Jesus spoke to the people again, saying, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me won’t walk in darkness but will have the light of life.”
Often when people contrast light and dark, it is thought of as two opposing camps, such as forces of good vs. forces of evil, our better angels vs. that fallen angel, Harry Potter vs. Voldemort. And sometimes it is very important to draw strong, distinct lines between what reflects God’s truth and shining light vs. what only seems to cruelly break down, deceive, and violate in darkness.
But too often when we draw sharp lines, we slip into reactive, dualistic thinking that ramps up more suspicion, fear, and rage, causing us to interpret everything we see through the “fight or flight,” primitive part of our brain. (Sound familiar in our current political climate?) Instead of God’s light, we tend to rely on our own floodlights, judging harshly whatever we can find. It’s about conquering and conquest, and winning by gaining power over the other . . . and sometimes even turning our weapons on ourselves.
There is another way of considering darkness. And it connects directly with a very different kind of power. This power is of a transforming love that Jesus demonstrated throughout his life, all the way to the cross . . . and beyond. Within the Christian tradition, Theresa of Avila and John of the Cross wrote of this difficult part of a faith journey they called “Dark Night of the Soul.” This doesn’t refer so much to evil. Instead, it is about a difficult, empty, Noche Oscura (obscure night) when all seems empty, ambiguous and vague (perhaps not unlike Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane.)
We can’t fight that kind of darkness. It is mainly within us, and may, in part, come from God. In this darkness, we need patience, we need to learn to let go and trust more deeply. It is not a darkness out there, but within. It is often painful, but by God’s soft, gentle, healing, and transforming light, we discover new life within, and all around. We see everything differently.
Before I knew of the term, I think I went through a “Dark Night of the Soul” as a teenager. At an age that is often already difficult, I felt an overwhelming sense of isolation while struggling with cancer for 4+ years. In a time of deep darkness, I had to learn a bit about patience, letting go of expectations, and opening to trust the unknown. I remember so well being in the backyard one spring day, in the midst of inner darkness and isolation, I was converted by a mysterious presence that helped me to experience God’s transforming love. No longer isolated, I awakened to the power of solitude and the community of nature all around me.
It did not end all my pain from then on, but it showed me a better way . . . And I am deeply grateful for the gifts that came through my struggles with cancer.
Franciscan Richard Rohr has become an important mentor for me over the last 20+ years. I want to share, in closing, some words from his daily meditation from February 26, 2016. And let God’s loving light transform you on your journey.
Grace and peace,