacy out of my pain.

I'm reading a book called Learning to Walk in the Dark by Barbara Brown Taylor and it's shifted the way I think about God. It is often that we dichotomize God, associating only the things that have to do with light and brightness with the divine. We reduce God to a sunny walk in the park while dancing around the edges of great chasms of emotion that we avoid with graceful, shadow-less steps.
But God is everywhere. God is breath. God is. God is both the light and the dark, both the day and the night, God is just as present in a sunny field of flowers as in the night sweats and inky black dreams. "Where can I go from your Spirit? Where can I flee from your presence? If I go up to the heavens, you are there. If I make my bed in the depths, you are there." Where would we be without the dark nights in which saints and prophets dream dreams and wrestle angels?

I learned this year that if I stopped running from my pain just long enough to lean into it, perhaps I would find a God who is much more complex and nuanced than my puny little mind had previously allowed. Perhaps I would experience an indigo depth of understanding that a sunshiny, happy-go-lucky God could have never previously met me in. Perhaps a dark, long night of wrestling in the dark is worth every bit of the life-long limp for the great blessing that accompanies it.

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