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God’s gift of darkness

by davesandel on March 17th, 2019

God’s gift of darkness

Second Sunday of Lent, March 17, 2019

Birds of prey swooped down on the carcasses, but Abram stayed with them. As the sun was about to set, a trance fell upon Abram, and a deep, terrifying darkness enveloped him. When the sun had set and it was dark, there appeared a smoking fire pot and a flaming torch, which passed between those pieces. – From Genesis 15

Jesus took Peter, James and John and went up onto a mountain to pray. As he prayed his face changed. His clothing became dazzling white … a cloud came and cast a shadow over them, and they became frightened as they entered the cloud. Then from the cloud came a voice that said, “This is my beloved Son; listen to him.” After the voice had spoken, Jesus was found alone. They all fell silent. – From Luke 9

The Lord is my light and my salvation; whom shall I fear? – From Psalm 27

In the dark I can simply switch on the light. Just a hundred years ago we could not do this. When darkness came, we went to bed with the chickens. We got enough sleep. Life was not so fast. But we have nearly extinguished the miracle of darkness with our newfangled electricity. We lose our balance when all is bright.

Faith, hope and love are born out of their opposites. G.K. Chesterton wrote, “Charity means pardoning what is unpardonable, or it is no virtue at all.  Hope means hoping when things are hopeless, or it is no virtue at all.  And faith means believing the incredible, or it is no virtue at all.” And we could add, light brightens what is dark, or it is no light at all.

Abram had no protective fires in the night. He had obeyed God’s voice and gathered his sacrifices. He was patient through hours of waiting. Then before night fell, God anesthetized him. Otherwise, Abram could not have handled what was about to happen. Even then the darkness was terrifying.

Out of nowhere came a smoking firepot and flaming torch, suspended in the air. They touched the “pieces,” and fires of God surrounded Abram. Then God’s voice broke in, just before dawn, with promises of countless descendants and lands where they would live.

Jesus too was surrounded by fire on the mountain. He himself would soon become the sacrifice. This “transfiguration” prepared Jesus, as God prepared Abram, with terrifying fire and enveloping darkness.

Mysterious things hide their faces in broad daylight. The big stuff, the stuff that dreams are made of and destinies shaped by, usually comes in darkness. Like Aslan of Narnia, God’s darkness is always good, but never safe. Sometimes God comes alongside in ways we barely survive. If I could see what’s coming, I’d run. I’d shy away. I’d say, “No!”

But I need not fear. Darkness and light carry us, step by step, toward God. I can close my eyes and rest, I can open them again and be still. Nothing I do changes the mystery of being loved. Poet David Whyte writes:

Time to go into the dark

where the night has eyes

to recognize its own.

There you can be sure

you are not beyond love.


The dark will be

your womb tonight.

The night will give you a horizon

further than you can see.

Our local SSCM sisters shared a beautiful image at their Lenten retreat. “During moments of transfiguration God penetrates the hardened regions within us, and he leaves upon them the imprint of his own face, in all its radiant and dazzling glory.”

Oh Lord, please light the fire that once burned bright and clear. Replace the lamp of my first love that burns with holy fear. Oh, Lord, you’re beautiful. Your face is all I need. And when your eyes are on this child, your grace abounds to me.

G. K. Chesterton, Heretics, Chapter 12, “Paganism and Mr. Lowes-Dickinson,” p 67, 1905

David Whyte, “Sweet Darkness,” from River Flow: New and Selected Poems, Revised Edition, p. 348, 2012

SSCM is the abbreviation for Sisters of the Holy Heart of Mary.

Today’s prayer is part of a Keith Green lyric, “Oh Lord, You’re Beautiful,” from the album So You Wanna Go Back to Egypt, 1980


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