The sun rises, then sets. The flowers burst from their wintry rest, they bloom and then wither, finally returning to the soil that birthed them to await resurrection that always comes and comes again. Half the earth’s inhabitants live their whole lives cyclically, and few of us ever learn to honor and harness the ebbs and flows of power and energy, opting instead for distractions from inconvenience and the illusion of sameness with our brothers.
The tide rolls in and then out.
New life comes and no one can dam the years, try as we might to pretend we aren’t aging - we are.
We are surrounded by these patterns and cycles, light and dark, sun and moon, ebb and flow, filled and emptied.
But generally, I think Western Christians have shrunk in fear from the absence of the light as if by our right living and our perfect exegesis and our Jesus fish tattoos we can avoid the inevitable - the questions, the loneliness, the fear, the unexplained emptiness that just is sometimes a part of being human. So many of us are shocked the first time the voice of God seems to be far off in the distance while we are stuck to the earth, trying to remember how to hear it.
We raise our kids and assume that if we take them to church and teach them to pray and keep them from smoking and drinking and showing their belly buttons, they will somehow avoid the minefields and the pain and the seasons of darkness we have a sneaking suspicion will come for them, too.
And at some point, all but the most committed sun worshippers will have to wrestle with the big questions of God’s sovereignty and goodness in the face of tremendous suffering. Some of us will face those questions as we look out into a world where babies die and old people are hungry and alone and rich men wage wars and vulnerable families are hurt when they ask for help. Others won’t need to look farther than their own broken lives and broken hearts and brains that won’t always make the chemicals they should. I think most of us will have the holy opportunity to do a little of both, if we live long enough.
For some of us the Bible will hold all the answers and give us back our light and peace, but for others the Bible can actually blot out what’s left of the sun with it’s texts of terror we aren’t often taught to read well.
The truth is, there are some questions no one can answer, not fully, not in a way that satisfies everyone all the time.
So what then? Do we resign ourselves to no man’s land where questions unanswerable take sleep and peace and fellowship with the body and finally, Jesus’ own wide and long table from us?.
Barbara Brown Taylor writes in her necessary read, Learning to Walk in the Dark, “There were not witnesses to the resurrection. Everyone who saw the risen Jesus saw him after. Whatever happened in the cave happened in the dark...it happened in complete silence, it happened in absolute darkness, with the smell of wet stone and dug earth in the air...new life starts in the dark. Whether it is a seed in the ground, a baby in the womb, or Jesus in the tomb, it starts in the dark.”
We spend a lot of energy and time trying to avoid the darkness. We keep our phones charged 24 hours a day because we can’t be alone in our heads. We are a people of the neat and tidy, God love us, and we like all of our questions answered before we ask and we require the end from the beginning, leaving little room for imagination or God forbid, doubt.
And I can’t fix any of that, not for myself and not for you.
What if, instead of trying to drag each other from the darkness and the times of silence from God, we learn to breathe deep and slow while we let the night do it’s quiet work? What if we stopped talking about the dark night of the soul like a problem to be endured or conquered and instead learn to hold our hands out, palms open, receiving and releasing the seasons and not fearing them?
What if we can teach our children, ourselves, and each other to expect that we won’t always live in the glorious sunshine of close connection and fellowship with God? Instead of speaking in hushed tones about our momentary or lasting afflictions of doubt and fear and living with the prolonged silence of God, what if we could all tell the truth out loud to each other without trying to fix each other?
I don’t have the answers and if I did I probably wouldn’t know how to communicate them to you anyway. I certainly cannot fix what is broken, I can’t offer you bright and shiny and new and I can’t promise you a speedy path out of the dark.
But as someone who has often wrestled with faith in a good and loving God in this messed up world, I have a few things to tell you I think I know for sure.
If you are in the dark today, I am sure that there is a resurrection awaiting you when morning comes. No one can roll the stone away from your tomb while the dark still has it’s work to do, but those of us who know what it’s like in there are waiting outside, as close to you as we can be, ready to receive you and throw you a party. Look for people to walk with who aren’t afraid of big questions and who don’t need to explain everything and tie a bow on all your fear and doubt and questions. We are still here.
If you are poor in Spirit today, Jesus blesses you.
If you are mourning, Jesus blesses you.
If you are feeling small and powerless today, Jesus blesses you and reminds you of your inheritance in His upside down Kingdom where the last are forever first.
If you are hungry today and food just won’t satisfy, if you are thirsty for the living water you can barely remember tasting, Jesus blesses you. Jesus calls you, beloved, the light of the whole world and he knows you better than me.
You are still loved. You are still chosen. You are still welcomed. Your current or returning season of doubt or silence or questioning or brokenness does not disqualify you from anything. We need you, just like you are, with all that you’re carrying. Blessed are those who don’t know for sure.