by Corein Turbak
Like many children, I was afraid of the dark; I needed a night-light. And perhaps, like many more people than we like to admit, I was afraid of the dark even when I was far too old to logically fear it.
When I lived at home, my dad always stayed up late, and even well into my teens, I found comfort in the bits of hazy glow from the TV that would travel down the hallway of our house to my bedroom. If I was still awake when he went to bed, I would carry a little fear in my stomach, as darkness settled upon our house.
As a child, of course I felt some shame and embarrassment for being afraid of the dark, and the shame continued as I grew older. As a teenager, I’d never admit to anyone that a twinge of fear still existed.
As adults, there is a different type of darkness we are taught to shame and fear. And it is our own.
We know almost instinctively that we should not share with others our own darknesses, our mistakes, our questions, our fears, our hopelessness, and our struggles with meaning. Like children, we are afraid of being ridiculed for our fears and we are afraid of the shame. We are also afraid of what other’s might do with our darkness – beyond just ridicule. Will they think less of us? Will they expose us for the weak people that we think we are? And we also don’t want to be a part of other’s darkness. When others’ reveal their darkness, it tends to touch our own – and if we’ve worked hard to hide it, then we aren’t going to welcome it.
Today’s Gospel, I believe, invites us to live with our darkness in another way. Jesus says, “What I tell you in darkness, speak in the light.”
I am so struck by that line. We so often talk about the light of God and understand that the light is where we want to be. But in this line, we are shown that Jesus is also in the darkness and that he speaks in the darkness. We need not fear it, hide it, shame it. Because there is truth and power in the darkness. And it needs to be spoken in the light for all to grow and learn from it.
As I think about the darkness in my own life, there are a few things that come up frequently:
- Lack of meaning or purpose
- Lack of love for myself
There have been times in my life where I have felt all three of those acutely and at the same time, and those moments have certainly been some of the darkest. As I reflect on those moments now, somewhat removed from those pitch-black experiences, I wonder, “What did God speak to me during those times of darkness?”
One time of darkness, when I was about 25 years old, I remember sitting at my kitchen table in my little one bedroom apartment. I put my head down as I cried, overwhelmed by my own questions and loneliness. As I sat there, I began to imagine that God could see me. I imagined this big, good, God in the sky, kind of prying the roof off my tiny apartment and seeing me. And the grace of that dark moment was simply that I felt seen. I didn’t have any amazing feelings of love, purpose, or energy to go on, but I felt seen. And that, for that moment in my life, was enough.
I’ve had other similar moments like that and I’ve also had many dark moments where I’ve simply just gone through the motions. Trudging on because sometimes, that’s all we can do. And I think there’s grace in that darkness too.
I’m not sure, outside of this moment, if I have ever shared that story. Why? Because we don’t post our darkness on Facebook. Because when people ask us, “How are you?” we don’t respond, “Well I just spend two hours sitting at my kitchen table crying because I feel overwhelmed by all the logistics of life and I feel really alone.” And, in all honesty, those aren’t my favorite stories of myself. I much prefer to tell the stories of my 4.0 GPA, of getting the job, of going on a really great date. Those are much better stories.
But God speaks in the darkness. God tells us not to be afraid of darkness, of loss and of death, and not to be concerned with people who tell us to live in secret, who want us to hide our darkness.
And what we know is that Jesus lived through the darkness too. As his last days approached, his friends fought over who would sit beside him, two betrayed him, all fell asleep and left him alone on his last night on Earth, and his closest friends walked away while he suffered a painful, unjust death.
But God spoke. God spoke in that darkness. He spoke through the women who walked alongside Jesus, the stranger who carried his cross for awhile, the man who donated his land for Jesus’ tomb, and again, the same women who tended to his body for burial.
And lastly, and most importantly, God spoke in Jesus’ resurrection. And it is through that that we know that life didn’t come in spite of the darkness, life came through the darkness, life was birthed in darkness. God spoke in that darkness. Just as God speaks in our darkness.
The Gospel we read today was written to a culture that operated largely on honor and shame. Keeping secrets and hiding darkness was really important. And it was also really helpful if you knew other people’s secrets. There was a constant sense of both trying to hide one’s own secrets, and at the same time, revealing other people’s secrets. Protecting your own honor and exposing other’s shame was the way to keep your place in society.
Jesus speaks to that culture today. He tells his disciples that they are called to live in another way. That they do not live by honor and shame. Rather they live in love. In their darkness, Jesus has whispered this truth to them, ”I love you. Our Creator in heaven sees you and loves you. Your identity and worth is secure in my love.”
In many ways, our society, our culture, our churches, our businesses, and even our families are similar to those in Jesus’ time. We are told to hide the darkness. To fear it. To be anxious of the inevitable dark moments of our lives and our ultimate ending in death.
But over and over again in this Gospel and throughout Scripture, Jesus says, “Do not fear.” Why is this such a constant theme for us?
Because when fear and anxiety of darkness run rampant in our lives, we miss so many moments to live in authenticity, in hope, and in companionship with our fellow humans who are on this journey with us. God speaks in darkness. Life is birthed in darkness. God’s love is whispered, and sometimes shouted, within our darkness.
The world would have us hide it, shame it, and fear it. The world would have us turn toward a million attractive options to live on the surface of our lives and pretend the darkness is not there – through control, through addictions, through dishonesty.
But Jesus tells us, “I speak to you in the darkness. Listen to what I say to you there and then bring it to the light; share it with the world.” Be authentic. Like the disciples, we do not need to live by honor and shame, we need not fear the darkness. Rather, we can live in the knowledge that God sees us and moreover, God loves us down to every hair on our heads. We are loved.
How has God spoken to you in the darkness? What does God want you to reveal to the world? How are you called to live authentically today?
– by Rev. Corein