The Light In the Darkness
“The people walking in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of deep darkness a light has dawned.” (Isaiah 9:2-7)
“When Jesus spoke again to the people, he said, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.” (John 8:12)
(Lighthouse Westerheversand at night byWuse1007, Courtesy Wikimedia Commons)
Jesus already said he was the gate and the shepherd. (Blog post HERE). Now, today’s post is about the light. He wants us to come to the light, like moths to the flame. The sadness of the crucifixion, of betrayal, of pain and death and servitude, gives way on Easter morning to the dawn of liberation from evil.
What is this light?
There are many who will teach a gospel of individual salvation, a faith-filled religious excursion into pious, self-absorbed sense of having a personal relationship with God.
What if, on the other hand, one has no personal sense of God’s presence? Does this mean that God doesn’t exist? Does it mean that our faith is in vain?
On the cross, Jesus cried out, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me!” His words echo Psalm 22: “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? Why are you so far from saving me, so far from my cries of anguish? My God, I cry out by day, but you do not answer, by night, but I find no rest.”
To anguish and not to feel the presence of God is not a sign of lack of faith. To the contrary, the greater faith is to shoulder on toward the light, in service of the light, even when one has no direct sense of contact with God at the present time.
One person who wrote about her anguish from lack of feeling God’s presence was none other than Mother Teresa. Her anguish in encountering her own dark night of the soul is chronicled in the book of her writings, Mother Teresa: Come Be My Light - The Private Writings of the Saint of Calcutta (Doubleday 2007).
In 1955 she wrote to Bishop Perier of Calcutta:
There is so much contradiction in my soul. The more I want Him, the less I am wanted. —Such deep longing for God—so deep that it is painful—a suffering continual—and yet not wanted by God—repulsed—empty—no faith—no love—no zeal.—Souls hold no attraction—Heaven means nothing—to me it looks like an empty place—the thought of it means nothing to me and yet this torturing longing for God.—Pray for me please that I keep smiling at Him in spite of everything. For I am only His—so He has ever right over me. I am perfectly happy to be nobody even to God. . . . .
In another letter from her journal, she wrote: “I am told that God loves me, and yet the reality of darkness & coldness & emptiness is so great that nothing touches my soul.”
According to St. John of the Cross, the Carmelite mystic who composed the poem, "The Dark Night," the deepening of love is the real purpose of the dark night of the soul. The dark night helps us to love more deeply. Another writer, Meister Eckhart, has stated, "Truly, it is in the darkness that one finds the light, so when we are in sorrow, then this light is nearest of all to us."
Indeed. Unless we acknowledge that we are in darkness, then we are unable to find the light. Even worse, we may even fail to acknowledge our need for the light. When we vainly attempt to make our own light, we deceive ourselves into thinking that we have no need for God. In doing so, we seek ourselves to become Gods. Pope Benedict XVI, in his Easter Mass today, alluded to this same fear, that reliance on our own technology has become man’s new god:
The darkness that poses a real threat to mankind, after all, is the fact that he can see and investigate tangible material things, but cannot see where the world is going or whence it comes, where our own life is going, what is good and what is evil. . . . If God and moral values, the difference between good and evil, remain in darkness, then all other 'lights,' that put such incredible technical feats within our reach, are not only progress but also dangers that put us and the world at risk . . . Today we can illuminate our cities so brightly that the stars in the sky are no longer visible. Is this not an image of the problems caused by our version of enlightenment?
Though in a different context, this is the same issue alluded to by Murakami in his address concerning the underlying cause of the disaster at Fukushima (blogged HERE).
Compare the photo of this light house to the earlier one. In this photo there is no dark night. One therefore has no need of the light from the lighthouse.
(Lorain lighthouse at sunset - Lorain, Ohio (USA), compliments Rona Proudfoot via Wikimedia Commons)
Without darkness, would there ever be need for any of us to walk in faith? If we fail to acknowledge our neediness, we become like the self righteous older brother in the story of the Prodigal Son. Instead of relying on our own sense of worth and righteousness, in our own solutions, what is required of us is that we must walk in faith. For some, that walk is harder than for others. Indeed. Hypothesizing, what if it is harder for those who are honest enough to admit their own failings? Unlike the righteous elder brother, the younger threw himself at his father’s feet.
Jesus commented on this more than one time. In Luke 18, we read:
To some who were confident of their own righteousness and looked down on everyone else, Jesus told this parable: “Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee stood by himself and prayed: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other people—robbers, evildoers, adulterers—or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week and give a tenth of all I get.’ But the tax collector stood at a distance. He would not even look up to heaven, but beat his breast and said, ‘God, have mercy on me, a sinner.’ I tell you that this man, rather than the other, went home justified before God. For all those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.”
A penitent, seeking attitude also contributes to our willingness to obey. A few days ago, this blog speculated that a significant factor in the Passover might have been the faithfulness of the Israelites to obey blindly when God told them to follow the Passover instructions.
This is not easy. There is a joking story told of a man who fell off the side of a cliff. Fortunately, he was able to grab onto a small bush and hold onto it to keep himself from falling all the way down. However, he could not get back up. Hopefully, he called out, “Can somebody help me?”" A reply came back, “Yes! I can help you!” The man asked, “Who are you?” The voice replied, “God!” The man shouted back, “Okay, God, I’m ready, what do you want me to do?” To which the voice replied, “Let go of the bush!” The man then shouted back, “Is anybody else up there?!”
Anybody else, indeed. What are our options?: Life is a one way street, and we need a moral compass. This light does shine in the dark. Moreover, there is no walk more faithful than to shoulder on and to act in faith, even when one has no immediate perception of light. C.S. Lewis wrote of this in the Screwtape letters:
Do not be deceived, Wormwood. Our cause is never more in danger than when a human, no longer desiring but still intending, to do [God’s] will, looks around upon a universe from which every trace of [God] seems to have vanished, and asks why he has been forsaken, and still obeys.
Perhaps, when our sense of light fails, is when we seek that pinpoint on the horizon the hardest. That is when we listen for the still, small voice of hope, the voice of the Shepherd in the dark. Using all of the means at our disposal, regardless of what they are, we aim for the light, for the voice of the shepherd. We aim for a centering of values, for life, for hope. Fortunately, it is also written in Proverbs 8:17:
“I love those who love me, and those who seek me find me.”